The US Secretary of State, Mrs Hilary Clinton, came to Stormont today and shared a Bible verse with all of us who had gathered to hear her. It’s a verse we all know well, and which is often quoted text at our Harvest Thanksgiving services at this time of year.
Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:3 ESV
In addressing the members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, she did what many good preachers do; she commended them for the good things they had done and had achieved in recent years. But she called on them to continue to make progress in establishing peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland, and not to give up. Her particular concern, of course, was for the Assembly members to make progress on the devolution of policing and justice. Being the intelligent and clever politician that she is, she probably knew that her biblical reference would not be lost on many Bible-believing members of the Assembly.
The agricultural metaphor of sowing and reaping is one that we often use with regard to Christian service. Fruitfulness in service, and reaping a good harvest, are the results of patience and perseverance. And it is clear that political progress and success also requires sustained commitment over the long haul. We wish our politicians well as they remain committed to their task and we pray that they do not grow weary in the task.
But, not content with one biblical reference, Hilary climaxed her speech with a call for hearts to be changed. That’s what those of us in Christian ministry are always preaching about. We know, as Jesus taught us, that good fruit only comes from good trees, and that outward changes in behaviour, words and attitudes are the result of inward changes in which our hearts are re-oriented. For me, Hilary’s exhortation underscored the importance of prayer and sustained Christian ministry in Northern Ireland. Whether preacher or politician, as soon as we aim at heart change, we are in an area where gospel principles and spiritual realities are very important, and where we need God to work by his Spirit.
Christians believe that heart change is the result of God’s activity as he, in fulfillment of his ancient promise, replaces hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. Change is an “inside out” process, not “outside in”. No amount of external manipulation will change human hearts. Only God can do that deep, internal work. The spiritual dimension of political progress cannot be ignored, and if progress is going to be achieved here in this country, then it needs the sustained prayerful support of Christian people everywhere. Let’s not grow weary.
Thanks for the Bible verse, Hilary.