Governor’s Prayer Breakfast 2003 – Keynote Address

Friday 7 November 2003

by His Excellency Lieutenant General John Sanderson, AC
Governor of Western Australia

Welcome to the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast for 2003. This has become a very significant event in the Western Australian calendar. Its purpose is to come together with Community Leaders in Fellowship and Unity to acknowledge God’s values, and call on His Name, that God may hear and heal our land.

As Patron, let me begin by commending the Committee for their work this year. I thank them on behalf of all those present for bringing us together here at Burswood.

Each year our numbers grow and the attendance embraces a wider spectrum of our community. Acceptance of the opportunity to pray together with leaders of public and private endeavour in our State recognises that there is a personal and living God who is omnipresent and engaged with us in the way we face up to life’s journey.

While most of you have come here from the suburbs of our city, I know that many have journeyed from country regions to join with us in prayer today. In our travels Lorraine and I meet people across the length and breadth of Western Australia who attend this occasion each year, and I know that news of it spreads by word of mouth throughout the rural areas.

A special welcome to those who have come those great distances characteristic of regional Western Australia. Your participation is very important. The whole idea of joining city to country in our approach to God recognises the fact that we are bound together, not only in nurturing each other, but in nurturing the land as God’s gift to us. In these hurly burly days of globalisation and market forces, and our headlong rush into the future, it is easy to lose sight of this vital responsibility.

We West Australians are blessed in many ways. We are custodians of a land of enormous dimensions – one that is in many ways judged to be the most secure on Earth. It contains within its borders regions of remarkable beauty and a precious array of unique wildlife. This, in itself, is undeniably a treasure of global significance. Add to that the fact that our potential mineral production is staggering and we are already the major contributor to the growing wealth of Australia, and you will agree that we have much that would be envied by the rest of the World.

But you and I know that these material gifts are not in themselves the source of happiness. Sure, they are the source of opportunity, depending on how we use the proceeds, but there is plenty of evidence that deep down, much of our society is unhappy, harbouring a bitter sense of physical and spiritual deprivation that expresses itself in self harm and anti social behaviour. Some of this is due to the careless way in which we have exploited the country in former years, and some of it is due to past injustices in the way we both misunderstood and ignored traditional rights to the land. A significant part of this unhappiness however, is due to the fact that many don’t have a sense of belonging – that they are not a part of nor share in the abundant gifts of Australian society.

What is the source of happiness then?

Recent scientific studies of what makes some human beings happier than others have revealed some news that would not come as a surprise to most Christians. Let me repeat some of the findings recently published in the New Scientist magazines of October this year.

The first is that pleasure is not happiness. Pleasure is an emotion that is a sensory thing, more likely to be satisfied by material aspects of our environment, including in some cases, power over others. It is a limited emotion. You can have too much of it. Happiness on the other hand, is a deeper emotion, without limits.

The first piece of evidence is that money is not the source of happiness. Although very poor people are often unhappy, many rich people are less happy than people of modest means. More often than not, people who desire less are happier than people who have an insatiable appetite for material things.

Modern advertising with its emphasis on perfection and material ownership has a tendency to impact on the self esteem of some people and make them unhappy, particularly if they don’t get self esteem from other things.

Here are the other things that do make people happy, and I draw directly on the New Scientist for these things:

Getting married. A good marriage has a permanent positive effect. People who are less happy to begin with get a bigger boost from marriage.

Growing old gracefully. The key issue here is learning to regulate your emotions, focusing on the things that make you happy and letting go of those that don’t.

Making friends and valuing them. Even in the face of dire poverty, those with real friends are happier than those who are wealthy but friendless.

Doing someone a good turn. Many studies have found a link between happiness and altruistic behaviour. Volunteers become happier.

But the important finding has been the benefits of finding God and having a belief system. This won’t come as a surprise to this company, but the clear evidence is that believing in God and an afterlife can give people meaning and purpose and reduce the feeling of being alone in the world. The social interaction of sharing this belief system gives people strength. But the researchers have found that this strength is really about giving. Studies have shown that people who provide support to others are better off themselves. They even live longer.

Now there is a modern scientific view that holds that we have acquired these behavioural needs through evolution – that our happiness in doing good things comes from an inbuilt need to do what is right for the survival of the herd. It seems to me however, that that line of thought on its own is unlikely to make anyone happier. In fact, it is more likely to make people less happy, given the essentially spiritual nature of all human cultural interaction.

Many things have happened in the twelve months since we last gathered together for this prayer breakfast. On the positive side, we have been blessed with a wonderful season in our agricultural regions, and our national economy has grown at a very healthy rate. But our world has become more complex. It is not simply the growth of terrorism and the follow on from the invasion of Iraq. We are confronted by increasingly difficult decisions of a moral and spiritual nature because of the growth in scientific knowledge that allows us choices about the advent and the termination of life, genetic manipulation, and neurological disorders. Priority for the distribution of resources between wealth generation and welfare is beginning to test the fabric of our society as we come to terms with an ageing population and global migration.

This complexity will demand great wisdom in our decision making. We need to be sure about what sort of a society we want to be. These findings about the sources of happiness that I have spoken of should tell us something in this regard. We need to draw together and recognise our common spirituality. In praising God, thanking Him and seeking His guidance and blessing, we must also acknowledge that we have been given an enduring message of crystal clarity in the example of Jesus Christ whose presence among us 2000 years ago was surely the most revolutionary event in the history of humanity. The times he walked on Earth were not unlike those today in their complexity. There was a lot at stake then. When he asked those about him to love one another, he was not simply talking about the people from one tribe or race. He was talking about all people, from the wretched of the earth to the unhappy rich.

Example is the most potent form of leadership. Not many of us have the conviction or the courage to carry our example as far as the Son of God. But we can pray for forgiveness for our weaknesses, and we can come together to strengthen and help each other. That is what today is about.

It also helps if we can share in the example of those who have proven their leadership ability in other fields, and who find inspiration and humility in that task through their faith and love of God and his creation. We will soon hear from such a person in Peter Pollock, in his earlier life a South African fast bowler of renown, an accomplished sportsman and businessman who was called to preach the word of God in South Africa a number of years ago. He has spoken in many other places since. We are indeed fortunate that Peter has joined us in Perth. His presence reflects his commitment to the inspirational power of prayer. It is also a reflection of the growing relationship between Western Australia and South Africa – an important part of our 21st Century fraternity with the nations of the Indian Ocean.

One other leader I want to acknowledge today is someone whose courage and faith provided the foundation for this prayer breakfast. Kevin Minson was until recently the driving force behind the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. He began doing that 14 years ago. I do not think it is too much to say that it has endured and grown primarily due to Kevin’s inspiration and determination. Everyone also knows of course that Margaret has been a major contributor to this. Between them they have brought us together, year after year, producing inspirational speakers in the fervent belief that such example and the power of prayer is important for our state and its people.

If you think about the sources of happiness that I spoke of earlier, here surely is a happy couple. Over those years they have led extremely busy public and private lives, and at the same time given much to other people for reasons that are right. This is surely God’s work.

Having gone back to serious farming, Kevin has decided that it is time for someone else to take the reins – and that has happened. But Kevin and Margaret, we all owe you a great deal, and I have been asked by the Committee to get you to come forward and receive our acknowledgement and this gift as a token of appreciation. We wish you great good fortune in God’s grace in the years ahead.