As I write, impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, have concluded and the 2020 presidential election draws intriguingly closer. This means that Trump will continue to dominate headlines for the foreseeable future. It also means that, regardless of how we have viewed Trump in the past, or how future events will cast him in our minds, he will be in our thoughts. And if he is in our thoughts, let me suggest that he ought to also feature in our prayers.
Why should we pray for Trump? It’s not because he is especially deserving of our prayers; in fact, some would probably argue the opposite. Paradoxically and without debating whether a particular leader is deserving of prayer, Paul urges us in 1 Timothy 2:1-3 to pray for the world’s leaders so that we can live “peaceful and quiet lives” that are pleasing to God. To help us understand how this can be, I want to suggest five beneficial reasons to pray for Trump.
1. Praying for Trump reminds us of who is sovereign
Firstly, praying for Trump reminds us of who is sovereign. We should pray for Trump because in this world, only those who have access to the throne of Almighty God, through the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, can pray for him. Consequently, that makes every Christian far more powerful than any world leader. James highlights the example of Elijah, a man given over to prayer, who God used to achieve his purposes by responding to his prayers (Jas 5:16b-18):
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
Furthermore, irrespective of what unfolds, Christians remain united and eternally bound to God, even as he directs every occurrence according to his sovereign and perfect will. The truth of God’s sovereignty, and his benevolence towards us in Christ, is a fortress for Christians in a troubling world (Ps 18). As John Calvin wrote, “The reason is not always equally apparent, but we ought undoubtedly to hold that all the changes which take place in the world are produced by the secret agency of the hand of God”1 It is a great relief that God is the only one who is sovereign—not us, and certainly not Trump.
So every time Trump enters our thoughts and we are confronted with humanity’s inability to resolve its own chaos, division and suffering, we can do little better than to direct our thoughts to the one who will renew all things (Rev 21:5). As God’s sovereignty is purposed towards renewal, then renewal is an assured outcome, and we should remind ourselves that the machinations of this world’s “powers” unfold in fulfilment of that plan. Too often we can be mere spectators of cause and effect. But “faith must penetrate deeper”, as Calvin rightly insisted.2
2. Praying for Trump reminds us that only God is all-knowing
Secondly, praying for Trump reminds us that only God is all-knowing. For all the conjecture and speculation regarding Trump’s actions—for all of Trump’s running commentary and self-aggrandising—who else but Christians hold to the wisdom and sensibility of Proverbs 20:24: “A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?” And as elected officials dissected and weighed each word and motive, even while having pre-determined their conclusions, who else but Christians can understand Proverbs 16:1: “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord”? Nothing on earth happens apart from God’s knowledge; nothing happens apart from his control. Therefore, it remains a challenge for us Christians, who desire truth and justice, to accept the limitations of our own analyses. Nevertheless, we can be faithful—even when we don’t understand God’s purposes for a man as enigmatic as Trump. We of all people can affirm that, ultimately, Christ will be vindicated, truth will reign unimpeded, and anything covered up will be made known (Luke 12:2-3).
3. Praying for Trump reminds us of God’s saving purposes
Thirdly, praying for Trump reminds us of God’s saving purposes. Briefly skim the many horrors of human history that have taken place since our Lord’s ascension: the period from that day until the day our Lord returns is not the time of God’s final judgement, but the time of his salvation in Christ. How do we reconcile that with the pain of our experiences, and our dissatisfactions with a leader like Trump? The Apostle Paul provided very practical and relatable advice when he wrote 1 Timothy and spoke to these concerns as they existed in Timothy’s time and place. Specifically, he says that extensive prayer and awareness of God’s salvation is the antidote to life’s uncertainties and woes:
I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4)
It is remarkable that Paul has to “urge” his audience to engage in activities that enable peaceful, quiet, godly and dignified lives. Yet it does make some sense of our very human experiences. It is necessary that Christians suffer in this age, as this is the mark of following Christ (John 15:20; Acts 5:41; 1 Pet 4:12-19). Nevertheless, it is right for us to seek and even pray for lives of peace, quiet, godliness and dignity—not only as these prayers keep us longing for our eternal homes, but also because such a response is so radically different to others, whose experiences of suffering in this life have no hope of relief in the life to come. Paul does not tell Timothy to pray for or to expect that suffering in this life will end; instead, he tells him to pray that, by grace, God would enable his people to experience suffering with hope and forbearance. Conversely, the relative security and freedom to proclaim the gospel experienced by Christians, including Americans under Trump, ought to be a source of our thanksgiving in prayer. All of this is pleasing to God and in accordance with his saving purposes, and it remains true whether we pray for Trump or for anyone else whose role might foreseeably impact Christian conduct.
4. Praying for Trump reminds us to proclaim the gospel—even to ourselves
Fourthly, praying for Trump reminds us to proclaim the gospel—even to ourselves. As we see in 1 Timothy 2:5, the exclusive privilege of addressing God is ours because Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all”, establishing himself as the “one mediator between God and men”. This is the heart of the gospel message. Demonstrating our trust in Christ’s mediation through prayer is one of the ways we testify about the truth of this message to the world. Prayer achieves this in a way that our other thoughts and words cannot.
Speaking about our prayers invites the world to consider the fact that there is a living God who is personal, engaging and active in the world. In most of our conversations, we may find ourselves joining in sharing our awareness of some topic, as well as our opinion on that topic. But how much more powerful would it be to respond, “Yeah, I did hear about X Y Z, and I’ve been praying that …”. Our inward thoughts directed to God in prayer are a demonstration of our belief that the gospel has granted us access to God, and that God is pleased to respond.
In addition, when all around us are losing their composure and struggling to comprehend tomorrow’s possibilities, we can proclaim the gospel to ourselves, taking comfort in Psalm 55:22: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” We have tremendous security and confidence to share with the world even when we experience the same concerns. We identify as those who bring our thoughts to God and bring God into our thoughts. Therefore, we pray.
5. Praying for Trump reminds us of the freedom we have in Christ and the Father’s ongoing generosity towards us
Fifthly and finally, praying for Trump reminds us of the freedom we have in Christ and the Father’s ongoing generosity towards us. We should note that Paul does not impose on Timothy—or us—specifics about what we should pray. We may resort to pragmatism, but often pragmatism is what prevents us from translating our many thoughts into many prayers. The dilemma of what to pray can be found in all manner of relevant issues—from climate change to BREXIT, from the Middle East to bushfires and the Coronavirus. For example, when it comes to Trump, should I, like so many American evangelicals, pray for him as a modern-day Cyrus, believing that the hopes and fortunes of the Church are contingent upon his success? Should I pray that Trump will be exposed and utterly forsaken in the hope that the Western world will wake up to its greed, immorality, obsession with celebrity, and desperate need for faithful, humble leadership? Or, should I handball Trump and simply pray that God would grant wisdom and perseverance to my American brothers and sisters, and then let them deal with him? I have the freedom in Christ to pray for all or none of these things and my relationship with God remains secure.
But what would God have us pray? Here is where we need his wisdom. Paul says to Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7). He prays that the Colossians would be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9). James, echoing Paul, says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (Jas 1:5). As we struggle to work out what to pray, we can always call on God for help. And as he bestows on us knowledge and understanding, we will learn to pray in accordance with his purposes.
Remember, God does not need us to pray “perfect” prayers. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:8. The Holy Spirit “intercedes” for us, as Paul reminds us in Romans 8:26. Instead, our Father wants us to know the freedom and security we have through his Son, and the generosity and grace he richly provides us when he answers our prayers. We have freedom in Christ. We enjoy the generosity of the Father. Therefore we should pray.
So we should pray, and we should pray for Trump. We should pray because praying for Trump reminds us of who is sovereign. It reminds us that only God is all-knowing. It reminds us of God’s saving purposes. It reminds us to proclaim the gospel—even to ourselves. And it reminds us of the freedom we have in Christ and the Father’s ongoing generosity towards us.
We have reason to pray, access to pray, wisdom to pray, and the hope of comfort and peace to pray. So as those uniquely equipped to pray, let us pray.
Dan Gillis is completing his second year at Moore College.
1 John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536, translated by Henry Beveridge, Calvin Translation Society, 1846, 1.16.9.
2 Ibid, 1.16.1.