True Patriotism: Praying for the Nation

by Derrick G. Jeter

It is a sure sign of nations in decline when they drift from the faith that helped establish them. Here in America, “In God We Trust” and “One Nation under God,” have become hollow, proverbial sayings that describe the American character . . . of yesteryear. In recent decades, these ideas have come under mounting attack as a violation of the supposed constitutional separation of church and state. Almost imperceptibly, our religious heritage has eroded and left us with an increasingly secular society.

But it was not always this way. In pre-Revolutionary War Virginia, Samuel Davies, an influential preacher who inspired the likes of Patrick Henry, fervently believed in mixing Christianity and patriotism when the times called for it. On July 20, 1755, the time had called for it. He exhorted an audience to pray for Virginia after the defeat and death of British General Braddock at the hands of French and Indian warriors at Fort Duquesne. He thundered,

We ought not indeed to content ourselves with lazy prayers; it is our duty also to take all the measures in our power to prevent or escape the impending ruin of our country; but it is certainly our duty to humble ourselves before that God whom we have offended, and to cry mightily to him [perhaps] he may yet have mercy upon us that we perish not.1

Christians in the later quarter of the twentieth century and the first quarter of the twenty-first have been remarkable lazy when it come to praying for the country and her leaders. The result, I fear, unless we rouse ourselves from our lethargy, will be the fruition of a barren truth—that a nation that forgets God is destined to become a disgrace, a byword in the pages of history. This is why a true patriot is one who earnestly prays for the nation, especially during trying times.

In the frigid winter of 1776, George Washington’s army shivered on the verge of annihilation. Writer Thomas Paine, in an effort to boost the troops’ morale wrote,

These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.2

The times in which we live are indeed trying—crime, poverty, pornography, divorce, gay marriage, corporate and political corruption, economic turmoil, rising prices, war, abortion by the millions, and lost liberties. The onslaught of issues that confronts our nation threatens to disrobe lady liberty, leaving most of us feeling helpless, like we can’t possibly make a difference or bring about change. But that’s not true. There is a way to affect change, if God is willing, and that is to confess our national sins and plead with Him to save our country.

In the midst of the ravages that was the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln understood that we as a people had for too long forgotten God, and if we were to endure as a Union we must pray. On March 30, 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation, which read in part:

It is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord:

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 offending Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.3

We can pray, bringing our sins and needs before the sovereign God who rules over all nations and peoples (Psalm 22:28). Prayer is the most powerful and effective way to serve our country. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). We must pray!

During the contentious days when America was attempting to form a new constitution a surprising proposal arose—surprising because it came from Benjamin Franklin, one of the least religious men in the room that day. Addressing George Washington, president of the Constitutional Convention, he said,

How has it happened, Sir, . . . that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? . . . 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?4

Can an empire or nation, once it has secured its freedom, long endure without God’s aid? All we have to do is look at our own country. Let’s commit ourselves, therefore, as Lincoln proclaimed, to humbly petition the Lord for His forgiveness and blessings on our land. For the best acts of patriotism do not occur when we place our hands over our hearts during the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance but when we place our knees before the throne of the One who creates nations and destroys them.

    1.Samuel Davies, “On the Defeat of General Braddock, Going to Fort Duquesne,” in Sermons by the Rev. Samuel Davies, vol. III (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1864), 311.

    2.Thomas Paine, “The American Crisis, Number I,” in Thomas Paine: Collected Writings (New York: The Library of America, 1995), 91.

    3.Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day,” March 30, 1863, in The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, vol. 6, ed. Roy P. Basler (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 155–56.

    4.Benjamin Franklin, in Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin (New York: Viking, 1938), 747–48.

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