Early in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, admonishing his demonic protégé Wormwood on the matter of prayer, Screwtape said, “The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether.” In light of the latest round of radical Islamic terror in the U.S., it seems that many Americans burdened with a liberal worldview—especially those at the Daily News—have decided to listen to the demons whispering in their ears.
I shouldn’t be too harsh. Many of us Christians have given prayer a bad name. Too often we’ve made prayer all about ourselves—our wants, wishes, and desires—with little regard for what is really needed in the world around us. Thus too many of us often pray, “babbling like pagans,” as if we’re ordering from the worn-out menu (that we’ve practically memorized) at our favorite restaurant.
Of course, this is not to say that it’s wrong to ask for things, even for ourselves, when we pray. “The Lord’s Prayer,” which Christ used to teach us how to pray, contains more than one personal request. Three times, and significantly, to no avail, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked that “this cup be taken from me.”
Virtually every serious and significant Christian scholar throughout history has made note of the importance of prayer in the life of a believer. Prayer changes the world. More importantly, prayer changes us. As C.S. Lewis notes, “one must train the habit of Faith… That is why daily prayer and religious reading and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe.” Thus prayer doesn’t so much lead us to “getting” as it does to us growing.
As Lewis also notes, prayer reveals our “bankruptcy,” or, put another way, our powerlessness. Prayer helps us understand who we really are, and who God really is. (Note how the Lord’s Prayer begins: “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name…”) And when necessary, prayer leads us up to the vital moment at which we “turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.’”
Jesus warned us that without Him, we would accomplish nothing in this world—at least nothing of any lasting and good eternal consequence. Usually, it is only when we spend a significant deal of time with Him that we realize such. By nature, we humans are quite stubborn and full of pride. Any parent who has spent much time with their infant and toddler children knows this well!
We often think ourselves quite wise, smart, and capable. However, it is one thing for a two-year-old to demand cookies and Kool-Aid for lunch; it is quite another when a drunk 21-year-old man decides that he is sober enough to drive, or when a 30-year-old woman decides that her two children will be fine if she leaves her husband for another man, or when a 40-year-old man decides that the world owes him something and it is time to take it.
As tragic as the sinful, selfish choices of an individual adult can sometimes be, they often pale in comparison to a pastor, a politician, or a CEO who is “wise in his own eyes.” As the prophet Isaiah warned, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” In these times, much “darkness for light and light for darkness” has resulted from those who’ve ignored the eternal truths of our Creator.
As did the Israelites (noted at the end of the book of Judges), a culture “wise in its own eyes” does what is “right in its own eyes.” Currently, the disastrous results of such “wisdom” are frequently revealed throughout the United States. From the beginning of this nation, many of our founders warned us against such foolishness.
Reflecting on the victory over the British and writing on the hated Stamp Act which helped to launch the Revolutionary War, Patrick Henry noted, “Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings, which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation.” (The last sentence is a direct reference to Proverbs 14:34.)
On April 30, 1789, in his Inaugural address to both Houses of Congress, President George Washington declared, “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency…We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained…”
Daniel Webster, a U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, and “Defender of the Constitution,” was born just after the American victory over the British. Arguing before the Supreme Court (on behalf of the government!) that a school could not exclude the Bible, said “If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; If we and our posterity shall be true to the Christian religion, if we and they shall live always in the fear of God and shall respect His Commandments...we may have the highest hopes of the future fortunes of our country;...But if we and our posterity neglect religious instruction and authority; violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution which holds us together, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.”
Additionally, burdened with the problems and challenges that come with leadership, many of our national leaders—even political leaders—have encouraged, openly called, and themselves engaged in, prayer.
In 1787, as the Constitutional Convention was on the verge of collapse, 81-year-old Ben Franklin—considered by most a very secular-minded man—arose and gave a speech that helped changed the course of the Convention. In the speech he declared, “In the beginning of the Contest with Great 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. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor.
“To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance?
“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: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.”
As historian David Barton notes, “As it turns out, after the Convention, and nine days after the first Constitutional Congress convened with a quorum (April 9, 1789), they implemented Franklin's recommendation. Two chaplains of different denominations were appointed, one to the House and one to the Senate, with a salary of $500 each. This practice continues today, posing no threat to the First Amendment.” (It’s also interesting to note that, as author Tim LaHaye points out, Congress has opened both houses with prayer ever since.)
President Washington issued two Thanksgiving Day Prayer Proclamations. In the first one, in 1789, he declared,
“And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.”
In September of 1862, just after the Union defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Lincoln penned his Meditation on the Divine Will (which his secretaries would later reveal were originally written for Lincoln’s eyes only):
“The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party -- and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose.
“I am almost ready to say that this is probably true -- that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.”
On September 17, 1862, the bloodiest day in U.S. military history, Union forces defeated Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Armies at Antietam in Maryland. At the battle’s end, approximately 25,000 American men are killed, wounded, or missing. The victory held special significance for Lincoln.
A few days later, in the cabinet meeting on September 22, Lincoln announced his decision to issue the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The best account of the event comes from the diary of Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles.
According to Welles, Lincoln “remarked that he had made a vow, a covenant, that if God gave us the victory in the approaching battle, he would consider it an indication of Divine will, and that it was his duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation. It might be thought strange, he said, that he had in this way submitted the disposal of matters when the way was not clear to his mind what he should do. God had decided this question in favor of the slaves. He was satisfied it was right, was confirmed and strengthened in his action by the vow and the results.”
Imagine that. American slaves were freed, in no small part, because the President of the United States saw it as a matter of “Divine will.” (Of course, because of their relationship with their Heavenly Father, millions of other praying Americans already well knew how God saw the matter of slavery in the United States.)
In spite of the vain and foolish protests by liberals, as even politicians throughout American history demonstrate, praying Christians are almost never do-nothing Christians. Quite the contrary, the more time we spend with our Creator, the better we get to know Him. The better we know Him, the more we trust Him. The more we trust Him, the more we want to do what He says. And of course, if we want real and lasting change from the problems that afflict us, we will do as He directs us.
(See a version of this column at American Thinker.)
(See a version of this column at American Thinker.)
Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World