A leader’s spiritual life affects the moral climate of those whom he leads. When he leads with confidence but also with respect, his people listen. When a leader is profane and abusive, morale among his people will communicate their fear of him or her; their speech and behavior will reflect the leader’s own. King Jehoshaphat of Judah, great-great-grandson of the powerful and wise King Solomon, provides a case study in effective prayer-propelled leadership.
Jehoshaphat prays when his kingdom, now much smaller than Solomon’s had been, has been invaded by three armies. In what is an equivalent to an American President’s televised address to the nation, King Jehoshaphat resolves to enquire of the Lord, proclaims a fast (National Day of Prayer?), and speaks at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem to citizens who have come from all over his kingdom to seek guidance from the God. The king leads his people in prayer. He says,
“O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendant of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us. But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. O our God, will you not judge them? For we have now power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (2 Chronicles 20:6-12).
Jehoshaphat’s prayer testifies that this king knew Israel’s history and almost certainly had read the Law, as prescribed for a king before taking the throne in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Knowledge of Scripture functions critically in this prayer. He refers to Israel’s faithfulness to God’s commands at a specific point in history. Deuteronomy chapter two gives the backstory. He refers to God’s mighty acts for Israel in the past and asks him once more to save his people. He confesses his helplessness without God’s aid. Military might will not suffice; the time for diplomacy has passed. The rest of the chapter records how God answered his prayer, but also relates how Jehoshaphat continues to act as a spiritual as well as political leader, encouraging his Soldiers to trust God and obey his word, even placing Temple singers at the front of the army’s formation. Jehoshaphat’s subsequent actions flow consistently from his prayer. He prays a prayer of desperation, but follows through with faith that God will act.
Jehoshaphat prays in the presence of his nation’s citizens. He prays with knowledge of what God has done. He prays with a realistic situational awareness; there seems to be no way to win without God. He prays with the patience of faith: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” When a leader prays, his followers remember that he too is accountable to another. When, as with Jehoshaphat, subsequent actions reinforce the faith spoken in the prayer, they can follow with greater confidence, assured of the leader’s integrity.