What to Pray for a New President Seeking God’s blessing for a pluralistic, conflicted, and divided nation. By Mark Labberton
There is no better time to renew our commitment to pray for our leaders than the start of a new presidential administration. Barack Obama needs our prayers, and we should give them freely and eagerly no matter how we may have voted. I know our president needs prayer, because I know I do. My own life and pastoral leadership depend on prayer. I am aware that much of the blessing in the life of our church unfolds because of the prayers of people united in seeking God’s way. Blessings are not earned by prayer, nor should blessings be presumed because of prayer. But I do believe prayer increases our readiness to live humbly, wisely, and courageously.
These are also the qualities our new president needs. After a divisive campaign, an extraordinary economic collapse, a period of ecological vulnerability, and a time of war and global instability, our president, and our nation need humility, wisdom, and courage. Wherever our congregations or we may be political, these three qualities should guide our prayers for the leaders responsible for our nation and our world. Leadership that is lacking in any of these three will be far less constructive than these trying times demand. Our president needs the humility to live and lead in dependence upon God, practicing a clear estimate of our human and national limitations. Few qualities are more characteristic of Jesus than his willingness to serve in dependency on the Father, “emptying himself and taking the form of a servant.” Humble servant leadership is the essence of Jesus’ power. Let’s pray that as a new season of presidential leadership begins, Barack Obama will live before God with a clarified awareness of who he is and who he is not. When we lead our people to pray for our national leaders, we are praying for them to be wise. That means that they will be men and women led by the truth, who will act with discernment and justice. We may be tempted to pray that certain policies or political ideologies are enacted by the government, or for the authorities to establish our own utopian vision. This kind of prayer mistakenly treats the United States as a theocracy. Instead, we should be praying for leaders to have the wisdom to seek the shalom of the city, country, and the world. This kind of prayer asks God to grant leaders the power and authority that allows people and communities to thrive. It is a prayer that neither over-reaches nor under-reaches. When we lead our people to pray for this new administration, we also need to pray that President Obama, and everyone in government, will have courage.
Given the social, economic, environmental, and security threats today, we could accumulate a pile of fear-inducing situations to rival Everest. This is an exceptional time, when our leadership needs the strength of character and will to seek, say, and do what is right. When we pray for a pluralistic, conflicted, and divided nation like our own, we should recognize that we are not just praying for the church, for the community of God’s people. Instead, we are stepping into our role as faithful exiles, surrounded by a widely varied people, who seek God’s life-giving love, mercy, and justice, especially for the marginalized and for our enemies. We cry out to God for his shalom to be poured out upon others. That will be the evidence to the world that the blessing we seek isn’t just for ourselves, but that we truly care for all peoples, tribes, and nations. When we pray for these things — humility, wisdom, and courage — we are stepping beyond our own party affiliation or preference, beyond the bickering of the campaign, beyond the places where divisions are real and substantial. We are seeking instead to be prayerful partners of God’s shalom that comes, at least in part, through governments, civic leaders, and even presidents.
Mark Labberton is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, California.