Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

How Disciplemaking
Becomes Political

Want to ignite a discussion in a church gathering? Show up with a MAGA hat or a Biden bumper sticker and watch people take sides! We live in polarizing times and the up-coming mid-term elections are capturing the divisions in our society and in our churches.

While the New Testament is largely silent on politics, there’s one passage that steers an alternative strategy to our current debates. It’s a passage that all of us are called to obey irregardless of our political affiliation. To grasp the significance of this passage, let’s consider its political and cultural context.

The early church grew up under an occupying military force. Rome controlled Israel, Jerusalem, and most of the known world. Signs of Roman power were everywhere. The early church took root under the leadership of the Emperor Nero, the immoral ruler who institutionalized the persecution of the early church. The church had no legal standing and was shunned in a climate surrounded by the ancient gods — the pagan deities of Rome and Greece. A failure to worship the gods was a traitorous act towards the state.

How did the Apostle Paul encourage the church to engage in this oppressive political and social arena? Here’s his charge: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers . . . be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

The Apostle is elevating prayer to something more than a nice sentiment but a strategic action that Christians can take. Let’s examine this passage in detail.

The phrase “first of all” speaks to that which is of greatest importance. The church’s priority list should have prayer for government leaders, whether Democrat or Republican, as one of its top priorities. I don’t believe Paul is dismissing actions we can take today —such as organizing, running for office, etc. — but he’s emphasizing that we should first pray.

I must confess, I seldom obey this command. At this moment, I don’t have a page in my prayer journal for government leaders. If I did, I would probably list those I hope will lose in this election! I have some political “likes” and “dislikes.” However,  Jesus won’t let me squirm out of His command to “pray for all people”; I’m to pray not only for those I like but also for those whom I dislike (Matthew 5:44).

Why is prayer such a radical strategy? Prayer is an exercise of trust and authority. Do I trust in the political process or in the God who stands behind the process? Prayer speaks to authority. When I pray, I recognize the authority of our Lord over the transient authority of political rulers. Rome is no longer a dominant force and Nero’s name lives in infamy. However, Christ’s church continues to grow (Matthew 16:18)!

Ok, I’m to pray for my leaders but what should I pray? Here are Paul’s instructions:
“. . . [pray] 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 Savior, who desires all men to be saved” (2:3-4)

We pray for leaders to lead in a way that allows us to leave peacefully and quietly. The words for “peaceful” and “quiet” speak to two different kinds of peace. The first is personal peace; God’s peace ruling in our hearts (Philippians 4:6,7). The second peace or “quiet” speaks to public peace, the peace that comes from an absence of war, threats, famine, etc. This is a peace of “restfulness unmarred by disturbance.” We pray for inner peace in our lives and for outer peace in the public arena.

Peace and quiet enables us to live a particular kind of life — godly and dignified. “Being godly” refers to our ability to fulfill our duty to God. We do this in dignified ways, ways filled with respect and seriousness. We pray for the freedom to lead lives where we can fulfill our duty to God in the public and private spheres of life; an ability that happens when all is “quiet.”

Theologian and author John Stott writes: “. . . only within an ordered society is the church free to fulfill its God-given responsibility without hindrance.” When civil authorities rule well, the church has the ability to “quietly” live out its obligation to God and the gospel. This vision should motivate us to pray.

Prayer now turns inward. Godliness and dignity mark a “good” life. This quality of “good” means something beautiful or excellent. Even when our liberties are stripped away, we respond in beautiful ways that makes the gospel attractive. Living “good” happens as we pray good.

What impact can a beautiful life have? We influence the salvation of “all men” — even the Republican or Democrat I’m choosing to vote against. Prayer takes the offensive to the hearts of leaders in the public sphere; we pray for the salvation of leaders and not just for the preservation of our own rights and lives.

Let’s skip down to 1 Timothy 2:8 and consider how we should pray: I desire then
that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling . . .”

How should we pray? First, we lift “holy hands” signaling a posture of surrender and worship. Second, we pray without anger or quarreling. It’s amazing how prayer can dissipate anger — even my anger with politicians who take positions I’m vehemently opposed to. Prayer lifts me to God’s perspective (Luke 1:52) renewing or rebuking my attitudes in the process.

What can we teach disciples about politics? First, we’re cautious about influencing men and women to embrace our political positions or preferences. In some cases, there are godly people on either side of an issue.

Instead, we model the radical strategy of prayer; praying for all political leaders not just those we like but also for those we disagree with. We instruct men and women to pray for personal and public peace so we can live out our duty to God and bless the community around us. We pray for the salvation of those in authority. Prayer, then, becomes more than a nice sentiment but is a radical strategy for change. 

How can we make disciplemaking political? Participating in the public arena can take many forms but one strategy should be “first of all” — prayer. We make disciplemaking political by teaching disciples to pray as Paul instructed. 

What are you modeling in your prayer life in this mid-term election? I know I’m recalibrating who and what to pray.


  1. So critical at this time that we respond Biblically. The enemy is seeking to divide us and we need to maintain fellowship in a way that will attract others to Christ.
    Thanks for your thoughts Bill.

  2. Thank you Bill for talking about this at election time. God is in control. This keeps me up to date. Blessings, Ken Layton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *