It was in 1992 that I attended a Christian Citizenship Conference in our nation's capital. We had a prayer breakfast one morning superintended by the late Richard Halverson, at the time the chaplain of the U.S. Senate. The chaplain had invited two Southern Baptist senators to speak that morning: Trent Lott of Mississippi and Al Gore of Tennessee. We couldn't have known at the time that Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas would tap Sen. Gore as his vice-presidential running mate later that year.
Chaplain Halverson read from Paul's first letter to Timothy: "I exhort therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men; for kings and for all that are in authority . . ." (1Tim. 2:1-2).
Halverson said he was most often a guest in various churches on Sundays and rarely heard a prayer offered for the nation's leaders.
"One of the gravest failures of our American churches is our failure to obey the scripture and pray for our leaders," he said. "We sin against God when we don't pray for our president and other elected officials."
I took his word to heart and began to follow his counsel.
It's interesting that the leader when Paul wrote was Nero, one of the vilest men to ever rule Rome. Nero murdered his mother and is believed to have murdered two wives. He blamed Christians when Rome burned and he sponsored the first widespread persecution of the church. It is believed both Paul and Peter died at the hands of Nero.
Yet, Paul said to pray for Nero.
Some seniors helped me years ago when the Gulf War was beginning. At a fellowship lunch I asked them how they prayed during World War II. They said they prayed for their husbands and sons, to be sure, and for the war to end soon.
"What about Hitler?" I asked.
"Yes, we prayed for him that God would change his heart and stop his murderous intentions," they replied.
No matter who our leaders are, and whether they have our political support or not, we're exhorted to pray for them. We ask God's protection, wisdom and humbling grace.
I think Paul would expand his thoughts if he were writing today. He was a Roman citizen, but he had no right to vote. The Caesar was selected by family patronage and the army; then he chose other officials. But American Christians are entitled citizens who enjoy the most basic of civil rights--the right to vote.
Praying is forbidden in many places, but it's not forbidden in the polling place! Americans can and should be wrapped in the spirit of prayer whenever we go to vote.