Article Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Fiddler on the Roof is a film about changing culture and faith among Russian Jewish families in 1905. In one scene, the village Rabbi was asked if there was a blessing for the czar, who had persecuted the Jews. He replied, “The Lord bless and keep the czar– far away from us!”
We may chuckle at the story, but we still wonder how do we actually pray for bad leaders. We feel a tension between the Biblical command to pray for all those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4), and the fact that some of those in authority live ungodly lives and support unrighteous policies.
Cry out to God
Ezekiel cried out to the Lord in distress on behalf of the righteous remnant. “I fell facedown and cried out, ‘Oh, Lord GOD! Are You going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel when You pour out Your wrath on Jerusalem?” (Ezekiel 9:8; see also 11:13). There is nothing wrong with crying out to God about your heart-felt concern. Ezekiel did. But don’t stop there.
Pray for God to work through bad leaders
Habakkuk cried out to the Lord about evil rulers. In Habakkuk 1:2, the prophet described life under the wicked King Jehoiakim this way: “This is why the law is ineffective and justice never emerges. For the wicked restrict the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted.” Sounds like a modern news report, doesn’t it? God’s first answer to this dilemma comes in the next verses, saying, “Look at the nations and observe– be utterly astounded! For something is taking place in your days that you will not believe when you hear about it” (Habakkuk 1:5). He goes on to describe how God would bring judgment on Jerusalem through the Babylonians.
God often uses nations and rulers for His purpose, even evil rulers. God can hit straight with a crooked stick anytime He wishes. He used King Cyrus of Persia (Isaiah 44:28-45:1) to bring the Jews home from captivity. Daniel 2:21 says, “He removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.” Acts 2:23 shows how God even used evil leaders in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ: “Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him.”
Therefore, we can pray for God to work through bad leaders. John F. Kennedy had many extramarital affairs, but God used his courage to stand against communist Russia in Cuba. Richard Nixon was corrupted by the Watergate scandal, yet God used him to open doors with China. We may pray for bad leaders by praying for good to overcome evil, despite their failures and sins.
Watch and pray
Returning to Habakkuk, we find two principles of prayer: expectancy, and faith. First is the principle of expectancy: the prophet finally resolved to be a “watchman” in prayer: “I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower. I will watch to see what He will say to me and what I should reply about my complaint” (Habakkuk 2:1). Likewise, we are to watch what happens with rulers, and continually pray, expecting that God will do something. The second principle is faith. The Lord encouraged the prophet to keep watching, and waiting, and then God revealed one of the greatest doctrines of the Bible: “But the righteous one will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). This verse is quoted repeatedly in the New Testament, reminding us that our salvation comes by faith and trust in the Lord, and Him alone (Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:11 and Hebrews 10:38). As Jesus said, “Watch and pray” (Matthew 26:41; Luke 22:46).
Ask God what you can do
Contemporary Christian singer Matthew West sings about how he saw all kinds of suffering and injustice in the world which disgusted him. Then the singer cried out, “‘God, why don’t you do something?’ He said, ‘I did, I created you!'” (“Do Something” by Matthew West, from the album, Into the Light).
Isaiah gives a similar response to our prayers complaining about bad government. Isaiah prophesied that the Lord would answer their cries when He saw social injustice in the land (Isaiah 58:3-10). The people were fasting and praying for justice. In this passage, God responded to the prayer by calling on His people to put feet to their own prayers. “Isn’t the fast I choose: To break the chains of wickedness… Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and not to ignore your own flesh and blood? Then your light will appear like the dawn… and the LORD’s glory will be your rear guard” (Isaiah 48:6-8). God hears our prayers for justice to overcome evil, and He nudges us to get personally involved in fighting injustice. Pray for bad leaders by deciding to do something good yourself! You can vote for pro-life candidates, but don’t stop there; volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center. You can vote for candidates who support the police and who fight for racial justice, but don’t stop there; show your kindness and speak up against mistreatment of the police and mistreatment of those of other races.
So what does all of this mean to us today? It means that no matter who occupies the White House, God is on His throne, and He is in control. It means that while we pray for and support godly leaders, we also pray for God to work His will through ungodly leaders. He has done it before, and He can do it again. It means that we put our trust in the Lord, not in earthly leaders. It means that instead of just complaining about evil, we need to ask God what good we can do ourselves. Then we need to get up from our prayers, and do something good in the name of Jesus.
Are you satisfied with your prayer life? Many are not. Christianity Today magazine did an online poll, and out of 678 respondents, only 23 felt satisfied with the time they were spending in prayer. (Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? p. 15).
Yet in the Gospels, Jesus Himself specifically tells us how to get our prayers answered. Listen to what He says…
I. Ask in Jesus’ name
“If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” John 14:14, HCSB
Praying in Jesus’ name does not mean using Jesus’ name like a magic chant. It means coming to represent all that Jesus stands for. For example, if the president of the United States sends you as an ambassador to Mexico, then when you go to Mexico City, you are going in the name of the president. You represent his interests and the interests of the United States. You cannot just say anything. You must say what represents the president’s wishes, because you are speaking in his name.
Likewise, praying in Jesus’ name must come from knowing Jesus and all that Jesus represents. There is an interesting example of this is found in Acts 19. It says seven Jewish exorcists in Ephesus “attempted to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I command you by the Jesus that Paul preaches!’ But verse 15 says that the evil spirit answered them, “I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul—but who are you?” Then the spirit pounced on them, and the exorcists ran out of the house stripped naked and wounded! (Acts 19:13-16)
Why did this happen? Was the name of Jesus not effective? The very next verse after this story explains it. Acts 19:17 says, “This became know to everyone who lived in Ephesus… then fear fell on all of them, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.” People recognized that it is a serious thing to pray in Jesus’ name, and it is not to be done lightly. To pray in Jesus’ name demands that we know Jesus and what He stands for.
George Mueller, the great prayer warrior who ran an orphanage in England, said, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of God’s willingness.” We must learn to pray in God’s will. We do that by praying in Jesus’ name.
II. Ask while remaining in Christ
“If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.” John 15:7, HCSB
Tony Evans tells the story of two dogs who lived at the same house: a German shepherd and a poodle. They were arguing about which dog was the greatest. The German shepherd argued that he was bigger and stronger; the poodle argued that he was cuter.
The German shepherd proposed a contest: they would test their greatness by seeing who could get inside the house of the owner first. Poodle agreed. The German shepherd went first. With its strength, it went up on its hind legs, opened its mouth, and put it on the doorknob. He couldn’t turn the knob with his mouth, so he took his paws and began twisting. After about three minutes, he had twisted the door open. He was worn out, but he finally got the door open.
Next, the poodle took his turn. He went to the other door, got on his hind lets, and scratched. The owner came and opened the door. The poodle was inside the house and was in the lap of the owner, being petted, in less than 30 seconds.
What was the difference? The German shepherd was trying to get the door open by his own strength. The poodle was depending on his master to open it because he had a relationship with his master. (Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations, p. 168-169)
Ole Hallesby, the great Norwegian writer on prayer, says, “Your helplessness is your best prayer.” (O. Hallesby, Prayer, p. 19). What he means is that when we come before God totally helpless and dependent on Him, is when our prayers have most impact, because it is prayer while remaining in Christ.
III. Ask in faith
“And if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Matthew 21:22, HCSB
Richard Foster is a Christian author and professor at Azusa Pacific University. During his second week at the school, one of his students, named Maria, fell out of a pickup truck and hit her head on the pavement. He rushed to the hospital and joined the students who gathered to pray, fervently calling on God to heal her. Then he went back to the campus, and while he was there, he joined some of the faculty who gathered to pray for Maria.
At the faculty prayer meeting, one prayed, “We place Maria into your hands; there is nothing else we can do.” Another prayed, “Lord, help Maria to get well, if it be thy will.” Dr. Foster agreed that we should seek God’s will, but this kind of praying sounded more like they did not believe Maria could be healed. Their prayers hindered his faith. So he left and went back to the hospital. By this time, her parents had arrived, and they joined the gathered students in praying, believing God was fully able to heal Maria. About 6:00 a.m., the parents decided to pray by picturing in their minds that Maria was waking up. At that very moment a student was in the ICU with Maria, and said Maria opened her eyes and smiled at her. Within a week she was released from the hospital and completely healed. Pray in faith! (Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 212-214)
IV. Keep asking
“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds,and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8, HCSB
Mother Teresa said, “If you want to pray better, you must pray more.” (Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? p. 161)
Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was in jail in Iran for three years for his faith. During that time, millions of Christians learned to pray faithfully on his behalf. God decided to answer those prayers. But why didn’t God set him free sooner? God wants us to learn to keep on asking, because in continuing to ask, we learn to depend upon God.
For fifteen years, an Italian mother named Monica prayed for her son to come to Christ. Once, she prayed all night that God would stop him from going to Rome, because she knew how much trouble he would get into in the big city. Yet he slipped out of the house and went to Rome, anyway. Were her prayers unanswered?
Not at all! On that trip to Rome, her son had an experience with Jesus Christ, and became a believer. Reflecting back on it later, he said that God denied his mother once in order to grant her what she had prayed for always.
Oh, and by the way, her son’s name was Augustine. Augustine went on to become one of the greatest theologians in Christian history. (Philip Yancey, p. 241.)
So, my brothers and sisters: pray in Jesus’ name, pray while remaining in Christ, pray in faith, and keep on praying!
“Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.” — Jeremiah 33:3, HCSB
Some say God’s “phone number” is JER 33.3, referring to this great promise of Jeremiah 33:3 that God will give great answers to our prayers. The context of this promise is the great prayer of Jeremiah in 32:16-25. In that passage, we notice three characteristics of great prayer:
1) Pray to a great God.
Jeremiah speaks of God’s great character in verse 17: “Oh, Lord God! You Yourself made the heavens and earth by Your great power and with Your outstretched arm. Nothing is too difficult for you!” He speaks of God’s great covenant in verse 18: “You show faithful love to thousands…” He speaks of God’s great counsel in verse 19: “the One great in counsel and mighty in deed…”
2) Pray believing God still acts today.
Notice that in verse 20, Jeremiah not only remembers God’s signs and wonders in Egypt, but goes on to say that God continues to “do so to this very day.”
3) Pray believing God keeps His promises.
Jeremiah prayed in verse 24, pointing out that God was allowing the city of Jerusalem to be conquered just as He had promised would happen. God warned them that they would be punished, and they were, as Babylon laid siege to the walls of Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 32:2). But God also promised that after 70 years, He would punish Babylon and bring them home, so they had a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:10-14). Jeremiah reasoned that if God kept His promise of punishment, He would also keep His promise of grace. Thus, believing they would come back one day, Jeremiah told the Lord in verse 25 that since God told him to buy property for the future in the land of Judah, he would buy it, even as they were about to be taken to Babylon in exile.
Can you pray believing God when all hope seems lost? If you can, you can pray a great prayer!
Notice what “great and incomprehensible things” God showed him in chapter 33. In Jeremiah 33:7 God promised a return from captivity, and in 33:15 God promised a Messiah: “In those days and at that time I will cause a Righteous Branch to sprout up for David…” God always does more than we can imagine.
So let us pray great prayers to our great God!