Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage (I Timothy 2:1-7) transports me to the original united house of prayer for all people of the church on the rock of the apostolic faith, where a persecutor turned persecuted, terrorist turned terrorized, murderer who would become martyr, urges intercession and thanksgiving prayers for all people, including kings and other authority figures. We are not talking here about the perfunctory prayers given before and after the pomp and circumstance of a presidential inauguration. This is not a Billy Graham consecrating God’s blessing on Richard Nixon and assuring the presence and power of Christ in his administration. It is not a Rick Warren trying to unite a country at Barak Obama’s inauguration by employing the prayer language of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
The Apostle Paul must have been giving young Timothy an entirely different model of prayer, because he was writing from an entirely different set of relationships between church and state, between Christian and King. Paul was writing in the context of a Roman Empire and Herodian government whose authority figures had beaten him, jailed him, whipped him, flogged him, stoned him, and left him for dead on more than one occasion, simply because he wouldn’t shut up. Simply because he wanted, as his letter said, for all people to know the truth. I can hear Timothy now, reading Paul’s letter: Intercede on behalf of and give thanksgiving for those very same authorities who beat the living daylights out of you? Has the old man lost his mind? Whether or not he lost his mind, Paul’s prayers didn’t keep him from losing his head, literally. The Roman authorities finally beheaded him in an effort to stop the movement.
I am thinking about Paul’s prayers in the context of our country’s culture wars today, with both the right and left demonizing the leaders of the other side, fomenting the kind of righteous hatred that cause some to pray for the death of a leader. I suspect we all could learn a lesson from Paul. He kept his eyes on the prize. He truly believed that God sent Jesus to redeem – to value – every living soul, from the prostitute on the corner to the President in the capital. He understood that the Christians’ task is to live and move and have their being in Jesus Christ, and for Christ to so live through them that all people would be saved and come to know the liberating truth. Paul understood that his tormentors were in reality tormented themselves, in need of salvation. He understood that the only way for them to change was to experience salvation, redemption, ransom, rescue, call it what you will, but in the end it means a new life.
It’s that kind of understanding that leads persecuted prisoners to pray and sing songs of hope. It is the sweet hour of prayer that calls us from a world of care; in seasons of distress and grief it often gives our souls relief. When I find myself living in such a world of care and season of distress, I hope I can stay true to Paul’s kind of prayer life – to intercede on behalf of those who irritate and agitate and trouble me, to be thankful for them, and to pray for the saving and redemptive power of Jesus to capture their spirits. And I hope the people on the proverbial “other side,” the people I irritate and agitate and trouble, are praying the same thing for me.