I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
So begins one of my especial favourite choral/orchestral pieces, "I Vow to Thee, My Country." The music by Gustav Holst and the words by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice (the British ambassador to the U.S. following World War 1), it's a beautiful, heart-stirring piece of music. It tells of a commitment that everyone must make at some point in their lives: a vow to hold loyalty to a nation, a cause, a king, or a country. It's a serious commitment, demanding a love and patriotism that gives up freely and withholds nothing--not even the final, ultimate sacrifice. What a requirement--perfect devotion and a willingness to serve. Imagine the implications, but also imagine the strength of a country that has such followers. It's convicting: could I, like the writer, give everything I hold dear to something I so deeply believed in?
The final verse of this magnificent song goes like this:
And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
By far the most profound for its quiet humility, I especially like this final stanza. Armies uncountable, an unseen but ever-present King, the impenetrable fortress of a tender, faithful heart, and the humility and conquering grace that comes from suffering, it's a kingdom worth serving. It's not made up of mountains, aircraft, or swords, but of a vast host of individuals who surrendered themselves to an overwhelming force--the decisive, endless love of Christ. These Christians serve the great Yahweh, and they are the kingdom of God.
It takes a great deal of commitment, serving this country of Heaven. It requires a willingness to freely sacrifice all that holds you to this earth--your life included. It's hard work too: years of faithful work are difficult. Suffering is real, because we live in a world that doesn't know the great God we serve. But it's the risen and triumphant Saviour we are committed to. Our patriotism to Him is far more important and serious than our devotion to any other earthly thing. Don't let politics, world leaders, and governments steal your vision and focus from the glorious kingdom of heaven. As a Christian, your desire is not for this world.
In the words of one university professor:
"The Bible requires us to respect [the earthly government and law]. Just remember that you're under a higher government (God's) and higher Law (His command)... Am I saying that just because your true citizenship is in heaven, you shouldn't get involved in earthly causes? No, that would be like saying that because your true citizenship is in heaven, you shouldn't eat earthly food or breathe earthly air. Just remember that you have a higher cause as well--to represent the King. Better than a constitution, you have a gospel. Better than a president, you have a Saviour. Better than a flag, you have a cross."
You have a Saviour and your patriotism belongs to Him. Give Him every drop of your devotion. Give Him a faithful, thankful heart. We'll arrive at that other country someday and when we do, it will be just the beginning of a glorious eternity with our majestic King.
Enjoy! It's really a beautiful piece of music.
(final quote taken from J. Budsiszewski's book "How to Stay Christian in College"; TH1NK Publications, 2004; ch. 7, pg. 121)