READING the Old Testament book of 1 Kings in my daily devotions has prompted some reflections on the dearth of positive leadership in post-Christian society.
1 Kings chapter 3 describes how the young Solomon, newly installed as King of Israel in succession to his father David, went up to the shrine at Gibeon, a few miles north of Jerusalem, to offer sacrifices to the Lord God Almighty. There the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream and commanded him to ask for whatever he wanted.
Solomon replied: ‘Thou hast shewed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.
‘And now, O Lord my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.
‘Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?’ (1 Kings 3v6-9 – King James Version).
1 Kings records that this reply pleased the Lord because Solomon’s request was unselfish. He had asked not for long life or wealth or the destruction of his enemies but for the spiritual, moral and intellectual ability to lead the Lord’s chosen people well.
Solomon realised his own human weakness and knew that without divine aid he could not fulfil the task of governing Israel. So, he prayed.
It is significant that Israel’s ultimate King, Jesus Christ, whom Solomon for all his glory dimly foreshadowed, prayed frequently to his Father God, the Gospels record. John’s Gospel records one such prayer before Jesus miraculously raised his friend Lazarus from the dead: ‘Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I know that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me’ (John 11v41-42).
Because he has come as the God-sent Saviour of the world, prayer should now be made to God through Jesus Christ, the Lord. The Bible gives many assurances that God hears Christian prayers and answers them according to his sovereign wisdom, for example in Jesus’s command to his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount: ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; and knock and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened’ (Matthew 7v7-8).
Because of the difficulty and complexity of the challenges that political leaders face, is it any wonder that they flounder without divine help? That is not to say that a person is qualified for leadership by his or her willingness to say their prayers: leaders need intellectual ability well above the average and personal integrity and character. But surely the once-Christian West is paying the price for prayerless leadership in its manifest decline?
Today, Remembrance Sunday, the reality of Britain’s national decline is manifest from the circumstances under which the commemorations are taking place. The country has seen ugly demonstrations of anti-Semitism on its streets and a political establishment which finds itself unable or unwilling to prevent mobs of terrorist sympathisers from making threats of violence against Jews.
If this crisis is not an occasion for the King to call on his Christian subjects to observe a National Day of Prayer, as his grandfather did at various times during World War II, what is?
Though Charles III has far fewer subjects who regularly attend Christian churches than George VI had in the 1940s, he has enough to make a positive impact. In England where the King is Supreme Governor of the Church by law established, there are around 2.7million churchgoers in various denominations, according to the respected church statisticians, Brierley Consultancy (though they say actual attendance post-lockdown could be about a third fewer). Nevertheless, if a million Christians across the UK could be persuaded to take part in a National Day of Prayer, would that not make it a significant public event?
The Book of Common Prayer Collect for today, the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, is a call to faithful Christian prayer:
‘O God, our refuge and strength, who art the author of all godliness: Be ready, we beseech thee, to hear the devout prayers of thy Church; and grant that those things which we ask faithfully we may obtain effectually; through Jesus Christ our Lord.’