Wow, do we ever need it! Not just one day…but every day of the year.
Anyone who even watches a snippet of the news sees the symptoms of an angry, divided nation.
Political partisanship. Cultural cynicism. Hatred. Bitterness. Vilification. Violence.
It is enough to make you want to cry…or long for the past…or retreat into your own world of escape…or, unfortunately, become more angry, cynical, and divided.
The Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk, faced a similar situation. See if you can feel your own words in his words written 2600 years ago.
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted (1:2-4).
What is the solution?
One of the key verses of the Bible emerges in the midst of Habakkuk’s struggle with the strife, conflict, and violence around him. God answers Habakkuk with a simple reminder:
Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith. (2:4)
In other words, in the midst of the turmoil within us and the strife around us, we have one of two responses.
1. Pride. Self-sufficiency. Self-gratification. Self-justification. Self-centeredness. Even self-pity.
2. Faith. Humility before God. Submission to God. Dependence on God. Trust in God. Intimacy with God.
Trials in this world are a given.
Our response is the variable.
And prayer is the response of faith.
Perhaps the biggest symptom of the selfish pride of our nation is our rejection, refusal, and even ridicule of prayer. Often when prayers are mentioned in response to a tragedy, the reaction is one of scorn and derision. “No one wants or needs your prayers. We want action!” (Or at least a new law that will presumably resolve all our problems with the simple stroke of a pen.)
Can prayer be a platitude of sympathy with no real meaning or intention? Absolutely.
Can prayer be a passive excuse for inaction and apathy? Certainly.
But the issue is not prayer but the misuse or misunderstanding of prayer.
Prayer is not a “genie bottle” where we recite a few rehearsed words…rub the bottle in the right way…and then…viola!…all our selfish wants and wishes are met. Prayer is pouring out our heart before God…expressing the fears, desires, and burdens deep in our soul…acknowledging our selfishness and limited perspective…and submitting to the will of God, trusting His sovereignty, goodness, and grace.
The ultimate prayer of the Bible is…”Not my will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Thus, a person’s or a nation’s or a culture’s inability to pray is a declaration that we simply do not need God. He is irrelevant. Unneeded. Unwanted. And it is a symptom of our inward pride and delusion. We actually think that we are in control…that we call the shots…that we have full knowledge…full perspective…full power…to solve all our problems…to reverse the world’s woes…to cure the sickness of our hearts…to even defeat death itself.
Anyone willing to look at the cosmos around them…operating quite apart from their control…and the bodily functions within them…operating quite apart from their control…should quickly dismiss such asinine arrogance for what it is.
As President Abraham Lincoln wisely observed:
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness. (Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day, March 30, 1863)
We need God. We need prayer. Whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not.
And not just prayer to God but also prayer for others.
Whether you agree with the President or not, you pray for him. Whether you agree with your Congressional leaders or not, you pray for them. Whether you agree with your neighbor or not, you pray for him or her.
Each person is created in the image of God and, regardless of political persuasion or cultural identity, you pray for them. You seek to bless them not curse them.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. (James 3:9-10)
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9)
So take a moment to drop to your knees today.
Thank God for His blessings in your life.
Acknowledge that your very breath…your very being…is in His hands.
Pray for this nation.
Pray for your leaders.
Pray for your neighbors.
Even the ones that you don’t particularly like.
Especially the ones that you don’t particularly like.
And then rise up and find a way to bless the people who cross your path today.
And regardless of what happens…in your life…in this nation…or in this world…you trust the sovereignty, goodness, and grace of God.
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills (Habakkuk 3:17-19).