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12 September 2014

3 things to remember when praying for Scotland

Scotland is an amazing country. I don't just mean the haggis and the kilts and the whisky. I mean that Scotland is an amazing country in God. It surprises me that many British Christians are largely unaware of the phenomenal place which Scotland has played in God's purposes for the world over the past 500 years.

Scotland achieved something in the 16th century which was almost unique. Along with Holland, it became the only European country to succeed in defying the wishes of its ruler by embracing the evangelical gospel during the Reformation. While almost every other nation in Europe simply adopted the religion of its rulers, Scotland refused. Led by a fiery preacher named John Knox, the Scots pledged their allegiance to the gospel.

John Knox clashed with Mary Queen of Scots as he toured around the country preaching about Jesus. She described him as "the most dangerous man in the realm,"and tried to stop him, but the Scottish army was no match for the Scottish revival which God was working in the land. "God did so multiply our number that it appeared as men rained from the clouds," John Knox later recalled. As a result, Mary Queen of Scots was forced to abdicate in 1567. She was replaced by her baby son James who would grow up to be the 'King James' of the 'King James Bible'. When the gospel swept through Scotland it transformed not just its churches, but also its politics and its government.

It is helpful to remember this as we head into the week in which the Scots will decide their political future. In the run-up to Thursday and the vote on whether or not to dissolve the Union with England, people on both sides of the debate claim that they are fighting for the very soul of Scotland. Whether you are entitled to vote or simply entitled to pray, here are three things which this historical perspective ought to bring to the forefront of your mind.

1) Scotland's biggest need is a Christian revival

John Knox prayed a famous prayer from Genesis 30:1. He pleaded with the Lord to "Give me Scotland, or I die!" He was so desperate to see his nation turn back to Jesus that he asked the Lord to either grant his wish or grant him death. However much you are praying for the outcome of the Scottish vote, make sure you pray as much for a Scottish revival. Imagine what would happen if the city of Glasgow lived up to its motto: "Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of Your Word, and the praising of Your Name." Imagine what would happen if Aberdeen University lived up to its motto: "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord." Pray about the politics but pray about revival even more. Scotland has a wonderful history in God. Pray that God has saved the best till last.

2) Britain's biggest need is a Christian revival

The reason why Scotland and England united as one nation was in order to promote the Christian gospel. You won't hear that spoken by the leaders of the yes campaign or the no campaign, but we must not be unaware of this as Christians. The Scottish King James VI became King James I of England in 1603 because he was a Protestant and because the two nations hoped that, by uniting two great Protestant kingdoms as one, they might be able to promote the cause of Christ far better in the world. This union of crowns became a union of parliaments in 1707, and the historian Linda Colley argues that "Protestantism was the foundation that made this invention of Great Britain possible."

The Union succeeded in its goal. Great Britain went on to preach the gospel to more nations than any other nation in history –across Africa and Asia and America and Australia. This wave of British missionaries was led, not by an Englishman, but by a Scot. David Livingstone's heroic example inspired a nation of imperialists to become a nation of missionaries. Niall Ferguson observes in his book Empire that: "There could not be a greater contrast between the missionaries' motives and those of previous generations of empire-builders, the swashbucklers, the slavers and the settlers … Their readiness to sacrifice themselves not for gain but for God was what made the Victorian Empire different from all that had gone before." I'll be honest. I am as repulsed by much of the history of the British Empire as anyone, but I still feel challenged. What would it be like if the United Kingdom did more than survive next Thursday? What would it be like if the British renewed their commitment to promote the cause of Christ around the world?

3) God has not finished with Great Britain

There is no shortage of Christian doomsayers as we head into the week in which the future of Scotland and of Great Britain will be decided. I have heard several people liken the potential severing of the Union to the severing of the 12 tribes of Israel under Rehoboam. Don't fall for the pessimistic rhetoric. Yes, we have sinned as a nation. Yes, we deserve God's judgment. But the cross which dominates the English and Scottish flags proclaims that God has not finished with our two nations. Your prayers this week are just as powerful as those of John Knox 500 years ago.

I was born in Aberdeen. My birth certificate is in Edinburgh and I spent my early years in Scotland. I am not permitted to vote on Thursday, however, because I have lived in England far too long. That's fine with me. I get to pray, which is a far more powerful thing to be permitted to do. Whether you are Scottish or English or Welsh, you can pray with me as we head into one of the most important weeks in British history.

Let's pray together with John Knox: "Lord, give us Scotland, or we die!" Let's go one further and pray "Lord, give us England and Wales and Great Britain as a whole, or we die!" Let's pray for such a revival to sweep the entire British Isles that sixty million souls unite around the cause of Christ. Let's pray together. Your nation needs your prayers.

Phil Moore leads Everyday Church in London and is the author of Gagging Jesus, The Bible in 100 Pages and the Straight to the Heart series of commentaries.

Read Evangelical Alliance Scotland's What Kind of Nation? A manifesto for Scotland