Pastor Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, California has said that when Christians misuse their authority by praying for leaders to be punished, God sometimes responds by exalting - and not punishing - those leaders.
In a sermon delivered on January 15, Johnson used 1st Timothy 2:1-4 to explain that as Christians, we are called to pray for people on their behalf, without accusation.
The passage, written by Paul the Apostle, reads, "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."
The "Face to Face With God" author said that in the original language, "first of all" means, "here's your top priority."
"He's not saying, 'this is the first thing on my list today;' he's saying, 'here's your priority, here's what I want you to focus on,'" Johnson explained. "'I want you to be ready to pray constantly and continuously for everybody. Pray for those who are in authority, pray for the kings, pray for your rulers, pray for leaders, pray for your neighbors, pray for everyone around you - keep a continuous voice of prayer going.'"
However, Paul does something fascinating; he adds the phrase, "with giving of thanks." This simple phrase, Johnson said, changes the nature of the prayer.
"I know many Christians who pray for leaders, but they pray at them," he said, explaining that often, Christians will pray for leaders they disagree with to be punished. Such prayers are inappropriate, Johnson said, because God has called his people to be priests.
"It's a unique role as worshippers, but also as intercessors," he said. "As we pray for people, we pray on their behalf."
He continued: "The moment we turn from praying on their behalf to accusing them, God then, moves into defend them from our misuse of authority. That's why many of the people that we thought God would discipline actually got exalted, because we accuse them - I'm talking generically, the church - we accused them, and God himself protected them from the misused authority."
In comments posted on Bethel Church's Facebook page, some listeners questioned Johnson's theology on the issue: "I'm sorry but he must not read the Psalms and Prophets," wrote one commenter.
"Wow you added a lot of stuff to that verse... Most of that's made up from your point of view not what it actually says," added another.
"I just disagree. Why would god exult a wicked king, because of errant prayer as you describe. Instead I believe he's just waiting for the proper time to take him out," added yet another.
However, others praised the message: "Love This! When we try to drag others down, through a false sense of "authority," God only brings them higher," wrote one commenter.
Wrote another: "A very powerful, verse papa Bill and a powerful lesson for myself thank you God for your rebuke in love."
In a op-ed penned shortly before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Russell Moore, who leads the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, took on a different perspective when explaining why Christians should pray for leaders - even if they don't agree with their policies.
"We can pray in a way that wants absolute success for officials we like, and total defeat for those we oppose. That's not the way Christians pray," he wrote.
"Consistently, no matter who is in office, we are to pray for success," Moore continued. "That doesn't mean we pray for all of any leader's ideas to be realized. But it means that we pray that he or she would succeed, would carry out an agenda that leads to the flourishing of the rest of society and, particularly, so that the church may 'lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.'"
He encouraged Christians to pray for the president's physical safety; that he would bring about peace and unity; and that he would have wisdom.
"Those who like the new president should pray that he governs so successfully that their hopes are realized," he advised. "Those who don't like the new president should pray that, at the end of his term if not before, they are surprised that they were wrong."