Remarks given at Trinity Episcopal Church, Edisto Island, SC for the National Day of Prayer, May 3, 2018
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. 1 Timothy 2.1,2.
At the close of the Revolutionary War in 1783, George Washington wrote to the thirteen governors to disband the army and send his troops home. Washington’s June 14, 1783 letter to the governors included this prayer.
“I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow-citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for brethren who have served in the field; and finally that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation."
Could you imagine our nation if our leaders all prayed like that? It would not be divided, an Alien Nation seeking to tear itself apart. It would be more caring, more welcoming. It would be stronger and greater than today.
Prayer like that is what we need. From the greatest to the most humble of us, we need to pray in earnestness and zeal. We need prayer to heal this nation: prayer outside of the church; prayer at work, in the marketplace, at school, in the streets and communities and cities and in the home (husbands and wives praying together over their children).
What can we learn from Washington’s prayer? Let’s break it down.
“I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you...in his holy protection...” We have forgotten to ask God for His holy protection. Our enemies, such as Iran, North Korea, and Islamic terrorists have not. On the domestic front, radical Secularism, Individualism and Collectivism display a zeal which seeks to silence Christians and the Church. It would do us well to remember that it was the zealous prayer of the early Christians which carried the Church into every corner of the world. Our current churches seem hollow and listless in comparison.
“...that he would incline the hearts of our citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government...” I find this part of Washington’s prayer ironic. Washington had just completed a successful revolt against the government of Great Britain. Now he was asking our citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination. It is commendable that we are here today praying for all of our leaders. Yet our divided factions have found it difficult to pray in the last few elections for the opposing party’s president.
“...to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another,” This nation now seems more divided than at any time since the Civil War. We stand in two vast camps, set across a chasm of condemnation and ready for battle over the smallest slight. We have become an Alien Nation. Jesus calls us to love one another and to pray for our enemy and for those who oppress
us. Are we doing so?
“...for their fellow citizens of the United States at large,” Yes, even for us Yankees who have invaded once again. And, even those in California and New York who seem so alien.
“Particularly for brethren who have served in the field;” We should pray for and serve our veterans, who sacrificed so much that we might savor this rare freedom.
“...and finally that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy...” We forget that our Lord always balances Justice and Mercy. Washington did well to place these two together. Today, we seek Justice for others, condemning those who disagree in the most virulent terms. Yet we want mercy for ourselves, proposing that our own sins be ignored.
Our God is one of Justice and Mercy combined. The relatives of the nine saints of Mother Emmanuel AME stood before the man who murdered their loved ones and forgave him. Yet they still wanted to see proper justice done.
“...and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind,”
Charity: Washington calls us to serve one another, to help, and to reach out in love.
Humility: He calls us to Humility, a rare quality in our time of Celebrity and instant fame. We are the Me and the Selfie generation, obsessed with our own egos to the exclusion of all others. .
Pacific temper of mind: Could we use more of that! Prayer will focus your thoughts to listen for the still, small voice of the Lord, instead of screaming at one another
“...which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion,” Washington’s prayer is unapologetically Christian. Who today in government or public life would dare to pray like this? We should all be doing so.
“...and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation." What leader today has the moral authority and strength to defer “in humble imitation” to our Lord? This is where Washington’s authority came from. From a deep and abiding prayer filled life with Christ.
“...we can never hope to be a happy nation.”
Are we a happy nation? Would prayer help? Yes! I have seen prayer embolden speakers at the downtown Businessmen’s Luncheon at St. Phillips. Prayer is the backbone of our thriving business ministries here in Charleston: Charleston Leadership Foundation, Lifeworks, God in the Workplace and the SC Christian Chamber among others.
Prayer was at the heart of the Mother Emmanuel nine. The sacrificial love of their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters will never be forgotten. It resonates still today because of our ongoing prayers for peace here and throughout this country.
Great things are coming, a great revival for this nation. My friend Tim Scott always speaks with great hope for America, but that hope lies in prayer. The spark for that revival has already happened here, in Charleston. To kindle that spark, we need prayer, mighty and constant.
We must never lose hope, for if we once again become a praying nation, we will find God’s blessings poured out abundantly on us. Never lose hope. Pray.
In the midst of some of the darkest days in Polish history, after decades of invasion, occupation and oppression, two million poles stood in Victory Square in Warsaw to celebrate Mass with Pope St. John Paul II. He stood under a 50-foot cross and reminded the Polish people that they had often been called to give witness to the power of the cross in the life of a Christian, and that as much as past rulers and enemies in Poland’s history had tried to eliminate Christianity, Jesus Christ cannot be taken out of history. It was this prayer and this Mass which would lead eventually to freeing Poland from the oppressive dictatorship of Communism.
That same man, John Paul the Great, came to South Carolina in 1987 and prayed with a packed Williams-Brice stadium. His prayer then is mine today also:
” (Pope St. John Paul II Columbia, SC Address at Williams-Brice Stadium, 11 Sept. 1987)