I suppose when we ask such a question as ‘is it worth praying for something?’ we are really saying, ‘if I pray for a particular thing, will my prayer make a difference?’ That’s the real crux of the matter, right? Will the fact that I pray for the world, the environment, those involved in politics, and social issues, really make a difference? Will God listen to my prayer, hear my prayer, and act in some way, because of my prayer?
– written by Adam Keough
Well, to be honest, I don’t understand ‘how’ prayer ‘works’!
I think that if we focus on the logic of prayer and try to figure out how to pray more, what we might consider, ‘successfully’, I’m not sure we will ever reach a satisfactory conclusion; or even have the kind of prayer life that God ever designed us to have. It doesn’t seem to me that the Bible has much to say about the mechanics of prayer.
What I do find though, is that prayer was very much commended by God. And prayer for people and the issues facing society was commended by God as well.
Let’s look at an example. In Jeremiah chapter 29, the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, sends a personal letter to the people of Jerusalem who have been carried into exile in Babylon.
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
Here, God doesn’t tell the people how their prayers will work. Nor does God tell them the mechanics of prayer. What he does say to them though, is to pray. And surely, if God encourages the people to pray, he is only going to do so if their prayers will make a difference.
So, what does he encourage them to pray for?
Firstly, their own lives and the lives of their families. The people have been forcefully brought to strange city where life is different from what they are used to. But they are to pray that in that strange city they are able to settle down, look after themselves, and become fully functioning and contributing members of that society.
Secondly, God encourages them to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city to which they have been brought. And how can you really pray for the peace and prosperity of a town, a city, a country, or even the world, without praying for society’s leaders and the social issues which those leaders face? Because this isn’t just about praying for the peace and prosperity of the people who have been brought as exiles to Babylon; it’s about praying for peace and prosperity for the whole of the society in which they now find themselves living.
I find it interesting that God asks his people to pray in this way for the people of a city who do not know Him. It’s as if, by praying for these people and issues, somehow God’s missionary purposes in Babylon might be fulfilled. That through prayer, glory will be brought to God, and somehow prosperity and peace will lead to a greater knowledge of the One True God.
And this isn’t the only example in the bible where Christians are commended to pray like this.
The New Testament book of 1 Timothy is written by the apostle Paul to a young pastor, Timothy. In chapter 1 verses 18-19 Paul encourages Timothy to ‘fight the battle well’ and to hold ‘onto faith and a good conscience’. In chapter 2 verses 1-4 Paul goes on to say to Timothy how he can do this,
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
To me, these two passages are extremely similar. The circumstances in which the people found themselves may have been different, but the principles of prayer remain the same. Pray for yourself and for your family, yes. But also pray for the world around you, the political, social, economic and cultural circumstances in which you find yourself; and therefore, by default, for the leaders who have substantial influence over many of these issues.
If I think, once again, back to the Old Testament and to the famous biblical character of Daniel, who himself served in a position of influence to the King of Babylon – he prayed three times daily. Although the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically what he prayed for; when we understand the person of Daniel, who he was, and the impact he had on those around him, I consider it highly likely that he spent time praying specifically for the leaders and the major issues facing society.
I believe that the principles exposed in Holy Scriptures call Christians to pray for all those in leadership in our society; whether we agree with their policies and practises or not. So, what exactly might we pray for?
Well, I would suggest that we pray that our leaders have the wisdom and ability to discern right from wrong. That they would have hearts of compassion, justice and mercy (which throughout the Bible are of issues of great concern to God); especially towards those in society who are more vulnerable.
I believe that Christians are also called to pray that our leaders’ policies and practises would not be about the hoarding of money for the rich, or the exploitation of the world’s resources for personal gain, but about creating prosperity in society which benefits all, where everyone is considered equally valued, and where that growth and prosperity takes into account the stewardship of resources, so that our planet is protected for future generations.
The Good News is that God cares about people, including those in leadership, about the world, the environment in which we live and about all matters of social justice. And he cares enough to ask Christians to pray about them.
Your prayers will make a difference!
This article was published first in a special edition of FOCUS magazine, dedicated to prayer (2020). You can download the entire issue in PDF format here. To share a prayer request or to join our Prayer Team see here.