“First of all,” the Apostle Paul wrote many years ago, “I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered for everyone but especially for kings and all those in authority that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior …”
The first letter to Timothy in the Christian Bible, chapter two verse one.
Yes, it is good—good to pray for those in authority, and we have been doing that with renewed fervency during this year that is anything but tranquil and quiet.
All those in authority includes governors, mayors, presidents, principals, directors, chiefs, generals, executives, coaches, judges, bishops, pastors, even parents. Each of these has had responsibility to confront crisis, manage danger, and make decisions that impact the well-being of so many citizens. They all need our prayers and our patience.
I resolved early in the year not to second-guess any of the decisions that these people make. I am thankful that I am not the one to decide if games are played, schools are convened, stores are opened, or worshippers are gathered.
But it is not just those in authority: everyone needs prayer these days, and everyone needs to be praying.
Many people of faith have such prayers written into their weekly worship. Often they even name the people for whom they are praying: a president, a governor, a priest, along with all those who have lost jobs, filed bankruptcy, sought medical care, or watched a mother die alone.
It is a hard time.
Hard times stir up anxiety and stress and fear. And these demons push us to pour our ugly emotions on people around us: to be curt, and critical, and even crude. We begin to see enemies in the faces of those we formerly called friends. Hope ebbs out and despair rushes in.
Add politics to this volatile mix and we sense things are ready to explode.
“If you can keep your wits about you,” the poet wrote and I paraphrase, “when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you!” Therapists frame it like this: a non-anxious presence in a turbulent time. The Psalmist left us with this word: “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
It is hard not to be afraid. Especially when people all around you are using such provocative, even violent language about tomorrow and next week and the coming year. The end of the world, some are convinced and others, the end of democracy, or faith, or life itself.
It’s been a long time since I have sung that old gospel song: “Sweet hour of prayer that calls me from a world of care.” Maybe more music like that would help, or more silence: like the Quakers, who gathered not to explain or exhort but simply to quiet the spirit, calm the nerves, and open the soul.
That sounds to me like prayer, like shutting out the chaos and commotion of all that swirls around us, centering our deepest selves in the presence of the everlasting One who created us, protects us, guides us, and promises us a hope and a future.
First of all, then, let us offer unto God petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving for everyone: and not just for leaders, for everyone and for ourselves, for you and for me, for the person sitting beside you or the stranger walking past you, for those you imagine as against you and also for the ones you know who love you.
Take a moment now and pray.
“You pray for the hungry,” said Pope Francis and a hundred other people. “Then you feed them. That is how prayer works.” Let us pray for one another, then let us carry the burdens for each other and bless the efforts of each other and tolerate the mistakes of each other and celebrate the lives of each other.
And in this way fulfill the law of love and also embrace what it means to be, well, human. God bless you today.
(October 1, 2020)