This article was recently published in the Sept–Oct issue of Bible Study Magazine. Since his topic is so timely, we've decided to republish it here. For more Bible studies, devotionals and interviews, subscribe to Bible Study Magazine today.
“Have you ever been more confused about an election?” I ask Susan over tea one afternoon. She has 30 years of wisdom and voting experience on me. “No, never,” she tells me with a sigh. Days later, I’m having breakfast with Brent. He, too, has several more decades of experience, which I was hoping would provide clarity. No such luck. “I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Brent tells me, shaking his head.
The entire campaign has left me wondering: Is God concerned with the presidential election?
Perhaps you, too, are wrestling with what it means to vote as a Christian in 2016. Easy answers are in short supply. I know Christians on both sides of the political divide who are scratching their heads.
In a letter written to Timothy, Paul offers a note of encouragement that many of us will find helpful in this season. After an introduction warning Timothy to stay on guard against false teachers, Paul offers these words:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim 2:1–2).
Paul encourages Timothy to begin his prayers not with the people closest to him, but with those in power. “Pray for all people,” yes, but Paul first mentions those in leadership.
In this unsettling election cycle, we do well to lift up people who hold power—and those being considered for greater power—by praying for them. In doing so, we are embodying a posture of hope rather than hopelessness, and a vision that rests on God rather than on human efforts.
Prayer reminds us that all things—even the most prominent political office in the world—are within God’s authority. In prayer, we are reminded that our Savior is Christ (vv. 5–6), not a presidential candidate. We also are reminded that no political party or candidate is our ultimate enemy (Eph 6:12). God often brings clarity to the choices we face, when before there was only murkiness and confusion.
Paul does not merely command that we pray for our leaders. He goes on to explain the "why" of this command: “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2:2). Paul knows that a life of prayer is the only way we are able to speak, act, and embody peace. Left to our own devices, we would be mudslingers rather than the peacemakers Christ has called us to be (Matt 5:9). It is, Paul reminds us, from this peaceful posture that God intends to spread his salvation (1 Tim 2:4).
For some, Paul’s encouragement to pray for our leaders will seem like little more than a call to uphold the status quo. It is not. “To clasp the hands in prayer,” the Swiss theologian Karl Barth once noted, “is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”
The prayerful Christian lifts up our present disorder—in our own hearts, as well as on the national stage—asking God to bring his kingdom to bear upon it all.
Ryan Pemberton is the minister for university engagement at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. He is the author of Called: My Journey to C. S. Lewis’s House and Back Again from Leafwood Publishers, and the forthcoming Walking With C. S. Lewis study guide from Lexham Press .