I am so thankful that as a nation we have the privilege of joining together in prayer during the annual National Day of Prayer on May 6, as I believe our country is in need of prayer more than ever.
As I think about what a National Day of Prayer means, I am reminded of the powerful painting "The Prayer at Valley Forge" by Arnold Friberg, depicting Gen. George Washington kneeling beside his horse in the snow.
You can just imagine he felt the weight of his entire fledgling nation’s future on his shoulders at a time when things looked very bleak. I often feel that weight today, as I am sure many others do, as well.
But I keep a print of that painting in my home to remind me that there is hope – that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does answer the prayers of His people lifted on behalf of a country at a crossroads. When I view that painting, I am inspired by the power of prayer, and how it was integral to the founding of our nation.
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Another historic prayer I am reminded of is that of Gen. George S. Patton, which he asked his chaplain to write at an equally pivotal time when our troops were risking their lives on behalf of our freedoms. This prayer preceded the offensive that became popularly known as The Battle of the Bulge, an attempt by the German army during World War II to drive a wedge between the Western Allied armies.
The Germans were initially successful in this rare wintertime offensive, with the wet and cold weather working to their advantage. With a powerful belief that God would intervene in the affairs of humanity, Patton asked Third Army Chaplain Msgr. Francis O’Neill to draft a prayer for more favorable conditions. While this was a theological challenge, the chaplain was inspired and penned these words within the hour:
"Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle.
While we may not be facing enemies at the gate, we are clearly in a battle for the heart and soul of our nation.
"Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen."
The entire Third Army was heartened by these words and joined in praying them – fervently – together. The conditions miraculously improved, and on Dec. 26, 1944, Patton’s men arrived to defend the 101st Airborne Division, which had been surrounded and nearly defeated near Bastogne, Belgium.
The war was far from over, but turning the tide in this battle was a much-needed encouragement to Allied forces everywhere, leading eventually to ultimate victory over the German army.
While we may not be facing enemies at the gate, we are clearly in a battle for the heart and soul of our nation. We must follow the extraordinary examples of these two historic figures who were so pivotal in winning and preserving the freedoms we enjoy today.
We can join them on our knees, pleading for our Lord and Savior’s intervention once again in our beloved country’s plight, asking Him to turn hearts toward him and ignite in each of us a renewed love for our fellow man.
The enemies we face today are not so visible – cynicism, hopelessness and distrust – but could just as easily lead to the loss of our liberties if we fail to pray for one another, our nation and its leaders as we ought.
The theme for this year’s National Day of Prayer is "Lord, Pour out Your Life, Love and Liberty," based on the Scripture found in 2 Cor. 3:17: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
Let us commit to staying on our knees in prayer, appealing to the Spirit of the Lord to pour out his blessings on our land, to renew a culture of life, love and liberty in our midst.