Concerning petitions

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Paul "Champion of the Chip People" Levy makes good points regarding petitions, with which - I must confess, though it irks me to do so - I am substantially in agreement. If he carefully reads the post about the Keep Marriage Special petition, he will observe that it is not so much a recommendation to sign as a public service announcement. Did I sign it? Yes. I did so because I am a Christian who is happy to show solidarity with other believers who share similar convictions about marriage, and because I appreciated the Scriptural simplicity of this particular petition. I did so because I am a pilgrim who happens to be passing through the world as a citizen-subject of a particular nation/earthly monarch, and because I am happy to record my respectful wish that the government of the day should honour the Lord who has put them in their place, and I sincerely hope that it might contribute to the peace which I hope to enjoy as a gospel preacher. (Perhaps I should make clear here that, if it were ever needed or suggested, I am not sure I would feel obliged to throw my weight behind a Levy campaign for the restoration of the chip to the national menu.)

However, I must say that I was slightly amused by Paul's contention that a bit of letter-writing might be the way forward. It rather put me in mind of the famous exchange between an interviewer and Sir Arthur Greeb-Streebling (or was it Streeb-Greebling?), in which the noble interviewee was rather chuffed that he had been against the Second World War. His humble interlocutor pointed out with some diffidence that most of us were. "Ah, yes," responded the triumphant Streeb-Greebling, "but I wrote a letter."

Paul says, "Even if we had a million signatures on the petition it would not make a difference. That is not to say we don't write, visit our MPs, lobby the government; but can someone please tell me what good petitions do?"

I am not sure what good they do. I have written and spoken to MPs on issues before (I am glad that my present MP voted against the legislation in question) and had the privilege, if that's the word, of watching some at work and play, and find that their representative role does not always extend to actually taking account of the perspectives of the people they claim to represent. I think that letters and meetings may be at least as ineffective as petitions in actually altering the collective mind of government, but they are measures that - as concerned citizens - we are free to take if we wish to do so.

However, as citizens of a heavenly kingdom, there are certain petitions that we must never neglect. It is notable that when the early church was faced with particular opposition and oppression of a particularly aggressive sort from the religious and the secular authorities (if I may be permitted that distinction), they did not organise marches, found alliances and coalitions and institutes, lobby the authorities, print leaflets, establish petitions, create banners and posters, or print T-shirts with telling slogans.

Instead, we find them in getting on their knees and crying out to the God of heaven. Again, I am not saying that there is no place for Christian citizens to engage civil authorities on behalf of themselves and others like and unlike them. Furthermore, I sincerely hope that those individual Christians in positions of influence or power in government and society at every level will use that influence and power in the service of Christ, bringing a savour of Christ personally in all their dealings, and manifesting a Christlike character and concern in all the influencing and counselling. A few more Wilberforces would not go amiss, and it might be that a few letters, meetings and petitions from sub-Wilberforces would be of assistance to them.

However, as citizens of heaven and subjects of a king whose kingdom is not of this world, the reliance of the church is not on the weapons of the world: the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2Cor 10.4-5).

And so our true and most effective petitions ought to take this form:
Lord, you are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of your servant David have said:
Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against his Christ.
For truly against your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever your hand and your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word, by stretching out your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus." (Acts 4.24-30)
If these petitions reach the ear of the God of heaven, then we might hope that God's people shall be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak the word of God with boldness. This is the great impact that we long for. In truth, not much in the church should change whatever the present current of legislation or oppression. To be sure, our circumstances might alter, but will we not worship the same God, serve the same Christ, walk the same path, live the same life, obey the same commandments, and preach the same truth? It is not a strange thing that the saints should suffer tribulations, but only that ours in the modern West should to this point be so relatively light. We may be returning to the norm, and our first and primary concern should not be to petition the kings of earth for a little more latitude, but to petition the Lord of glory for a deal more light and love, and to get on with the business of making Christ known.
Posted March 4, 2013 @ 12:45 PM by Jeremy Walker
TOPICS: petitions, prayer
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