Many people feel it is important to pray for government and leadership. But how do we do that? And given the magnitude and complexity of the issues involved, can we really expect our prayers to be effective?
Ananias, an early Christian in Damascus, must have faced questions like these when Saul of Tarsus came to his city “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” against members of the new faith (see Acts 9:1–20). The Jewish high priest had given Saul authority to bind them and take them to prison.
No doubt Ananias and other Christians were praying for protection as well as doing what they could to avoid Saul. Then the Lord appeared to Ananias and said, “Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth.” Here, the phrase “the Lord” signifies the Christ, or Truth—the message from God to humanity. God was commanding Ananias to go and meet Saul.
Understandably, Ananias didn’t want to do this. He said, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem.” But the Lord replied, “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.”
Obediently, Ananias went. What changed his mind? He must have glimpsed that there was a higher power than religious or secular authority. The message of the Christ revealed to him that God was in charge, governing right then and there.
In particular, the message conveyed to Ananias that God had authority not only over him and his fellow Christians but also over Saul, and He was acting in Saul’s life and transforming his nature. Saul’s history, religious education, and long-standing relationships had no power to hold him to a misconception of divine Truth and Love. Christ had already pointed out to Saul that he had been opposing God, and now Christ called Ananias to minister to Saul and restore his sight, which had been lost as he journeyed to Damascus. The inspired understanding of the supremacy of God governing all and blessing all must have dawned in Ananias’ thought, for he lost his fear and went to Saul. He must have seen something of the allness of God, good, in which evil has no place nor power.
In obeying God, Ananias found himself cloaked with authority. He prayed for Saul, and Saul received the Holy Ghost—he was lifted to a higher understanding of God and of Christ—and discerned the truth that Christ Jesus lived and taught. Under the name Paul, he shared Christianity with many around the Greco-Roman world. His letters still inspire and instruct us today.
Ananias and Saul weren’t the only people praying. Other Christians prayed to share the Word of God with humanity, and for their own protection and success as they followed in the way of Jesus. They even encouraged each other to pray for all in authority. First Timothy states, “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; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (2:1, 2). This is also a call to us today.
Praying that we may lead a peaceable life cannot be praying for a convenient peace wherein wrongdoing continues unabated. It must be a call to be loving, but not to be passive, urging us to take a stand for the supremacy of Christ, Truth, in which error or evil has no power at all.
Nor should this be a prayer that God make others do what we want—an attempt to control other people. Prayer is in humbly siding with God and acknowledging there is no other side or might or Mind but Him. It is yielding to the understanding that God alone rules.
Praying for all in authority is a prayer to see that all are under only one authority, that of Spirit.
At one point, the Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, faced an unjust lawsuit. Discerning a need to instruct some of her students how to pray about the case, she said: “You are not to come in your own name to pray, you are not to try to control any mind. You are only to come in the divine strength and know that God will rule and does, and that hypnotism and evil minds cannot and do not control men nor governments. All power is God, good” (Mary Baker Eddy to “Watchers,” January 2, 1900; L02891, The Mary Baker Eddy Library; © The Mary Baker Eddy Collection).
The request that we give thanks for all in authority isn’t a demand that we give thanks for powerful personalities, be they right or wrong. It is giving thanks that God, divine Mind, is the only authority. What appears to have authority in this world—personal power, position, wealth, or political connections—has genuine power only to the degree it expresses divine power. We give thanks that God is the one and only authority, for He is All-in-all.
Taking this a step further, we (everyone) should also give thanks that we have authority as the children of God. All of us, as God’s children, made in His own likeness, reflect God’s power and grace. Mortals (the material sense of man as having a life and mind apart from God, good) have no real power. As we put off the false material sense and gain the spiritual sense of Life, we discern the truth of man (male and female): As God’s image and likeness, we reflect the authority of the divine Mind and act in accordance with His law and holy purpose.
On the basis of these spiritual facts of God and man, we can and should be specific in our prayers for those in authority. Eddy encouraged her followers to pray for the government of all countries. In Christian Science versus Pantheism, she wrote: “Pray for the prosperity of our country …; that justice, mercy, and peace continue to characterize her government, and that they shall rule all nations.” More specifically for the United States—the nation in which the Church of Christ, Scientist, was organized, and where most of her followers lived—she added: “Pray that the divine presence may still guide and bless our chief magistrate, those associated with his executive trust, and our national judiciary; give to our congress wisdom, and uphold our nation with the right arm of His righteousness” (p. 14). We can adapt this, too, in our prayers for all governments.
To pray for the prosperity of whichever country we live in is a prayer that justice, mercy, and peace characterize the government. It isn’t a prayer for economic wealth or national dominance. Justice, mercy, and peace are the true basis of both individual and national prosperity. A nation is successful to the degree its officers and citizens express moral integrity.
Affirming that God guides and blesses a president or prime minister and his or her staff isn’t a prayer for God to help them with their agendas, but an acknowledgment that, in their true spiritual identity as God’s expression, they hear, respond to, and follow the wise leadings of divine Truth and Love. Our prayers can help to dispel the ignorance, fear, and doubt that cloud human thought and so help open the way for people in government to respond to God’s direction.
We pray for God to give a congress or parliament (and all branches of government) wisdom. The wisdom given by God is the ability to discern between selfish and unselfish motives, and between wrong and right actions. It enables us to choose the right. Prayer that acknowledges that divine Mind imparts this wisdom impartially to all helps everyone to hear His direction and follow His leading.
The goal of such prayer is to uphold our various governments with the right arm of God’s righteousness. In the Bible, arm is often used as a symbol of spiritual power or authority, so such prayer recognizes that God upholds all in the power of right thinking, right action, and right results.
Prayer for all in authority looks beyond the mortal picture of government as humans vying for power and clashing over ideals. It lifts thought to discern the spiritual fact that God, good, governs the universe and man. The battle we face is not between persons; it is between Truth and error, between Spirit and matter. Take a stand, with the understanding Christian Science gives, that God, Spirit, is omnipotent and that the false material sense of a power or mind apart from Him has no truth or substance to it. Praying for all in authority is a prayer to see that all are under only one authority, that of Spirit. It is a discerning that Christ is present to guide and bless everyone.
Through our prayers for those that govern us, we can be ready, as Ananias was, to follow the guidance of Christ and bless even those whose views seem to run counter to what’s good and will bless all. The same divine Principle that operated to free Saul and protect Ananias is operating today. We can give thanks that everyone is truly under the divine government of God—and that this can be demonstrated.