Let’s face it: for some of us, praying for the nation is hard. Sure, it’s a nice idea, and the Bible talks about here and there. But just what is it about the nation that you feel the need to single-handedly bring to the attention of the God of the universe? Maybe someone already beat you to it. And which of the thousands of problems of the nation should you be bringing to God in prayer?
Every time somebody brings up the need to pray for the Philippines, I secretly despair. I imagine the millions of Filipinos all over the world and the thousands of issues that swarm around us everyday. Where do I start? If I pray about the economy, I feel like I’m babbling about things I don’t even understand. If I pray about the traffic, I feel like I’m a narcissist who only prays about things that bug me. If I pray about political issues, it’s like I’m praying for somebody’s removal from office. If I don’t pray about political issues, it’s like I’m ignoring the bulk of what makes up the daily headlines. Not only that. I also think about the smallness of my praying. Would heaven even notice my two-minute prayer? Doesn’t God need a critical mass of people to begin working on a particular problem?
If I pray about political issues, it’s like I’m praying for somebody’s removal from office. If I don’t pray about political issues, it’s like I’m ignoring the bulk of what makes up the daily headlines.
Of course I know the theologically correct answer. I’ve read my Bible. I know in my head that God hears even our faintest prayers. But that knowledge does not alleviate my secret despair and feeling of inadequacy every time I’m asked to pray for the Philippines. There’s a huge gap between what I know and what I feel.
Yesterday we kicked off the Every Nation global prayer and fasting by praying for the nation. Guess who preached at the Caloocan-Panco Square prayer meeting? Me. I know, God has a sense of humor.
So I scoured my Bible looking for something compelling to preach about. In my heart was this burning question: how do you pray for the nation when you don’t particularly feel like praying for it? Here’s what I learned:
1. Just pray anyway.
This is probably a lazy advice but a very practical one. Many people overthink their prayer points and methods that they end up not praying. The only thing that you need to do in order to know how to pray is to actually pray. It’s like trying to understand cats. You can either read a 500-page treatise on the intricacies of cathood for weeks or you can simply grab a cat by the ears and learn a lot about cats in less than two minutes. Not that I advocate cat grabbing or anything of that sort. What I mean to say is that some things are better understood when you get down to doing them.
Learning to pray is like trying to understand cats. You can either read a 500-page treatise on the intricacies of cathood for weeks or you can simply grab a cat by the ears and learn a lot about cats in less than two minutes.
That’s how prayer works. To learn it, just open your mouth and say the words that you mean to say. 1 Timothy 2 tells us to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions.” Mention them in your prayers, even without rhymes or the flowery words. You will eventually learn to polish the formula, method, tone, and vocabulary as you go along. For now, you only need to get started.
Never mind that you only end up praying for things that bug you. By inviting the name of Jesus into the issues of the nation, you are asking the Sovereign Lord to intervene in things that touch ordinary folks like you and me. You don’t need to articulate the complexities of economics and international trade. Just say “Lord, we need jobs. Help someone somewhere to create jobs and help us find them.”
2. Use Biblical themes, not current issues, as your prayer points.
This is the tricky part of praying for the nation. Sometimes we get so affected by the headlines that we want to immediately ask God to remove someone from office or at least get his comeuppance. In the heat of controversy, we sometimes want for peddlers of fake news to fall into their own traps. It feels satisfying, sure, except that we always don’t know the full story. What if the report is malicious and untrue? What if that person is a victim of propaganda? We might end up wrongfully accusing someone in the presence of God.
This is where we need to pray using Biblical themes as prayer points. For example, a certain personality seemed to be spreading misinformation. Instead of asking God to curse her with the plagues of Egypt, it is more helpful and charitable to pray for truth to prevail. Say something like, “Lord, I pray for truth to prevail in this particular issue.”
In the same way, instead of praying against individuals linked to corruption, pray for the grander themes of justice and accountability. Ask that the Lord will awaken a strong sense of righteousness among those who dispense justice like those in the Supreme Court, Office of the Ombudsman, or the Department of Justice. The reason why many of us find it so hard to pray against public sins is because we lack the Biblical themes and language to articulate our prayers. This leads me to the next point.
The reason why many of us find it so hard to pray against public sins is because we lack the Biblical themes and language to articulate our prayers.
3. Use Biblical scenes to frame the context of your prayers.
When you don’t have the precise language to use in your prayers, use specific Biblical scenes to describe to God what you want to pray about. If a major political leader, for example, is the one embroiled in controversy, the way you frame your prayers could actually be a tell-tale sign of your political allegiances. This is a tight rope to walk in especially if you are a church leader. Do you pray for his removal from office? Or do you pray that he will start listening to his political advisers and turn over a new leaf?
There is a better way. Take a scene from the Bible and pray that the Lord will steer us towards that direction. For example, in 2 Chronicles 5-7, Solomon led the people of Israel in the dedication of the temple. At the front and center of that momentous occasion was the king of Israel heavily involved in the spiritual life of the nation. You can take that scene and pray for a national leader who has sensitivity for the things of God, a leader who bends the knee to the God of the heavens and the earth, a leader who rules in wisdom and the fear of the Lord. Say something like, “Lord, we pray for a leader who fears your name.”
4. Look at the book of Revelation to ground your prayers.
The reason why many people get tired of praying for the nation is because we don’t really know how many of our prayers are answered. That means we don’t have a way of knowing if our prayers made a difference at all. The truth is that your prayers do make a difference. How do I know?
By looking at the book of Revelation. When this world is over, every nation, tribe and tongue will be represented before the throne of God. The nations will come and bow before him. It will be like the Olympics, only greater and more glorious. On that day, people will come not to compete in sports but to worship Jesus.
I look forward to the day when Filipinos will gather around the throne of King Jesus to pay homage to his kingship. There we will know that our prayers were all useful. Nothing we ever did in the name of Christ was wasted. The purposes of God were all accomplished. That is a strong motivator for us to keep on praying for our nation.