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The Queen with the Heart of a Servant

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I have long admired Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. A part of that admiration comes from mere historical fascination. Consider these amazing facts: the first Prime Minister from her reign, Winston Churchill, was born in 1874. After the unexpected death of her father, King George VI, she acceded to the throne at age 25 as a mother of two toddlers. She met with countless world dignitaries, like Charles de Gaulle and John F. Kennedy to Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis. To make no mention of the fact that in recent decades, the news about her children and grandchildren oscillates between soap opera and sitcom.

But historical intrigue only plays a small role in my affection for her. It’s her character that drew me in.

On the occasion of her death, I find myself reflecting on her humility. I don’t mean to overstate the point or ignore her shortcomings or those of the British monarchy. At the same time, she was arguably the most famous person in the world, with more money and resources than we can imagine, with immense authority and influence, and yet, those who knew her both up close and at a distance often spoke of how kind she was.  How is that someone with incalculable fame, fortune and power had a heart so humble?

We can’t quantify why she was the way she was, and I didn’t know her personally. But it seems her commitment to service and faith in Christ played a role in forming her to be a Queen with the heart of a servant.

She saw herself as a servant, and so she was.

Her Vows of Service

When Queen Elizabeth was 10 years old, she was thrust into the position of heir presumptive, as her father, King George VI acceded to the throne after the scandalous abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII. We don’t know what that experience was like for the Queen as a child, but as she came of age, she accepted the mantle that unexpectedly landed on her shoulders.

Some eleven years later, on her 21st birthday, she made a solemn and now famous vow to her people: “My whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.” Six years later at her coronation, she reaffirmed that commitment: “I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service…. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.”

Underneath all the glitz and glam, cameras and jet planes, sat a sacred responsibility for the Queen—not just to an ancient institution, but to a people. She set out to be their servant. She saw herself as a servant, and so she was.

This year at her Platinum Jubilee, the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne, Queen Elizabeth recalled the vows she had made in her youth, and in the twilight of her life offered herself again to the service of her people. “I look forward to continuing to serve you with all my heart,” she wrote. She signed the letter, “Your servant, Elizabeth R.”

In that first vow as a young woman, the Queen closed with a prayer: “God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”

It seems God did help her to make good the vow of her youth and live her whole life in service to others. We would do good to follow her example and allow ourselves to be shaped by unwavering commitment to live lives of service with our whole hearts upheld by the grace of God.

Her Faith in Christ

Queen Elizabeth II held the titles Defender of the Faith and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, but Christianity played a much more dynamic role for her than mere formality. Carl Trueman told of her faith by those who knew her well, and she had a storied relationship with the late Billy Graham. Even in her public work, she often appealed to Christ and his Gospel.

Every year on December 25, the Monarch addresses the British Commonwealth. Most years in her Christmas speeches, the Queen appealed to Christ whose birth we celebrate. In 2012, she said, “This is the time of year when we remember that God sent his only Son ‘to serve, not to be served.’ He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ.” The Queen understood she only offered herself in service to others because the true King left his throne to offer himself as an act of service for his people. Her service was only a response to Christ’s service. Her submission to Christ helped her maintain her humble disposition.

In that 2012 speech, not only did she make a personal claim to faith in Christ, but she closed with an invitation. She reminded her listeners of a familiar carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” which “ends by asking a question of all of us who know the Christmas story of how God gave himself to us in humble service: ‘What can I give him poor as I am? … The carol gives the answer, ‘Yet what can I give him—give my heart.’”

She called her listeners to respond to God who sent his Son to serve and save. The only proper response to the gospel is to recognize our poverty before him and offer all we have to give—our hearts.

When we feel the tug to fame, fortune, and power, Queen Elizabeth not only provides us with an example of humility, but she pointed us to solution to our pride—the Lord Jesus. So now, we rejoice in the Lord’s faithfulness to our sister who has finished her race, and we too pray for God’s help to uphold us as we devote our whole lives in the service to others.

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Christy Thornton

Associate Director of PhD Studies

Christy Thornton serves as the Associate Director of PhD Studies and the Director of the ThM program.

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