Everybody has been commenting that the campaigning between Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Romney for the Florida primary was particularly brutal. I wonder whether it would have been different if the two men and their super PACs had been praying for each other.
Listen to the Apostle Paul’s recommendation for political praying.
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1)
How odd that Paul would counsel people to pray with thanksgiving for leaders in the world he knew, a place of political despotism. But he did, perhaps partly because the fragile church was often wrongfully accused of revolutionary aims and needed for its survival to show its good intentions. But surely Paul had other reasons. He saw government as God’s gracious way of controlling the socially destructive impact of sin. He also had the wisdom to see that, for all its imperfections, the Roman rule brought the sort of order and stability that made mission work and evangelism possible.
Pollsters tell us that Americans are bitter and cynical about their political leaders. And primaries tell us that political contestants are bitter towards each other. One imagines that if any praying gets done at all, its tone is frustrated and content judgmental: “Lord, change that man or get rid of him! Lord, send a firestorm on those self-serving bureaucrats!”
We err when we pray this way. It makes the already difficult task of governing in our age even more difficult. Many in government work hard at doing what they genuinely feel best in settings that invariably require compromise and draw flak. Many of the best-qualified people never even enter politics because it is so thankless and difficult.
Those who govern us need our encouragement at least as much as our criticism. When we thank God for our leaders, when we call to mind in prayer the good things they do and the efforts they make, we find ourselves behaving more charitably toward them. This change in us fosters a climate in which they find it easier to govern more responsibly. By contrast, negative praying tends to feed the cynicism we are naturally prone to, and cynicism discourages our leaders.
Such a dynamic may be more difficult to envision in national politics than at a local level (we are far more likely to rub shoulders with the members of our district’s school board than we are with our state’s senators). But I believe that it can happen at any level. Do not underestimate the power of attitude. It cannot be legislated, but it is often more powerful than any law.