Render Unto Caesar

“What, O my son? And what, O son of my womb? And what, O son of my vows? Do not give your strength to women, or your ways to that which destroys kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. … Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” (Proverbs 31:2-5, 8-9 NASB)

For the past couple years, I’ve been thinking about civic matters a lot, particularly criminal justice. Since the presidential election, my thinking has escalated, but prayer has lagged behind. I just haven’t known how to pray for our new president. Then on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, while preparing my estimated tax payment (in accordance with Romans 13:7!), I began to get a glimmer of a roadmap for intercession. Just as we render our taxes unto Caesar (the government), so we give our prayers to God for that same government.

1 Timothy 2:1-2: The apostle Paul told Timothy to pray for all governing authorities “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” You could imagine that the aging Paul might have really hungered for a nice quiet life at that point! But I think Paul knew that for ordinary folks, life is precarious, in any century.

Paul mentions godliness and dignity. Godliness could be called the evidence of God’s touch in human form — the peaceable fruits of the spirit and deeds of caring, such as Jesus called out: caring for the thirsty and hungry, the strangers and naked, the sick and imprisoned (Matthew 25:35-36). The word “dignity” may refer to self-esteem. I like to think that dignity includes that “human flourishing” that Pastor Noah has been talking about — a kind of peace in oneself and a foundation for living fully.

So, based on 1 Timothy, I pray

  1. that our new president will reduce turmoil and increase tranquility in the lives of ordinary people,

  2. that our new president will guide the administration in policies and practices, acts and approvals that will promote godliness, and

  3. that our new president will increase the human flourishing of our nation, especially for the poorer, less loved and more disadvantaged segments of society.

Daniel 6:1-28: When I taught this classic “lion” passage to the preschoolers last summer, I billed it as “Daniel and the Bad Law.” Daniel, a foreigner in Babylon, had been living a kind of quiet and tranquil life in godliness and dignity, serving the kings of the land, until his jealous peers connived to end his life through legislation. They pushed a vicious law past the clueless king and forced the king to execute Daniel. Only the miraculous ending is unusual about this story — sadly, using legislation to serve selfish purposes is not.

Based on Daniel’s story, I pray

  1. that our new president will be guided by God with wisdom to reject bad law, approve good law, and perform his duties with care and humility.

Proverbs 31:1-9: King Lemuel preserves two critical pieces of advice from his mother, quoted above: avoid vices that will hamper just rule, and speak out on behalf of the poor.

With King Lemuel’s mother, I pray

  1. that our new president will be continually mindful of those who, like Lazarus, are lying outside the gate in distress, and will open his mouth to advocate for them, and

  2. that God might keep our president from destructive vices and instill in him a heart to use power to enact justice and defend the rights of the voiceless, the needy and the unfortunate.

Jani can be reached by email here.

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