A Return to Prayer
Throughout our history, Americans have turned to prayer for strength, inspiration, and solidarity.
Prayer has played an important role in the American story and in shaping our Nation’s leaders. President Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day.” The late Coretta Scott King recounted a particularly difficult night, during the Montgomery bus boycott, when her husband, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., received a threatening phone call and prayed at the kitchen table, saying, “Lord, I have nothing left. I have nothing left. I have come to the point where I can’t face it alone.” Dr. King said, in that moment of prayer, he was filled with a sense of comfort and resolve, which his wife credited as a turning point in the civil rights movement.
The words above constitute the first two paragraphs of this years’s official proclamation, signed on April 29th of this year, by President Obama, that Thursday, May 5, 2011, has been designated a National Day of Prayer. And two of this nation’s most beloved leaders, a president and a minister, are used to remind us of the power of prayer in difficult situations. The proclamation goes on the address the hope that the American public will give thanks to God for the blessings we enjoy, and encourages people of faith to pray to God for guidance, mercy and protection for our Nation. And while many of us know the early foundations of this country were founded on Christian principles, there is some legitimate debate as to whether the founding fathers were Unitarian, with a belief in God, but not the deity of Jesus Christ; or whether there were a variety of religious beliefs in the early years, although almost all of them Christian in origin.
And each year, the president designates the first Thursday in May as a day to recognize the nation’s commitment to prayer; in the hope that the American public will re-double it’s efforts to call on the assistance of God to protect our nation, as well as to guide and direct our steps.
Do you feel a Bible story coming on yet? Well, I have one for you, and it is not much different than the one mentioned above. Only this one includes a young child, Josiah, who became king of Jerusalem and Judah when he was eight years old; and ruled for 31 years. By the time he was 16 years old, he was already trying to restore Jerusalem to a more God centered lifestyle by seeking God in his life. By the time he was 20, he destroyed many of the idols the people worshipped as well as the incense stands and alters dedicated to the worship of false gods. And, when he was 26, he ordered that work get started on repairing the temple of the Lord.
It was during this process that Hilkiah, the priest, found the original Book of the Law, that had been handed down from Moses. The book was brought to Josiah, and Shapan, the secretary, read entries from the Law about worship to God. Josiah, deeply upset that the people had not been following the Law for many years, tore his clothes, a sign of mourning, and inquired of God, through his servant, what should be done. God’s answer, brought back to Josiah, was that His fury burned against the people and they would suffer disasters and destruction for not carrying out the practices of their forefathers. Josiah was told that because of his own humble attitude before God, and his desire to bring the people back to a God-centered life, he would not see the destruction that would eventually take place. In other words, God would wait to exact His judgment until after Josiah’s life was over. An interesting thing happened next…..
In 2 Chronicles 34:29-31, we are told, “Then the king (Josiah) called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the LORD with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the Levites—all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD. The king stood by his pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the LORD—to follow the LORD and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book.”
So the king himself read the entire Law to his people – that is the entire first five books of the Old Testament! Can you believe that? And in front of ALL the elders! He then threw a Passover feast the likes of which had not been seen for many years. So there you have it – a single man dedicated to returning the nation to a model of worship and prayer. Too bad we don’t have that in this country today! But a great story about one man’s dedication to the Lord of the universe and how he turned a fallen and sinful nation back toward God.
So my encouragement tonight is that each of us has the capacity to change the world with our prayers and dedication to God. And my prayer, on the eve of this National Day of Prayer, is that Thursday you might take a moment and thank God for all the blessings we enjoy – and to ask that he bless our families, our nation, our troops and that He will direct our steps, and that we will be His faithful followers all the days of our lives. I do not want to live in a nation where God is forgotten, like in the days before Josiah – because He is the most important thing we have!