Throughout our nation’s evolution, from the first permanent settlement at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, until the present day, and from our Founding Fathers to ordinary citizens who cherish this country’s heritage, prayer has played a vital role in strengthening the very fabric of society. Prayers have been offered in petition, in thanksgiving, to embrace our grief and sorrow, for our troops and first responders, in times of uncertainty and crisis, during war and in peace, for protection, provision, guidance and the acknowledgement that in and of ourselves, we are wholly insufficient.
Sadly, this humble act of dependency on our Creator is increasingly challenged, diluted, and in many instances, publicly disallowed. Statements such as “God Bless you” and “God Bless America” are often convenient and well received during political speeches and rallies, but are they just hollow words that mask an inauthentic or dying faith?
At the birth of the earliest elected legislative body in America–the House of Burgesses in 1619–the first act of those who gathered together, was to pray and entreat the Lord of heaven and earth to bless them and provide wisdom in governing this new land. Our story–in so many ways–has been wonderfully linked to His story. It is intertwined with the threads of a common belief in a Sovereign God. It forms a rich tapestry that even to this day, still offers hope and echoes the words of those who framed the Declaration of Independence…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The pages of our history books provide us with clear and unmistakable anchor points. They issue a clarion call for us as a people, to return to our first love.
Only five weeks into the 1787 Continental Convention, the monumental effort to establish a “United States” of America was in jeopardy. Benjamin Franklin, an elder statesman at 81 years of age, addressed the group of frustrated delegates with words that are as true now as they were then.
“In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, & they were graciously answered…I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel.“1
During America’s most tumultuous times, our leaders and citizens have committed themselves to earnestly seeking God through prayer and fasting. Is it a coincidence that the Continental Congress2 issued a proclamation recommending “a day of publick [sic] humiliation, fasting, and prayer” prior to the greatest victory America has known? Most of our Forefathers fervently believed their trust in God would be the determining factor in the battle for freedom. With His help, victory over tyranny was secured, religious liberties were protected, and the precedence of divine acknowledgement and prayerful thanksgiving continued to be manifested in the halls of power at the local, state and federal level.
Our Founding documents and form of government reflect a sincere belief that God is the ultimate authority and should be entreated to intervene on a regular basis in the affairs of men. Congress first instituted the Office of Chaplain in 1789 as a means to implement the practice of prayer prior to their meetings, as well as provide moral and spiritual support. Today, Chaplain Barry Black (62nd Chaplain to the U.S. Senate) and Chaplain Patrick Conroy (60th Chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives), continue this tradition on behalf of our country’s leaders.
Numerous Presidents have honored God throughout the inauguration process, promoting prayer and Judeo-Christian principles, and calling national days of repentance, prayer and fasting. Abraham Lincoln summoned America to fast and pray during the horror of the Civil War. In a comment to a staff member, he said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”3 Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower are known for their powerful D-Day prayers4 just before the largest amphibious invasion in history to liberate Europe from Hitler’s devastation. Ronald Reagan envisioned this legacy in his own prayer life. At his first National Day of Prayer Proclamation in 1981, he told attendees:
“While never willing to bow to a tyrant, our forefathers were always willing to get on their knees before God. Join with me in giving thanks to Almighty God for the blessings He has bestowed on this land and the protection He affords us as a people. Let us as a Nation join together before God, fully aware of the trials that lie ahead and the need, yes, the necessity for divine guidance.“5
More recently, on March 28, 2007, over 30 Members of Congress, representing 19 states, held a bipartisan press conference on the West Steps of the U.S. Capitol to challenge America with a “Call to Prayer” and for God to heal our land. Their boldness has spurred a national movement among legislators, with Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Oklahoma, and others following their lead and launching statewide prayer caucuses.
Let us never forget God’s longstanding record of faithfulness to the nations and people who believe Him for the impossible. The Bible records countless examples of extraordinary victories for the nation of Israel in the face of insurmountable odds. Why? It was because God’s people prayed and believed He would answer.
As a country, we stand at the edge of a precipice. Either we will plunge headlong into a post-modern and secularized demise, void of those things we have long held sacred, or we will light the fires of renewal and reclaim a godly heritage that has produced one of the greatest and most blessed nations in the world. There has never been a greater sense of urgency to pray for the heart of America. If you are feeling stirred to participate, please consider America for Jesus, The Summons, or 40 Days to Save America. We need your prayers–we need your partnership–we need your participation. Together we can make a difference. May our petitions find a listening ear. Lord, hear our prayer.
1 Hund, G. & Scott, J. B. (Eds.) (1920). Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, reported by James Madison, a delegate from the state of Virginia. London: Oxford University Press.
3 Federer, W. J. (Ed.) (1994). America’s God and country: Encyclopedia of quotations. Coppell, TX: FAME Publishing, Inc.