Voting is a moral obligation, but praying for those in authority is a divine command

 

On Saturday in The Times, Graham Tomlin, the widely respected principal of St Mellitus Theological College, wrote a profound article on the relationship between the authority of our political leaders and that of God: ‘A leader who prays is reminded they are not God‘. He observed:

At the heart of every general election is the question of leadership…

We call the leader of the party in government the prime minister, in other words, the first servant of the people he or she works for. It is a way of saying that while we need someone to lead, they are only ever a servant, not a master of the people, because any power they have is borrowed, not owned. The title is in fact, an expression of the deep Christian suspicion of human rulers who think they are God…

According to St Paul rulers are to be obeyed, prayed for and honoured. At the same time, when they try to compel worship to the gods of the age they are to be resisted. Caesar does not get a great press in the New Testament.

This ambivalence stems from the one single source. It is the idea that while kings, rulers and emperors might be necessary, they are never the last word in leadership, because the top job is already taken. There is ultimately only one Ruler, King or Lord: God the Creator and Sustainer of life. In the New Testament, this is expressed as an implication of the central Christian claim: the provocative and political statement that Jesus Christ, not Caesar, Herod or the High Priest, is the true Lord of Heaven and Earth.

Democracy and voting on election day is a very earthly activity. We take a trip to the polling station, pick up the stubby pencil, make our mark and deposit our paper in the ballot box. It is a process that demands the utmost respect as we choose our leaders for the next five years. But for those who understand the spiritual dimension of life, it is equally important that we do not detach the secular from the sacred. As we enter into what will inevitably be an historic day, we need to remember, as Tomlin makes it clear, that whatever the outcome, God is sovereign over all. We offer our allegiance to a candidate and a party at the polling booth, but this should never usurp our allegiance to the God of Heaven.

It is to our Heavenly Father that we should be first directing our attentions to today, to ask humbly that we might make the best use of our vote. So, too, should we pray for this nation and what lies ahead. This is a time for men and women to rise up with humble hearts willing to serve the people of this country and not pursue any selfish gain. We need leaders who desire wisdom and know that without submission to God their task and ability to shun arrogance and pride will be far harder. Whatever the outcome of this General Election, we, too, should be praying that during any negotiations the parties will seek the interests of the people beyond their own ideologies and individual goals.

This is a day to submit to God in prayerful reverence and humility, for we long for this country to be blessed through its pursuit of God’s ways and moral values both in government and beyond. We need to ask with sincere hearts that ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.’

The Church of England is provides prayers for almost every occasion, and today is no exception. This is a good place for each one of us to start as we lift ourselves and our political leaders to God on this most important of days:

Lord, we give thanks for the privileges and responsibilities of living in a 
democratic society.
Give us wisdom to play our part at election time, that, through the exercise 
of each vote, your Kingdom may come closer.
Protect us from the sins of despair and cynicism, guard us against the idols of false utopias and strengthen us to make politics a noble calling that serves 
the common good of all.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Amen.

Feel free to add your own prayerful reflection either in this comment thread beneath or via the (under-used and often idle) prayer facility on the Homepage.