November 1, 2012

Prayer & Politics

by Nathan Busenitz

pres_sealIn the history of U.S. Presidential elections, how many times has a candidate lost the popular vote and still won the Presidency?

Well, it happened in 1824, when John Quincy Adams won the Presidency after losing the popular vote by 44,804 votes to Andrew Jackson. It happened again in 1876, when Rutherford B. Hayes became President after losing the popular vote by over 250,000 votes to Samuel J. Tilden. A third time occurred in 1888, when Benjamin Harrison beat out Grover Cleveland, even though Harrison lost the popular vote by over 95,000 votes. The fourth and final time, of course, was in 2000. In that election, George W. Bush emerged victorious even though he lost the popular vote by 543,816 votes to Al Gore.

Though these past Presidents lost the popular vote, they won the White House because they won the majority of electoral college votes—which of course is the actual determiner of U.S. Presidential elections. (In the situation involving John Quincy Adams, it was actually the House of Representatives that selected him.)

Now, in case you’re keeping track, of our nation’s 44 Presidents, 19 have been Republicans and 16 have been Democrats. The first Republican President was Abraham Lincoln. The first Democrat President was Andrew Jackson.

The oldest President ever elected was Ronald Reagan, who began at age 69. The youngest was John F. Kennedy, who was voted into office at only 43 years of age.

Finally, just for fun, according to National Geographic, our nation’s heftiest President was William Taft, who tipped the scale at more than 300 pounds; and our tallest President was Abraham Lincoln, who towered at 6-feet, 4-inches. By contrast, the smallest President was James Madison, the fourth President of the United States. Madison stood at 5-feet, 4-inches tall and weighed less than 100 pounds.

Trivia aside, Presidential elections are a serious matter. We all understand that there is a great deal at stake regarding the future direction of our nation. As our country faces another national crossroads, we can feel the intensity ramping up all around us.

There are pollsters constantly projecting who the winner might be; political pundits who analyze and re-analyze every sound bite; and party officials who spin everything that happens in favor of their respective candidate. Even the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy has been interpreted, largely, in terms of how it will affect Tuesday’s election.

Now, it is not my intention in this blog series to go into the specifics of the current Presidential race or any of the state ballot measures on the docket for the upcoming election. My pastor, John MacArthur, recently addressed some of the most critical moral issues that are at the forefront of this year’s election, and I would highly recommend that you listen to those messages (regarding abortion and homosexuality).

In this series, our goal is to take a step back and address the subject of politics and government more broadly. The biblical principles we will discuss transcend American politics – they are true whether someone lives in a democracy or a monarchy or a dictatorship. They are timeless realities from God’s Word – and while it is helpful for us to be reminded of them in the midst of an election season, it is also important to remember that they ought to characterize our thinking all the time, even after this election is past.

There are, of course, a number of places in Scripture where we could turn to examine the believer’s relationship to political leaders and governmental authorities.

In the Old Testament, we could look to the examples of biblical characters like Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah – godly men who were faithful to the Lord even though they served within the structures of pagan governments.

In Romans 13, the apostle Paul instructed his readers – who were living in the capital city of the Roman Empire – to submit to governing authorities and to be faithful in paying their taxes. In vv. 5–6, he explained that “rulers are servants of God” [therefore] “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; [and] honor to whom honor.”

In Titus 3, speaking of the believers in Crete, Paul told Titus: “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:1–2).

And in 1 Peter 2, the apostle Peter similarly encouraged the Christians of Asia Minor to submit to their civil authorities—even in the face of unjust persecution.

But there is another passage that we might consider as we think about the believer’s relationship to political leaders and governmental authorities. It is a passage that is both intensely practical and, if we’re honest, a bit convicting. In the midst of an election season, it presents truth that we urgently need to remember.

That passage is found in 1 Timothy 2:1–7:

1 Timothy 2:1–7: [1] First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, [2] for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  [3] This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, [4] who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. [5] For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, [6] who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. [7] For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

We know from passages like Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 that believers are called to submit to civil authorities; but this passage adds an important component of how that submission fleshes itself out. Here, in 1 Timothy 2, we learn that we are not just to be respectful and deferential, but we are to pray for our leaders.

This text causes us to ask ourselves the question: “Are we being faithful to pray for the leaders whom God has placed over us?” That can be a convicting question, especially in the heat of an election season. And Paul is not talking about praying the imprecatory psalms! As we will see, he instructs believers to pray with thanksgiving for those whom God has put in positions of civil authority – whether at the local, state, or federal levels.

Why should we do this? Why should believers pray for secular leaders who in some cases are not just non-Christian, they are anti-Christian?

First Timothy 2:1–7 helps us answer that question. In fact, these verses give us three reasons why we ought to pray for those in positions of political power who have authority over us.

Starting tomorrow, we will consider each of these three reasons as we count down the days to Tuesday’s election.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • I am extremely grateful that you are covering this right now. Actually, I’m grateful that you’re covering it no matter when you do so as it’s important no matter when you talk about it. We conservatives must understand that we have been extremely blessed in America. Instead of bickering and maligning our politicians, we should be praying like there was no tomorrow FOR them. I look forward to the rest of the series!

  • MikeWorrell

    Mark Dever covers this in a great sermon titled “Jesus Paid Taxes”

  • Heather

    Yeah, I’m grateful too. To read those Scriptures, along with Nathan’s commentary, really put me at peace this morning. My heart has been heavy since I saw the Billy Graham association took Mormonism off their list of cults…no matter what political standing we have (or even regardless of who becomes President), we can’t deny we are in an intense spiritual warfare today. It encouraged my heart to remember that my center should be prayer, even if it is sorrowful prayer at times, because it still draws me close to the heart of God, and what better place to be these days than near to the heart of God? Thanks so much for the encouragement, Nathan.

    “But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Your works.” Psalm 73:28

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