Part 8 of series: Rick Warren, the Obama Inauguration, and Praying in Jesus’ Name
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Before I examine some inaugural prayers besides that of Rick Warren, I want to say something about praying for the President.
Surely all Christians, especially but not only American Christians, should now be praying regular for President Obama. When you think of the authority that has been given to him, and then the challenges he faces, surely he deserves our prayers.
Moreover, Scripture calls us to pray for our leaders:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
So common sense and God’s Word unite to urge us to pray for President Obama.
In my experience, we often have a hard time praying faithfully for a president whose policies we do not support. I think this is because praying for a president can feel like agreeing with him, or something like that. Our difficulty praying for a president of whom don’t approve is ironic, of course, because reason would lead us to pray even more for such a president than for one we like. If the president is leading our country in ways we don’t affirm, surely we would believe that he needs God’s help even more than if he were doing all things well. But, in fact, we should pray for our president no matter whether we agree with him or not.
When I was senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I usually led the congregation in prayer during weekend worship services. In that context, I almost always prayed for the president (Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2). I’d say something like, “We pray for our president and the administration, for the Congress and the courts.” About half of the time I’d pray also for state and local leaders as well.
Sometimes during times of open prayer, people in the congregation would pray for the president. Most of the times these prayers were thoughtful, and not too partisan. Nothing can kill a time of corporate prayer more quickly than an overly partisan prayer, unless, of course, your church is highly identified with a partisan agenda. On one occasion, a man prayed in a stentorian voice concerning President Clinton: “Dear God, please bring Bill Clinton to repentance concerning the senseless slaughter of the innocents in Waco, Texas.” He was referring to the 1993 killing of people in the Branch Davidian. This was an awkward moment, to say the least.
Last weekend I was facilitating a retreat at Laity Lodge. Participants came from two Episcopal churches: Holy Trinity in Midland, Texas, and St. Martin’s in Houston. Our closing worship service used the printed order from St. Martin’s. In this liturgy, there was a time for intercession, in which we prayed for “George, our President, and Barack, our President elect.” I was struck once again, as I often am in Episcopal services, by the use of the President’s first name. The prayer we used also included the first names of various Episcopal bishops.
I don’t know the source of this tradition. Perhaps it reflects Anglican roots in England, where leaders are identified by their first names (King George, Queen Elizabeth, Prince William, etc.). But, whatever the source, I find this way of praying to be quite moving. It reminds me that our president is not just a leader. He’s a human being, a person with a first name. When I pray for President Bush or President Obama, I envision somebody standing up in front of a large crowd. But when I pray for George or Barack, I picture a husband, a father, a very human being with all sorts of human frailties. Even when I’m not very happy with my president’s policies, I can feel genuine compassion for somebody named George or Barack. (Photo: A young Barack enjoys his tricycle.)
I was reminded last weekend to be faithful in praying for our new president. He sure needs all the prayer he can get. So I will pray for President Obama, both in private and in settings where I’m leading corporate prayer. But I will also pray for Barack, my brother in Christ, that he might find strength, comfort, and wisdom in Christ. I pray that God will gift him with what he needs to lead our nation and to be a good husband and father. I pray that he will find time for quiet prayer, time to read the Bible, time to be renewed in the Spirit of God.