“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 Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4
On a first read, this passage brought up some feelings for me.
Paul’s point about praying for kings and those in authority struck a nerve right off the bat. Intentionally praying for those in authority was something I didn’t encounter until I first became Anglican. I loved a lot about how we prayed as a church, like praying for Anglican churches around the world, and for specific people who’d asked for prayers. But hearing a prayer for the Queen caught me completely off guard. My values (and probably my having been raised with an unhealthy dose of American propaganda) are at odds with the monarchy, so I physically bristled the first time I heard a prayer for the Queen being said in a church. Why was I being asked to pray for someone in charge of an institution that is opposed to everything that I stand for? What good would that do?
Furthermore, Paul says in his letter to Timothy that prayer is good and it pleases God, that God wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of truth. So does that mean we have to pray to please God? What does it mean to be saved? What does it mean to come to a knowledge of truth? How does that even relate to prayer?
As all of these questions were ricocheting around in my head, I started reflecting on prayer in my own spiritual journey.
I first experimented with prayer years before I became a Christian. Growing up in a heavily Catholic area, most of my friends were Christian, and it was something I was always fascinated by. I have a vivid memory of one night when I secretly prayed in my bedroom, just to see what happened. I have no memory of what I prayed for, or the results, just that I was intrigued by it.
Then when I got sober in my late teens, spirituality was a large part of my recovery program, and it was suggested to me that I pray every day. So every night I’d sit down, review my day with God, thank God for keeping me sober, and hop into bed. It was maybe five minutes total of my time. I fully didn’t expect much to happen, but I was shocked by the peace I felt. There was a comfort, a grounding there, some new connection. I was taken aback by it.
There was another suggestion from my recovery program that made an impact on my prayer life: pray for people you’re angry with. It was something that felt almost counterintuitive, especially when it came to people who’d genuinely wronged or hurt me, to pray that they be well. But, like I did initially with prayer, I had to try it out for myself to see if it actually worked. And to my shock, it did. Praying for these people reframed the way I saw them, and freed me from the anger I had towards them. And in its place, it left a sincere desire for them to be well, to just be well.
It was, in part, these formative prayer experiences that led me to seek out community in church, and become exposed to many different and beautiful ways of praying alone and in community, to draw closer to God.
And then I returned to the text. Prayer is so much. It’s a conversation with God, it’s joy and pain and complaints and yells, and I don’t really understand it but I know that it’s impacted my life. And when I think about it now, there’s something so beautiful and touching about praying for the whole world as a community. It reminded me of God’s grace, that infinite love and forgiveness so big I can’t fully wrap my mind around, that God extends to every person, no matter what. In the same way that praying individually impacted me, perhaps praying for the world together impacts us too.
In the final line, one interpretation could be that God wants all people to be saved, in that God wants all people to be Christian. But that feels like such a narrow view of God’s intention in this statement. I really think that what this final line is getting at, is that God wants all people to be well. To love, and be loved in return. To love God, by loving others. And when we pray for others, even those we disagree with or hate, that they experience that kind of love in their lives, there’s something transformative that happens within us. I think that praying in this kind of way grounds us and reminds us of our shared humanity as God’s children, that in God’s eyes none of us is more worthy than another of grace or salvation. That we all need help, and we all need love.
And in these times apart from each other, could this kind of prayer also serve as a way to connect us, to remind us of our shared humanity? Paul notes that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving should be made for all people, and in this way we are not just connected in our shared suffering in a pandemic, but also in our victories, our triumphs, and our joys. We share the whole awful and beautiful human experience together as God’s children.
It’s funny, I started writing this blog post firmly annoyed at Paul, but as often happens when I sit with (most of) his writings, I find myself seeing eye-to-eye with him. When I pray for all of God’s children, even those who I don’t particularly like or agree with, something changes within me. I’m humbled, grounded, reminded of God’s grace. So though I won’t be changing my views on the monarchy anytime soon, I think that next time I’m in church, I might be able to endure hearing a prayer for the Queen without any bristling.
Image credit: Aert de Gelder (Dutch painter, 1645-1727), Old Woman Praying