Pray for a Debt Ceiling Deal
This January, the U.S. House of Representatives had made no progress toward selecting a speaker through 11 rounds of voting. Then, members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus gathered for prayer on the House floor early Saturday morning. By the end of the day, there was a breakthrough, and the House chose Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as its speaker.
Today, the federal government faces a similar impasse, with Democrats — who control the White House and Senate — and Republicans — who control the House — unable to reach an agreement on raising the debt ceiling and reforming spending — at least so far. Prayer can and should be part of the solution. Here are a few reasons why.
Reasons We Should Pray for Agreement on the Debt Ceiling
1) Scripture commands it. Paul urges believers to pray “for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:2). This command to pray encompasses not only prayers for their salvation, but also, Paul says, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Accordingly, we can biblically pray for the civil authorities under whom we live, that they would not persecute believers, that they would maintain order, that they would execute justice, and that they would exercise wisdom in promoting the general welfare of society. Wisdom to promote the general welfare, as the preamble to the U.S. Constitution puts it, is the category applicable here.
2) We shouldn’t rely on rulers but on God. Proverbs 29:26 reminds us, “Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.” This verse packs several truths tightly together. First, rulers ought to provide justice, as authorities instituted by God (Romans 13:1-4), but earthly justice is often imperfect or deficient. Many who petition an earthly ruler for justice fail to obtain it.
On the other hand, God is the perfect judge — perfect in knowledge, in righteousness, and in justice. All who seek justice from God will obtain it. In fact, even in cases where earthly magistrates execute justice, we should see God’s providential hand as the moving power behind their actions.
So, even though “many seek the face of a ruler” for justice, those who have put their trust in God should seek his face instead.
These principles of governmental justice also apply to governmental wisdom. Instead of relying on the wisdom of earthly rulers, those who trust in God should seek his face in prayer and petition him to cause earthly rulers to make wise decisions.
Reasons We Should Desire an Agreement on the Debt Ceiling
1) Debt default is wrong. It amounts to stealing. It is taking someone’s money, with a promise to repay it, and then not keeping that promise. “The wicked borrows but does not pay back,” writes David (Psalm 37:21). When the government defaults on its debt, there is no way for its creditors to recover the money unjustly stolen from them.
2) Debt default is bad for the economy. Someone who breaks his promise to repay a loan makes himself untrustworthy, and other potential lenders think twice before extending him another loan. Like someone with a low credit score, he might obtain a loan, but only at a higher interest rate, reflecting the higher risk in lending to someone who is not trustworthy. It will take time and a track record of good behavior to rebuild a good reputation for repaying his debts. When the government defaults, that untrustworthiness inflicts catastrophic casualties across the economy. The White House Council of Economic Advisors estimates that a protracted default could cost 8.3 million jobs, reduce real GDP by 6.1%, and raise unemployment by 5.0%.
It is right, good, and biblical for government officials to be concerned about the health of the economy. As Solomon wrote, “but this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields” (Ecclesiastes 5:9). In an agrarian society, cultivated fields represented the main economic engine, so this can be applied to all economic activity.
As may be obvious, these two reasons go together. When rulers do what is right, they are also doing what enables a land to prosper, while wicked government causes a society to languish. The wise men observe, “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan” (Proverbs 29:2); and “By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts [that is, bribes] tears it down” (Proverbs 29:4).
Reasons We Should Expect God to Answer Prayers about the Debt Ceiling
1) God can turn the heart of rulers. Again from Proverbs (21:1), “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” Worldly eyes might see only a clash of political interests directing a ruler’s decisions, but the direction of a ruler’s heart is most fundamentally determined by the Lord. As with Pharoah in Exodus, the Lord directs the hearts of rulers according to his own purposes, preeminently the glory of his name.
When politicians become entrenched in their positions, we might be tempted to despair of God changing their hearts. And we may never know how, exactly, a ruler’s heart is changed. But Proverbs does suggest one possible method. “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone” (Proverbs 25:15). So, it’s good that the two parties are continuing to discuss their differences.
2) The Lord gives wisdom, which is what rulers need to rule well. “The Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6), wrote Solomon. Wisdom, which begins with the fear of the Lord, only comes from the Lord; he gives it. Solomon then records the words of wisdom, “By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly” (Proverbs 8:15-16). Any wisdom a rule has to govern a society well is a gift of God. Even the fragmented wisdom of wicked rulers is God’s common grace to restrain evil upon the earth.
In the New Testament echo of Proverbs, James exhorts believers to pray for the wisdom that only God can give. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). We are commanded to pray for wisdom, and we are commanded to pray for rulers, who certainly need wisdom, especially in a moment like this.
These reasons only begin to scratch the surface. There is much more we should pray for, even for our government officials as they discuss the debt ceiling. As one brief example, we ought to pray that government officials move our nation to escape our crushing burden of debt, for “the borrower is the slave of the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). Irresponsible spending is the reason we’re approaching a crisis in the first place.
We can’t personally attend the Oval Office powwows, but from our knees we have direct access to one who is present and has the power to change the hearts of rulers.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.