Prayer is one of the most powerful and comforting of abilities given by God to His children.
Jesus taught, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11; ESV)”
We are reminded, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (James 5:16; ESV)”
Amongst the things that God wants His people to pray for is peace and stability in their times. He counseled His people in the Old Testament, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). Elsewhen, as they went into captivity into Babylon, He likewise told them, “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah29:7; ESV).”
In the New Testament, we read a very similar sentiment: “First of all, then, 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. (1 Timothy 2:1-2; ESV)”
Prayer is powerful, and if God’s people will pray with thanksgiving and love for their government and laws, so that those same will allow God’s people to serve God with dignity and in peace, they can know they are praying according to God’s revealed will and that God will work providentially to answer such prayers.
With that being said, how horrible would it be to realize that a country is so far gone so as to no longer be a valid object for prayers. Jeremiah, that righteous man of God, faced many challenges during his ministry as he preached God’s coming wrath, but surely one of the most difficult things God ever told him was that he was no longer allowed to pray and make intercession on behalf of his countrymen. At least three times God command Jeremiah not to pray for Jerusalem. He said, “As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you (Jeremiah 7:16; ESV; cf. Jeremiah 11:14; 14:11).” So far gone were the Jews in their sins, and so certain was the judgment against them, and so hardened were the hearts of the people against repentance, that God knew that prayer would make no difference, and, more than just being futile, it would be insulting to the righteous values of God.
There is a similar passage in the New Testament, where the apostle John comments, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. (1 John 5:16; ESV)”
It is generally understood that the sin leading to death was the sin not repented of: the sin of the hardened heart, where there was no remorse, no penitence and no intention of changing. The soul possessed of such a sin has no chance of forgiveness unless and until they can be brought to repentance (cf. Luke 13:3). What is true of individuals can also, we glean from Jeremiah’s text, be true of societies and nations and cultures. When we refuse to acknowledge our sins, refuse to consider the need for forgiveness, and glory in our shame (cf. Philippians 3:19), we are not going to be objects of blessings; rather we will be objects of wrath and judgment.
Only God knows for sure when a nation has crossed that line. Jeremiah, in his day, was not to pray for sinful Israel but he was told to command his countrymen to pray for Babylon, which was not exactly a culture of virtue and righteousness. Paul urged first-century Christians to pray for their leaders, few of whom were noble paragons of morality; yet Jesus also predicted that first-century Jerusalem would be judged and destroyed for its sins (cf. Matthew 24:2).”
It would seem that there may come a time in each nations life where God finally calls it to account; yet until that day, we should continue to pray for all people, especially those in authority, seeking the good of the land where we dwell, that we might have peace, and be able to live a quiet and dignified life.
In all the turmoil and confusion of this world, God and His word remain the same. The church of Christ invites you to come and worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise if you have any questions or comments, please share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.