“When It’s Hard to Pray for Someone”


Pentecost 18

September 18, 2016

 

Text:  1 Timothy 2:1-7


 

    Listen again to these words from 1 Timothy:

“First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be for all people.  Pray for rulers and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity.”

Notice that no exceptions are made.  We are told to pray for everyone regardless of how we feel about them.  We are also told to pray for rulers and people in authority.  Remember that when this was written, followers of Jesus lived under the thumb of the Roman Empire.  At that time Roman rulers and authorities strongly disapproved of Christianity, and some of them arrested followers of Jesus and gave them the choice to renounce their faith in Jesus or be executed.  Surely it is not easy to pray for people who dislike and mistreat you.  And there are also other reasons one might not be inclined to pray for certain people.

So, turn to another person and tell them about someone you have found it hard to pray for.  Go!

(Allow about 2 minutes for people to share with each other)

(Invite people to share with the congregation)

I am going to tell you about someone I found it hard to pray for.  This just happened within the last week.  You may or may not be familiar with the name of John Shelby Spong.  Spong is a retired bishop in the Episcopal Church who has written many books and is in much demand as a speaker.  Bishop Spong is a controversial figure.  He rejects most of the traditional doctrines of Christianity as being outmoded, unreasonable, and unsuited for life in our time.  I find that, when it comes to the Christian faith, he and I agree on almost nothing.

I have never met Bishop Spong nor heard him speak.  I have read a few things he has written.  I experience the way he comes across in his writings as arrogant and condescending, and I have decided, fairly or not, that I don’t like the man or what he stands for.  

About a week ago a friend on Facebook shared a request for prayers for Bishop Spong, because he had a stroke just before a speaking engagement in Michigan.  I found at first that I was not willing to pray for him.  It took me a few days of self-examination and struggle with today’s Scripture before I was finally able to do so.  It is probably a good thing for him that his health is not dependent on my initial unwillingness to pray for him.  Plenty of people apparently did pray, and at last report he is coming along well.

Some people have difficulty praying for political leaders they don’t like.  I think this is especially true in the deeply polarized political environment we have been living with over the last several years.  In fact, in recent years there have even been movements calling on people to pray against certain officeholders, justifying this action with Psalm 109:8, which reads, “Let his days be few; let someone else assume his position.”  This verse has been yanked totally out of context.  In fact, this is actually what the writer of the psalm’s enemies were saying about him and wanting to happen to him, and they were making all sorts of false accusations in order to try to make that and even worse things happen!  The psalmist is asking God to come to his defense against these accusations and threats.  

We are to pray for all people, and especially for those in authority, in order that we may be able to live quiet, peaceable, and dignified lives, free from fear and free to practice Jesus’ way of love and compassion.  The people of New Testament times had no say in who the ruling authorities were.  While we do have some say, it is also inevitable that no matter who is in office, not everyone is going to be happy with them.

We also are to pray for others because God wants everyone to be saved and to come to know the truth.  God wants everyone to know the new life and hope he offers in Jesus Christ.  Now people generally are not brought to faith by condemning them.  They are more likely to be receptive to faith when they are loved and cared for and treated with dignity and respect.  This is important to hear because a recent survey found that 87% of Americans say Christians are judgmental.  

If we are praying for people to be changed, we also need to pray for ourselves to be changed.  I’m not perfect.  My attitude is not always as Christlike as it should be.  God is still working on me in many ways.  The same is true of you.

So let us pray for the good of all people, whether we like them or not.  Let us pray for those who govern, that they may do so wisely and justly.  Let us pray that people will come to know God.  And let us pray that we be made more Christlike in our behaviors and attitudes, so that we may be a positive witness to the love of Christ in the world.  Amen.

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