"So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they all prayed for the right man to be chosen. "O Lord," they said, "you know every heart. Show us which of these men you have chosen as an apostle to replace Judas the traitor in this ministry, for he has deserted us and gone where he belongs." Then they cast lots, and in this way Matthias was chosen and became an apostle with the other eleven." (Acts 1:23-26)

As citizens of this Nation, it is our belief - one shared by our founding fathers - that the rights we enjoy were not given us by men, but by God our Creator. By grace, He endowed us with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Since these are bestowed by God, we agree they should not be stripped from us by man. In fact we have a civic duty, as well as a religious one, to guard and protect these rights for they represent the very goodness of God to us. Exercising our voting rights, then, is to be viewed by us, not only as a special privilege but also a sacred act, in which we seek to honor, with our vote, the God who created us and sustains us.

I say all of that to set the stage for our discussion of the passage of Scripture before us today. While the election reported in these verses was of a different sort from those in which we, as citizens, normally engage, there are principles to be discovered here that speak to us in this another election year. These early believers were replacing an apostle to take the place of Judas who had betrayed Jesus and had, then, taken his own life. The process now had come down to a decision between two men and the approach of these men and women to that decision is worth considering as you and I come to the exercise of our civic duty.

First of all, notice the focus on the prerequisite qualifications of the candidates considered on this day. Peter had laid out before the church certain necessities to be considered before the vote. The list of viable candidates was limited to individuals who had accompanied the disciples during the length of Jesus' ministry among them, from His baptism by John until His death on the cross. Also, they had to have witnessed Christ's resurrection from the dead. Having set the prerequisites, both Joseph and Matthias were set forth for consideration. What this says to me is that a candidate's experience and background matters. There are those today who feel that matters of character should be of little if any consequence in determining qualification for public office. I couldn't disagree more. Character does matter and it matters a great deal, as does prior experience. What a candidate has done before should be weighed along side of his or her character traits and lifestyle. The early church wanted someone who had walked with Christ, who knew Him and loved Him and was devoted to His teachings. This says to me that time spent by us, prior to elections, inspecting a candidate's qualifications and character is not a waste of time. Talk is often cheap. Many campaign promises never see the light of day once the election is over. But a man's character is not so easily changed or lightly abandoned.

Then, notice the devotion to prayer we find throughout the process. Earlier we're told that the early Christians, following the ascension of Jesus, were "devoting themselves continually to prayer." (v.14) The whole matter before them was bathed with prayer from start to finish as they appealed to God not only for wisdom but also divine guidance. John Flavel once said: "That which begins not with prayer, seldom winds up with comfort." How wonderful it would be should we take this word to heart and spend more time in prayer - seeking God's guidance as we listen to campaign rhetoric and seeking His wisdom as we form early opinions of a candidate's qualification and character - before we vote. Expressing dissatisfaction later on over the flawed man elected to office when we have ignored and neglected this most basic of duties seems disingenuous and fruitless at best.

Finally, notice in our text the exercise of human responsibility premised upon an accepted dependence of Divine sovereignty. We find no traces of selfish political agendas being pushed, no cheating or manipulating of the ballots cast. The vote is not prefaced in any way by lofty speeches or negative advertisements. Rather, all is given over to God. I hope you'll forgive me as I pause here to express my mirth at a recent discussion I overheard over whether we had succumbed to such a low level of honesty in our electoral process where a new law might be needed that would restrain candidates from lying and restrict them to propagating only the truth. What an appalling confession this amounts to!

No, there was nothing here in this early election that we have grown accustomed to in our day. And the reason is that all present were guided by a deeper concern - that God be glorified and that His Will should be done. They believed that God had already made His choice and now they sought divine help that their actions might coincide with God's heart. Is this your approach to elections? Are you willing to submit your own wishes and desires, agendas and aspirations to the workings of God, and this for the greater good of the nation? We don't cast lots anymore. We've other means available to us now. But the principles remains - that, as believers, we first seek God's Will before we vote. His glory is infinitely more important than the man and His continued blessing upon us, as a people, is only assured as we bow our hearts and lives before Him.

The Rev. Donald Caviness is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, MS.