From a Pastor to a President: What I Would Advise Trump if I Could Pray with Him

Even the most successful leaders can heed sound advice about listening better and speaking more thoughtfully

When Rev. Billy Graham passed away earlier this year, I was reminded of his profound influence upon so many millions of lives. Not only did ordinary blue-collar Americans open their ears, hearts and minds to Billy Graham’s spiritual insights, but so did powerful U.S. presidents — those tasked with governing “all the people” from the Oval Office.

During his public ministry, Graham cultivated relationships with every sitting president, beginning in the World War II era.

All of these individuals were on a first-name basis with the evangelical leader; it’s interesting that at least two presidents tried to recruit Billy Graham to a high-ranking position within the government.

Related: What Made Billy Graham’s Faith So Extraordinary? These Three Things

The majority of our chief executives, however, preferred to set politics aside, choosing to lean on Graham for prayerful support, personal encouragement, and heartfelt advice.

When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, I was hopeful the new president might interact with Rev. Graham, as so many of his predecessors did.

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But it wasn’t to be. Trump attended Billy Graham’s 95th birthday celebration in 2013, but Graham died in his sleep earlier this year and never did get to visit the Trump White House.

While I’m no Billy Graham, I am a pastor — and over the past year and a half of the Trump presidency, I have thought often about the Scripture I would share with President Trump if I were invited to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It would be this: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20).

Why this Scripture?

Over the past 18 months, Trump has proven himself to be a very effective leader. Under his guidance, the American economy is soaring, unemployment is plummeting, and our national borders and military branches are being strengthened. All in all, there’s a whole lot of “winning” going on, and the president deserves the credit.

But for all of his successes — and there are many — there appears to be one stubborn opponent that President Trump just can’t seem to overcome: himself. During this first term of his, we’ve witnessed or heard about times the president has spoken too quickly or too harshly, either into a microphone at a podium or through his Twitter feed.

Reporters, journalists, lawmakers, actors, government officials — even dignitaries from other countries — have been on the receiving end of the president’s stinging words.

I support President Trump, but when he publicly calls someone a “loser,” a “psycho,” or “low IQ” — as a religious man I must disapprove. In the first place, God doesn’t condone this kind of belittling communication because it undermines His basic command to “love your neighbor” (Matthew 22:39).

But on an even more practical level, tossing angry insults at people isn’t the best way to win new friends or influence opponents who don’t support your views.

The divine wisdom of God’s Word teaches us that the best speaking always comes after the best listening.

King Solomon was the most powerful leader of his day, but even in ancient times he understood the importance of controlling both tongue and temper: “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23).

And there’s this biblical admonition: “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32).

Related: The President Regularly Reads These Prayer Cards

While the president has every right to defend himself against unfair attacks or biased reporting — and we know there is plenty of that — I would counsel him to implement the “James 1:19 strategy” in his approach to communication: Be quick to listen and slower to speak.

It doesn’t matter whether a person is a parent, a plumber or a president — speaking is absolutely essential to everyday life. But the divine wisdom of God’s Word teaches us that the best speaking always comes after the best listening. A wise man once remarked, “God gave us mouths that close and ears that don’t. That must tell us something.”

But let’s be honest: This biblical counsel is something all of us could use. Failures of patience and utterance of words that sting can be just as evident in our own lives.

Related: Lessons for Life After the Death of Billy Graham

How many of us have barked at our kids or yelled at our spouse recently? How many of us have angrily snapped at a colleague or co-worker? And surely God didn’t approve of the way we belittled our neighbors across the street. Many people are experts at uncovering Trump’s communication shortcomings — but the question is, how about their own?

We all have room for improvement.

President Trump has surrounded himself with a host of spiritual advisers. If I were among those, I would pray with him — then encourage him to guard his lips more closely. Scripture says our words can heal, harm or hinder — so we must use them wisely.

This is winning advice not just for presidents but for all Americans.

For a look back on Billy Graham’s influence with America’s presidents, see the video below.

Pastor Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he’s served for 19 years.

(photo credit, article image: Donald TrumpCC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore)

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