A very wise cleric once said to me, “Sometimes the answer to your prayer is no.”
For someone who has not stepped into a house of worship for a very long time, except to attend the occasional funeral, it may seem inappropriate for me to be writing about prayer, but the fact is that I pray every day, if by prayer one means a brief conversation with God. For me prayer has always been a great solace, a confirmation of my belief that there is, indeed, a greater power. I take this on faith, but so does everyone, other than atheists.
Thursday, May 3rd is the National Day of Prayer and thus it a good time to examine the power of prayer. Enacted in 1952 by the U.S. Congress, it is traditional for the President in office to issue a proclamation each year recommending prayer.
Its origins date back to George Washington who referred to God repeatedly throughout his public and private life. Just before the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, he told his assembled forces, “The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army.”
The National Day of Prayer has been challenged in the courts by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The first challenge was unanimously dismissed by a federal appellate court in April 2011, but they are not likely to go away.
I have friends and even some family members who are atheists. I don’t mind that they have concluded there is no God. Many have. I do mind that atheist groups are forever trying through the courts to remove religion from our nation’s life. There would be no America if a bunch of pilgrims did not get on the Mayflower and come here for the express purpose of wanting to pray free of the intervention and persecution of the Crown.
I don’t even argue that religion has not been and is a great source of genuine evil in the world, but that is the work of man, not God.
One need only cast an eye on the roiling Middle East and see how Islam is the source and cause of so much murder it boggles the mind. Islam is far less a “religion” than a cult around the self-anointed “prophet” Muhammad. It is a political contrivance intended to mask its quest for power, for tyranny written large. The very word Islam translates as “submission.”
I don’t think we are here to submit to God so much as to partner with Him to live our lives in such a way as to reflect His love for humanity. God is not some distant figure to me, but a power for good that I can tap at will. Prayer puts me at one with the universe. It is a defense against the perversity of ill fortune and an aid to overcoming it.
My thought here is not about religion per se, but the power of prayer in a person’s life. I believe it acts as a guide and underlies what courage we can muster to deal with life’s challenges. I believe it brings great solace to the troubled heart. I think it brings out what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature” in his first inaugural speech.
There is a wonderful book by Toby Mac and Michael Tait, “Under God”, published in 2004 by Bethany House. If anyone doubts that the Founding Fathers were men of profound faith, they should read this book of the nation’s early history. At one point they tell of Thomas Jefferson returning to the Continental Congress with a draft of the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson was a deist, a believer in a higher power in the affairs of men, but a bit of a skeptic when it came to religion. When he showed the draft, a delegate from Massachusetts, John Adams, said he would like to add the words, “They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights.” “Where?” asked Jefferson. “Right after ‘all men are created equal’ said Adams. Benjamin Franklin agreed and suggested adding “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” When they convened on July 1, 1776, they took a vote and the rest, as they say, is history.
So, each in our own way, should give a prayer of thanks for the creation of the United States of America, the greatest experiment in democracy and liberty in the whole of human history.
The National Day of Prayer is also a good day to recall the words of Barack Obama during an April 2008 fundraiser, referring to blue-collar voters. “It’s not surprising that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment to explain their frustrations.” The President has made it a necessity for Americans to cling to their guns and to their religion.