REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 35: The Common Good
Our prayers were led on Sunday morning by one of our senior believers. Extempore of necessity, given his failing eyesight, and with the full benefit of a lifetime of personal and public prayer, both as a Presbyterian and as an Anglican. The phrase and seek the common good, betrayed his Anglican heritage and caused me to think through the important privilege, indeed duty, we have to pray for our political leaders and nation. We do this at all times since we are commanded to do so (1 Timothy 2:1-7) and especially in times of acute need, like the pandemic. The petition that I think was in his mind runs: Give wisdom to those in authority in every land, and guide all peoples in the way of righteousness and peace, so that they may share with justice the resources of the earth, work together in trust and seek the common good. Father hear our prayer, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (AAPB, 2nd Order, page 141).
It takes much effort, even for believers, to seek the common good, and especially in times of crisis as we have been for the last 6 months. Our tendency to think of ourselves or our own above the common good seems to grow as we feel more at risk and when there are blatant examples of those clearly consumed for their own good. The defiant attitude of those deliberately breaking the bounds of self-isolation, stock-piling food when there are many others who need the basics, flouting the state boundaries and the like are so easy to see. The common good demands of us a different heart, attitude and practice. But how can we pull this off, especially when we can see that others are acting against the common good and getting in before us? It is not easy, and I expect it gets harder the larger the family we might be responsible for. This prayer may help us live differently in a few ways.
- Though the prayer is for leaders, it involves our praying and being part of the answer. Leaders need wisdom because they and we are inherently sinful. For this reason the prayer for leaders’ wisdom is paired with prayer for our guidance in the way[s] of righteousness and peace. What’s ‘good for the goose is good for the gander’ and ‘it takes two to tango’. Our national hobby of expecting our leaders to put things right [and blaming them if they can’t or don’t] is patently unrealistic and worse, sinful.
- This is why we are to pray for our leaders’ wisdom. They need it not only because they can [like us] be short sighted, prone to party interests and grappling with complex issues, but are also under great pressure in considering competing interests. Unsurprisingly, this makes the leader’s role unenviable, and given difficult circumstances, overly difficult and painfully onerous. Add to this the insatiable tendency of the media to take cheap shots, make the good unappealing and the bad appealing, and with the wisdom of hindsight taking every opportunity to treat understandable mistakes the same as blatant bad behaviour, and we see why prayer is essential. It is a gift we offer leaders and our nation, as essential for public wisdom as it is for ours.
- Prayer betrays our real trust and dependence on God. The common good requires our desire to see the needs of others as more important than our own. This runs against every bone in our bodies but is clearly the teaching of our Lord and Saviour, who wonderfully practised what He preached [as Mark 10:39-45, Phil. 2:1-11 and 1 John 4:16-20 indicate]. But when we trust our Father to meet our needs [Matt. 6:25-34], look to our Saviour’s gracious example [1 Peter 2:21-25] remember His promises [2 Peter 1:3-4]and seek the strength and fruits of the Holy Spirit through prayer [ John 14:25-27,Romans 8:9-11, Galatians 5:22-26], we find that He wonderfully helps us overcome the fear of missing out and enjoy the proving of his promise it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).
- The common good pursued will bring joys that our own good can never deliver. The fact that the common good is so uncommon should not discourage us at all. To pursue it with all our heart, knowing that with God’s help found in prayer will bring common blessings all around. Not only will we be doing God’s will [Matt. 22:37-40] but contributing to the solution rather than the problem. The problem is so easy to see but the solution is less evident to most. The saying that ‘everyone thinks of changing the world but few think of changing themselves’, must never be said of us believers. The evidence that we are aware of the solution is found in our praying for the common good to start in us. There is a simple chorus that will help us seek the common good: It runs “JOY, JOY this is what it means, Jesus first, Yourself last and Others in between”[ho & repeat]. The tune (Jingle Bells) is easy and forms the memorable acrostic:
Others [in between]
Yourself [last]. Peter Brain 4th August, 2020