Forward from the One Year Pray for America Bible
by Dr. Barry C. Black, Chaplain of the United States Senate
The One Year Pray for America Bible provides springboards for prayer that enable you to pray more effectively. It gives a different prayer prompt each day, encouraging us to pray for our government and make petitions on behalf of our leaders and fellow citizens for security, forgiveness, mercy, justice, humility, and wisdom. Prayer enables us to make our voices heard in heaven regarding America’s needs.
Prayer helped to make America a beacon of freedom. At the birth of this nation, people sought God’s help in making the dream of Liberty a reality. At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, when the participants had reached an impasse, Benjamin Franklin suggested that they pray, and they eventually did. Those prayers aided in our nation’s birth.
One of the first acts of the new American legislative branch in 1789 was to establish a chaplaincy. A key responsibility of this chaplaincy was to begin each legislative session with an invocation. Prayer has continued almost uninterrupted since that time, because seeking God’s assistance for a person, nation, or world is laudable. The Bible reminds us, “Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Humanity can cooperate with Divinity in making a nation great.
If our nation started with prayer, perhaps we should also sustain it with the same. We should get back to praying because, after all, God is sovereign over all nations. Job 12:23-24 says this about God: “He builds up nations, and he destroys them. He expands nations, and he abandons them. He strips kings of understanding and leaves them wandering in a pathless wasteland.” These verses make it clear that humanity will not have the ultimate word in what happens to nations; God will.
Getting Back to Praying for Our Nation
We should get back to praying for our government because God has ordained government to establish order in society. The apostle Paul puts it this way:
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. (Romans 13:1-7)
God ordained government for our good. Paul instructs us that government officials deserve our prayers, finances, honor, and respect.
We should get back to praying for our government because God commands us to pray for it. We find these words in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.”
We should get back to praying for our government because life should not be divided into sacred and secular. God has sovereignty over all our lives because in him we live, move, breathe, and function (Acts 17:28). According to Proverbs 21:1, even the king’s heart is in God’s hands; the sovereign God guides the king’s heart as he desires. Our lives are sustained by a powerful divine providence, and the sacred permeates every part of our existence, including government.
We should get back to praying for our government because people of faith have a role in influencing public life and policy. We must give to Caesar what belongs to him (Matthew 22:21), fostering morality in government and holding authorities accountable. The Bible challenges us to be salt and light to our world (Matthew 5:13-16). This means refusing to be missing in action when it comes to governmental affairs. Esther, Nehemiah, and Daniel are just three examples of how believers should relate to government constructively.
We should get back to praying for our government because the ends sought by the government should be morally acceptable. In short, when Caesar’s dictates collide with God’s commands, we must obey God instead of Caesar (Acts 5:29). When the Babylonian king demanded that Daniel and his friends eat inappropriate food, Daniel negotiated an acceptable alternative that satisfied this demand (Daniel 1:5-16). When, however, the same king insisted these young men bow and worship an idol or be executed in a fiery furnace, the young men chose to risk death rather than compromise their faith (Daniel 3:1-18). Therefore, we must cooperate with government whenever it does not violate our allegiance to God and resist it when it does. Part of our cooperation entails praying.
We should get back to praying for our government because we are urged to pray for others. In Jesus’ model prayer for his disciples (Matthew 6:9‑13), the pronouns are plural. It does not say “My Father” but “Our Father.” We are not told to pray “give me today the food I need,” but “give us today the food we need.” Jesus does not admonish us to pray “don’t let me yield to temptation, but rescue me from the evil one,” but “don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” Although some may find it difficult to believe that the effectiveness of prayer goes beyond the private and interior life of the intercessor, the Bible urges us to pray for others (James 5:16).
We should get back to praying for our government because intercessory prayer is an affirmation of faith in the God who desires to serve humanity. God says in Ezekiel 33:11: “As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” In his book on prayer, Eric Hayman observed, “The power of our intercession is not our isolated pressure on a God remote from us. It is the action of His Spirit in and through our little souls, self-offered to the purpose of His will. So our intercession depends on our keeping open both to the perfect will of God and also the need and suffering of the world.”* Perhaps this is why Elton Trueblood speaks of the church as a “fellowship of the concerned.”†
We should get back to praying for our government because God blesses nations that acknowledge him. Psalm 33:12 states: “What joy for the nation whose God is the Lord, whose people he has chosen as his inheritance.” God shows special favor to those who respect his sovereignty. He protects these nations, surrounding them with the shield of his love (Psalm 5:12).
How We Should Pray
So, how should we pray for our government? First, we should pray for our government’s needs. One Greek word that can be translated as “supplication”in 1 Timothy 2:1 is deēsis, which is a word that suggests that God expects us to ask him to meet our government’s needs. God has promised to supply all our needs out of his celestial bounty (Philippians 4:19). He invites us to cry out to him when we are confronted with trouble (Psalm 50:15).When our government is overwhelmed by moral, financial, and even safety concerns, we should intercede for its needs. We have an example of praying for the needs of the government in James 5:16-18. These verses remind us that Elijah prayed and asked God to stop the rain from falling. Elijah was concerned because the government under King Ahab had endorsed the worship of Baal. The government seemed certain that it was Baal who sent the rain and produced a bountiful harvest, not the God of Israel. Elijah was concerned about governmental deviation from God’s law. He wanted the sovereign God of Israel to assert himself, and God answered his prayer,which was prompted by this need.
Second, we should pray with total dependence on God. Another Greek word in 1 Timothy 2:1 that can be translated as “prayer” is proseuchē. This word suggests that we should seek God as the sole provider of our government’s success. This dependence on God’s power is implied in Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good.” The notion of total dependence upon God is also captured in the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai: “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3). God desires to be our sole provider.
Third, we should pray confidently, knowing that we have complete access to God. The Greek word enteuxis in 1 Timothy 2:1 can be translated as “petition.” In this word, we can see an admonition to come boldly before God’s throne of grace to receive help in the time of need (see also Hebrews 4:16). We hear this same sentiment in 1 Peter 2:9, which describes believers as royal priests. A priest is someone who has access to both God and the people and is a bridge between God and the people. When we pray for our government, we should intercede with an awareness of our complete access to God in heaven.
Finally, we should pray with thanksgiving. The final Greek word in 1 Timothy 2:1 that shows us how to pray is eucharistia, which can be translated“thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving adds perfume to our petitions ascending to God’s throne. Philippians 4:6 says: “Pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Everything includes our prayers for our government. Believers are also encouraged to give thanks in every circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Continual thanksgiving is God’swill for our lives.
The Difference Prayer Can Make
Imagine the difference our prayers would make if we asked specifically for God to deal with the needs of our nation. What would happen if we prayed for a stronger economy, or more harmonious race relations, or greater civility among our political leaders, or better cooperation between our branches of government? Specificity matters. God is waiting for us to be specific about our needs.
Imagine what would happen if we sought God as our first option—not the fourth or fifth. It would be wonderful to avoid the mistakes of the disciples in a storm at sea. They first attempted to save themselves; they waited before awakening Jesus (Mark 4:35-41). Our prayers for government can be energized by understanding that God is the sole source of our strength and help.
Imagine what would happen if we took frequent advantage of the complete access God has given us to his throne because of our status as royal priests. It can take months to meet with a government leader, but God has provided us with continuous access to his presence, mercy, grace, and might.
Imagine what would happen if Thanksgiving came every day instead of once a year. How much more effective our prayers would be if we decided with the psalmist to praise the Lord at all times, with his praises constantly on our lips (Psalm 34:1). Perhaps then we would know experientially the truth of Psalm 22:22-31, which envisions a holy God who is continually praised by his people. The greatest days of our nation are linked to the holiness of its citizens. By God’s grace, let’s get back to prayer. The One Year Pray for America Bible is a great starting point.
* Eric Hayman, Prayer and the Christian Life (London: Student Christian MovementPress, 1948), 122-123.
† Elton Trueblood, Alternative to Futility (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948), 58.