How to Pray for a Tyrant

To those who are inclined to pray about earthly matters such as government, it seems perfectly natural to pray for the people of a nation with democratic institutions, such as the United States — that they will desire freedom, for example, and that God will grant them wisdom, will, and power to preserve it. Likewise, it’s easy to pray for political leaders we like, such as a president we think is doing well. But what about leaders we don’t like?

Here’s an example. I don’t mean it to be off-putting for some readers who feel otherwise, but describing how strong an example it is serves my point.

I think President Obama is a tyrant and in some respects a lawless thug. I have made no secret of this view. He routinely dishonors and jeopardizes the nation. He misinforms and poisons our public debate. He incites and excuses violence. He whittles away our freedoms with ten thousand petty regulations, thumbing his nose all the while at Congress, the people, and the Constitution which created his office. He frustrates and insults our friends and allies. He arms and emboldens our enemies. He confuses and endangers the world.

I have friends and neighbors who share this view. Most of them are less technical about it. Many of them are more emphatic.

I have other friends and neighbors who would wholeheartedly agree with all this, if I changed the words “Obama is” to “Bush was.” Several years ago, they would have asked essentially the same question their counterparts ask now, when I assert that we should pray for the President of the United States and other leaders we don’t like. (At least I can say that right now without people who know me thinking I’m being partisan.)

“How can you pray for a tyrant?” people ask, sometimes in so many words.

I’m not trying to set up for something cruel and clever, like asserting that the current Vice President of the United States is a compelling reason to pray for the health, safety, and longevity of the President.

I’m serious about praying for a leader I don’t like. And I don’t mean praying for God to frustrate (in this case) the President’s efforts and confound his words. “Confusion to the enemy,” and “May God bless and keep the Tsar . . . far away from us!” and that sort of thing. I may actually do that, but I have too much respect for the language to call that praying for the President.

Nor do I mean simply praying for his personal welfare and happiness, though I can easily desire that for my political opponents.

Maybe you’ll think this is a cop-out or too clever by half, but even when we are ruled by a tyrant — of our own choosing, in this case — I easily and willingly pray for God to grant the President of the United States the necessary wisdom, judgment, and strength to act in the best interest of our nation, its people, and our freedom. The same is true for any other leader I don’t like, within his or her jurisdiction.

I can pray the same for any leader I like. To pray in this manner, I need not stop to consider whether I like a given leader or not.

Even if I believe that for a leader to act well would require a miracle, I can pray this way with a straight face. Whom better than God can one ask for a miracle?

Ah, but you could ask me another very good question. Assuming that I know a leader’s aims and ideology and believe both are hostile to the nation’s welfare, can I pray for that leader as James prescribes, “in faith, nothing wavering” (James 1:6)?

James is not encouraging, if I cannot: “For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”

Maybe I can’t pray that way, most days. If I can on any day, it’s worth the recurring effort. But even if the best I can do, at least for now, is to pray in some doubt, with wavering, that’s still something, and something is more than nothing.

I trust God to make some allowances.

In the end, besides praying for the leader I don’t like, I can pray for greater wisdom and goodness than his to prevail. Whether that is at his political expense or not may be immaterial.

To be sure, I could — and probably should — pray for greater wisdom and goodness than mine to prevail, while I’m at it.