As I write this, the people of Scotland are voting on whether or not they want to remain in the United Kingdom. A remarkable 97% of the people have registered to vote in the referendum, and the turnout at the polls is expected to be the highest in Scottish history – remarkable indeed in a climate of electoral apathy. As I write, the result is impossible to predict – experts reckon it could be decided by a margin as slender as 60,000 votes. The polling organisation Ipsos Mori are saying 51% yes, 49% no.
As a Northern Irish citizen of the United Kingdom, I have heard and read plenty of arguments over the last few months as to why Scottish independence would be either the kiss of life or the kiss of death to both Scotland and the rest of the UK. In the ‘yes’ camp and in the ‘no’ camp experts hold forth eloquently, persuasively, passionately, supporting their arguments with telling and pertinent statistics. And then the other side comes back with forceful counter-arguments and equally plausible statistics. It’s all too easy to become like the sheep in Animal Farm who just believed whoever spoke last! How do we pray about situations that are so fiendishly complex?
Who knows what’s best for Scotland or the United Kingdom? Or for the United States, or Iraq, or Syria, or Ukraine, or any other nation on earth for that matter? The Lord Jesus Christ rules over the nations and is working out his purposes on the earth, and his priorities for Scotland are not necessarily the same as Alex Salmond’s or David Cameron’s. Would Scottish independence be economically disastrous for the Scots? Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t. But that’s not really the issue when we’re thinking from a gospel-centred perspective.
Doesn’t the very first petition of the Lord’s prayer teach us to pray above all else for the glory and honour of God’s name? So when we pray for our nation, we don’t pray first for prosperity, or a continued union (however august and ancient that union may be), or for independence – instead we pray that God will be exalted by whatever will best bring that about. ‘If economic disaster will turn the hearts of this people to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith, then do that Lord. Or if you will get more glory, if the gospel will spread more easily in a united kingdom, then do that, Lord.’ If Christians truly love their nation, then we will pray for its spiritual good above all. Everything else is a secondary issue.
Isn’t that how we pray for our loved ones who are lost? ‘Do whatever it takes, Lord, to bring them to Christ.’ Isn’t that how we pray for ourselves when our first priority is the glory of God? ‘Lord, I pray that you will do whatever will bring most glory to you through this illness. If instant healing will bring you most glory, that’s what I ask for. If a prolonged and painful illness borne in a God-honouring way by your grace will bring you more glory, then do that I pray.’ ‘You know, Lord, that I would love to be married, but if I can bring more glory to you as a single person, then that’s what I want even more.’
The exiled Jews in Babylon, who had been violently torn away from their homeland, whose last memory of it was smoking ruins and a desecrated temple, who couldn’t sing because of their grief and tears (Ps 137) – these men and women probably didn’t think of what had happened to their beloved nation as a good thing in any sense. And yet what was the Lord’s word to them? Jer 29.11: I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. Shouldn’t that be our perspective and our hope in all our disasters, frustrations, setbacks, disappointments, whether political or personal?