What Should We Pray For?

frustrationPolitics and the world today can seem confusing. We can feel trapped by the ‘paralysis of analysis’ – not knowing what to pray for – so we simply stop praying. There are so many things on our radars that spark complex emotions, and a feeling of ‘Can I even pray for that, ask that question or feel that anger?’ can sometimes cloud our ability to know where to begin.

For those of us who are inclined to pray, it is worth remembering that the Bible is full of emotion and expressions of prayer, prayers of hope and joy, anger and lament – just look at the Psalms. ‘What do I pray and how do I pray?’ is exactly what the disciples asked Jesus and His response was a prayer that turned convention on its head and started with intimacy: ‘Our Father in Heaven…’ Out of that cry for closeness with the Father, and the acknowledgement that all is His, flowed the rest.

In preparing a talk on politics for a delegation of young leaders in the Balkans, I was struck by an overwhelming sense that so often when we pray we are passive, even though prayer is active.  Often, we can be incredibly earnest in our prayers for change but then sit back and wait for the ‘magic’ to happen rather than listening to what God is telling us to do about it. In the Balkans I was reminded that we are often the change that is waiting to happen, God chooses to involve us. In fact, as we pray for politics and governments, perhaps we neglect to listen. The answer may be that God would quite like us to spend more time acting on His word and less time debating it.

Think about poverty around the world and in the UK, the increase in food banks, debt escalation, homelessness and the refugee situation. We can and should pray for political and social change because care of the poor and needy should be our concern. Christians often quote Matthew 25:35-40 - ‘whatever you do for the least of these you did to me’. Jesus also mentions this in Luke 7:44-46, where those who invited him to dine with them failed to show him hospitality, yet a woman scorned by society was the one who showed great love thus embarrassing the authorities of the day.

These verses stay with me especially as I travel and work in countries where the need is so apparent. I am struck by the hospitality and care I am shown by those who have little. In the UK too, I feel deep compassion for those are struggling to survive or to make sense of a system which just does not seem to be working for them. I am astounded that in 2017, in the UK, homelessness is growing, food banks are on the rise, hate crimes occur and hearts sometimes seem hardened to the stranger and the refugee.

We can look around us at Brexit, Donald Trump, the Kremlin, human rights abuses, famine, conflict, even our own internal political struggles, and ask “what do I pray?” Perhaps it is as simple as praying for softer hearts; fear being replaced by a love of mercy, justice and humility. An ability to disagree well but also to be willing to extend a hand where needed. Too often, our basic human instincts – of fear of the other, of greed and of desire for more than others – are played upon by external sources, the embers of deep prejudices stoked leading to disunity, hatred and mistrust.  Lines are drawn, ideological stances taken and instead of seeing Christ in the faces of each other, we see opposition.

I believe we should be praying for unity, integrity, character and wisdom, not just in our own political spheres but also across the country and the world. The book of Joshua shows the need for integrity in leadership, which also includes the ability to apologise and admit our mistakes. Truth, boldness, just decisions and politicians doing the right thing all require not only a cause, but also the maturity to first understand why something happens before seeking to break or replace it.  So let us pray that those who make decisions on our behalf do so on the basis of what is right and good rather than acting on ideological sound bites.

One of the reasons I favour international aid so much is because it is the right thing to do.  I would find unwillingness to seek stability in other nations and the withdrawal of aid counter to everything I understand of what is asked of us as Christians. Am I called to stand on the other side of the road and debate whether intervention would encourage the weakness of those in need, or to go and bind up the wounds and then to make provision for longer term eventualities? Even today, the parable of the Good Samaritan is the best model for how we should respond to those less fortunate than ourselves.

There is a desperate need today for us to pray for our leaders, government and political parties because the freedoms and values we enjoy and have taken for granted are perhaps shakier than I have ever known. Despite being involved in politics, praying for the government is something I confess I actually rarely do. If I do, it tends to be an add-on, or a prayer of desperation. Yet 1 & 2 Timothy both compel us to pray for our governments.

Prayer often leads to action: speaking truth to power, defending the marginalised and warning against vested interests and oppression of the poor. Today we are not so different from what we read in the Bible and we are slow to learn lessons from history. How often must we repeat our mistakes? How often do we see society break down and destroy the peace and stability it enjoyed, once whatever revolutionary vision or belief system it was based on has decayed or been forgotten?

So, what do we pray for in politics? I think it is simply this: we pray what we have been taught. Pray that people will come to know the security that relationship with God the Father brings, a security that replaces fear and hatred with love and compassion. Pray that we are not just hearers of the word but active in responding to God’s spirit in us. Pray that those who govern or seek to govern do so with justice, mercy and humility and that their motives are based upon that which brings peace not division. Pray for leaders with boldness, truth and integrity who can articulate vision without spreading hatred or self-interest. Pray that those who go into politics do so to serve others not themselves or their special interest group. Politics is about service, and should always be so.

Heather Staff is an executive member for Christians on the Left, part of our Political Mentoring Programme and an officer of Labour Campaign for International Development. She is also a consultant legal advisor working on human rights, political engagement and the rule of law in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. 

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