Does prayer really matter? Can it actually change things? Is there really a God in heaven Who cares about the plight of man?
Is there really a God so personal that He takes note of a sparrow’s fall and Who is moved when a man or woman calls to Him for aid with a sincere heart? Is there a God Who will actually intervene in the affairs of mankind, or Who will alter the course of nations in response to prayer, repentance, and sincere acknowledgment of man’s dependence on Him?
The United States of America is a nation with a history that cries out in testimony of its belief in God and the power of prayer. From the pen of Thomas Jefferson sprang these immortal words:
“We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions do … declare that these United Colonies are … free and independent … And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
The 56 representatives of the 13 original colonies who signed the Declaration of Independence undoubtedly believed in the God of heaven, Who determines the destinies of nations. Consequently, they made their appeal to His divine judgment in determining the rightness of their cause. In this foundational document, our forefathers left a testimony of their belief in prayer and dependence on God’s protection and care.
That the God to Whom they were appealing was the God of the Bible is unmistakable, for the legitimacy of this petition was taken directly from the book of Judges. The children of ancient Israel made this appeal when threatened by their enemies, the Ammonites. With no earthly judge to settle the dispute, the leader of Israel called on God to act as Judge, and then led his army out courageously to battle.1
George Washington was firmly convinced of the power of prayer and of the necessity to appeal to Almighty God for help and blessing. In 1776, he wrote: “May the Being who is powerful to save, and in whose hands is the fate of nations, look down with an eye of tender piety and compassion upon the whole of the United Colonies; may He continue to smile upon their counsels and arms, and crown them with success whilst employed in the cause of virtue and mankind. May this distressed colony and its capital and every part of this wide extended continent, through His divine favor, be restored to more than their former luster and once happy state, and have peace, liberty, and safety secured upon a solid, permanent, and lasting foundation.“2
When the Constitutional Convention was filled with division, strife and seemed to be deadlocked, it was Benjamin Franklin who exhorted the assembly to pray stating, “All of us who were engaged in the struggle (of the Revolution) must have observed frequently instances of a superintending Providence in our favor … And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine 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 affair of man.’ 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 labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this, I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in the political building no better than the builders of Babel … I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business.”
Franklin’s advice changed the course of the convention. The delegates adjourned for three days to pray, attend church, and listen to preachers challenge and inspire them. Then they reassembled and drew up what is now the oldest and most successful Constitution ever written by men. “Legal minds of two centuries have continued to marvel at it as being almost beyond the scope and dimension of human wisdom.“3
Schools and seminaries in early America were started by Christians as outreaches of churches. Education was seen by the founders as much more than a process for teaching basic skills. It was the founders’ distinct purpose to instill in youth the lessons of history, the ideas of liberty, and the principles of Christianity that would afford the people the ability to govern themselves. The Bible was used as the primary instrument to teach not only reading, but character and morals as well. The school day always began with prayer and an acknowledgment of their dependence on Almighty God.
The Supreme Court’s Infamous 1962 Decision
This practice continued until 1962, when, by an official act of the Supreme Court, it was ruled unconstitutional. The American school child was forbidden to pray. In one day the Supreme Court divorced American education from our national roots. The forbidden prayer which was outlawed by the Court was a simple one: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”
The Court summarized: “State officials may not compose an official state prayer and require that it be recited in the public schools of the State at the beginning of each school day – even if the prayer is denominationally neutral and pupils who do not wish to do so may remain silent or be excused from the room while the prayer is being recited.”
Justice Stewart wrote the dissenting opinion refering to our nation’s rich Christian heritage stating:
“At the opening of each day’s Session of this court, we stand while one of our officials invokes the protection of God. Since the days of John Marshall our Crier has said, ‘God save the United States and this Honorable Court.’ Both the Senate and the House of Representatives open their daily sessions with prayer. Each of our Presidents, from George Washington to John F. Kennedy, has upon assuming his Office asked the protection and help of God.
“The Court today says that the state and federal governments are without constitutional power to prescribe any particular form of words to be recited by any group of the American people on any subject touching religion. One of the stanzas of “The Star Spangled Banner,” made our National Anthem by an Act of Congress in 1931, contains these verses:
Blessed with victory and peace,
may the heav’n rescued land -
Praise the pow’r that hath made and
preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto, “In God is our Trust”
“In 1954 Congress added these words to the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag,‘one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ In 1952, Congress enacted legislation calling upon the President each year to proclaim a National Day of Prayer. Since 1865, the words IN GOD WE TRUST have been impressed on our coins.
“Countless similar examples could be listed but there is no need to belabor the obvious. It was all summed up by this Court just ten years ago in a single sentence: ‘We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’
“I do not believe that this Court, or the Congress, or the President, has by the actions and practices I have mentioned established an official religion’ in violation of the Constitution. And I do not believe that the State of New York has done so in this case. What each has done has been to recognize and to follow the deeply entrenched and highly cherished spiritual traditions of our Nation – traditions which come down to us from those who almost two hundred years ago avowed their ‘firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence’ when they proclaimed the freedom and independence of this brave new world. I dissent.”
The Effect of Banning School Prayer
The public prayers of over 39 million school children and over two million teachers were disallowed in the the public arena by the 1962 decision. A public acknowledgement of our need for God through prayer became a forbidden practice. Thirty prayerless years of disavowing our need for God have come and gone. Has it really mattered?
Just what has happened during those prayerless years? SAT scores plunged downward until the Secretary of Education drew up a report in 1983 entitled, “A Nation at Risk” which gave a full report of our scholastic decline. Almost 10 years later the While House issued a national report card and gave public education an “F” in math and science. One report cited that only 12% of high school graduates can read and write effectively.
We were once the most literate nation in the world; now we have the highest illiteracy rate among industrialized nations. Premarital sex, teenage pregnancies, and venereal disease have skyrocketed since 1962.
The number of divorces have tripled every year, until by 1987 the US. divorce rate topped the world’s divorce charts. In 1970, unmarried couples living together were one in 85. By 1983 they were one in 25 unmarried couples that were living together. Adultery in women increased from 6 – 26 percent prior to 1963 to 45 – 55 percent in 1987. An article written this fall by Jim Abrams of the Associated press was entitled, “Once More the School Year has Begun with Bullets rather than Bells Ringing through too Many Classrooms.”
David Barton, author of To Pray or Not to Pray reveals some disturbing statics : “In the years prior to the banning of God from schools, most facets of the American educational system had remained stable at relatively high, productive levels. Since then, many things in the school system have undergone radical changes. School violence and lack of discipline have become some of the more troublesome problems facing American education.“4
These problems have now spread throughout our nation. Violent crime has increased dramatically since the volume of prayer beseeching God’s blessing on our nation was curtailed in 1962. In 1987 National Crime Survey of the public schools reports 3 million faculty, staff and visitors aged 12 or more were victims of a criminal act with 75,900 cases of aggravated assault. The Center to Prevent Handgun Violence reports between 1986 to 1990, 71 students and employes were shot to death, 201 were severely wounded, 242 were taken hostage in our public schools. We now lead the world in violent crime, divorce, and illegal drug use. We have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the Western world.5
Before the highest court in the land ruled that the schools no longer need to acknowledge God or ask for His protection or help the polls taken of top offenses were as follows:
2. Chewing gum
3. Making noise
4. Running in the halls
5. Getting out of turn in line
6. Wearing improper clothing
7. Not putting paper in wastebaskets
Barton observes, “In 1962, a distinct and well-defined new direction was established. This new course was not assumed gradually; it did not require years for it to develop. This break happened at a visible point on the charts … the point of visible departure from previously stable conditions occurs on or around 1962 with virtually every graph in this book.”
The Tragedy of Turning Away from God
Noah Webster, father of the American dictionary and early American educator, stated: “The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. All the miseries and evils which men suffer from – vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.“6
Evidently the Russians have learned the lesson the hard way. The superintendent of Moscow city schools recently visited a prominent Christian educator to inquire about their curriculum. Moscow schools have totally rejected the official atheistic, socialist curriculum of the Communists and have said unless the curriculum is based on the Ten Commandments, they aren’t interested.
Thomas Jefferson wrote: “A people can become so demoralized and depraved as to be incapable of exercising a wholesome control … Their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what is wrong, to be encouraged in habits of virtue and deterred from those of vice by the dread of punishments, proportioned, indeed but irremissable; in all cases, to follow Truth as the only safe guide, and to eschew error, which bewilders us in one false consequence after another in endless succession. These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure of order and good government.“7
One hundred years ago, in 1892 the Supreme Court made an exhaustive study of the connection between Christianity and the government of the United States. Having reviewed hundreds of volumes of historical documents, the Court concluded, “these references … add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a religious people … a Christian nation.” In 1931, Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland reviewed the 1892 decision and reiterated that Americans are a “Christian people.” In 1952, Justice William O. Douglas affirmed that “We are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.“8
When a public stand was taken by the highest court in our land to disregard God and no longer acknowledge our need for Him, we became guilty of “forgetting our Powerful Friend” and “imagining we no longer need His assistance.” Thus we have invited the consequences of the words spoken by the prophet Samuel: “Whoever honors Me, I will honor. And whoever disregards me, I will disregard” (1 Sam. 2:30). Through Hosea the prophet God said, “Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” (Hosea 4:6)
God states emphatically in His Word, “I will protect him for he acknowledges My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him, with long life will I satisfy him and show him My salvation … Since they have rejected the Word of the Lord, what kind of wisdom do they have? … Am I the One they are provoking? Are they not rather harming themselves to their own shame?” (Portions of Psalm 91 and Jeremiah 7 and 8)
Reflecting on the effect of the prayerless years, Barton states, “The first and most obvious effect of the Supreme Court ruling was the immediate decrease in the volume of prayers being offered for the nation and its leaders and people … despite the quantity of daily prayers being offered through all other nonschool avenues, the termination of millions of individual public school prayers had a significant impact … The Bible teaches that not only does God perceptibly respond to prayer, but His response is directly proportional to the amount of prayer offered. Massive prayer brings massive results. No prayer brings no results. Little prayer brings little results. When the volume of prayer drops, so do the related results…“9
While 97 percent of our nation, according to polls, claimed a belief in God in 1962, how was it that the nation’s leaders were so out of step with mainstream America?
The Divorce of God and Government
The defection from government and civil life came from within the Church itself. In the mid 1900s the Christian community began to adopt a philosophy of isolationism. Christians began to isolate themselves from political affairs, confirming themselves to the church and separating themselves from politics. The overriding philosophy was expressed in statements like “Why polish brass on a sinking ship?” – “Tend only to the souls of men.” – “This world is not our home.” – “God has only one nation that He cares about and that is the church.” – “Politics is dirty. It is best to stay out of it.”
As a result, Christians began to forsake the dominion mandate and, for the most part, gave up their stewardship of tending to the nation’s public affairs. The divorce of God and government happened first in the church and was merely reflected later in the national policy. Others who did not hold to the godly beliefs that had shaped and guided our nation for almost two centuries, began to take the helm of the ship of state and guide us into uncharted and forbidden waters. In the wake of the Christian’s abdication, others began to introduce ideas and laws contrary to our values, and Christians took little or no action to stop this.
According to a July 1988 Gallup poll, 84 percent of this nation firmly believes in Jesus Christ. Another poll indicates that 94 percent of the nation believes in God. That leaves 16 percent who do not believe in Jesus and only 6 percent that deny the existence of God.
While Christians continually lose ground by default, studies show that 92 percent of media leaders do not consider themselves conservative, and 66 percent of the media feel they must educate the public with their personal viewpoint.
We are like a herd of zebras being held at bay on some African savannah by a ferocious lion. The lion, resembling a tyrant spirit, pretends to be bigger than he is. With ferocious sounds and threatening looks, he controls the feeding herd.
Suddenly he attacks. A zebra falls and becomes lunch for the lion and his friends. While the wild beasts are feeding on the fallen zebra’s carcass, the rest of the herd continue to graze with a false sense of security. They scarcely look up as one of their own are sacrificed to the appetite of the hungry lion. They do not realize that after the fallen zebra has been digested, the belly of the hungry lion will demand more.
A stampede of the herd could easily overwhelm the lion. Yet, unmotivated to leave, fearful, and lacking in leadership, the zebras willingly watch the lion feed on their own, rather than give up the peace and false sense of security they feel.
What Must We Do to Be Saved?
We must realize that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men and women to stand idly by and do nothing. We must cry out to God to awaken us from slumber. We must shake ourselves from the dust. Turning from God and the importance of prayer has brought this deluge of wickedness upon us. But we can be certain that before the offering of prayer broke down on a national level, God’s people had long since departed from the practice of it.
What must we do to be saved from this dilemma? Nothing short of a heaven sent awakening and a national revival and repentance toward God will reverse this downward course.
The path that will lead to this revival and spiritual awakening is plainly marked out in scripture: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).
Earnest heartfelt prayer and turning away from sin and toward God in repentance is the Bible’s prescription for national healing and deliverance. James Burns writes in Revival, their Laws and Leaders written in 1909:
“To the church, a revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness and an open humiliating confession of sin on the part of her ministers and people. It is not the easy and glorious thing many think it to be, who imagine it to fill the pews and reinstate the church in power and authority. It comes to scorch before it heals; it comes to condemn ministers and people for their unfaithful witness, for their selfish living, for their neglect of the cross, and to call them to daily renunciation … to a deep and daily consecration. That is why a revival has ever been unpopular with large numbers within the church. Because it says nothing to them of power such as they have learned to love, or of ease, or of success; it accuses them of sin; it tells them they are dead, it calls them to to awake to renounce the world and to follow Christ.“10
Why should we pray for and embrace revival and cry out for a national awakening? Because we can no longer bear it that God should be so dishonored by the church by its low level of Christian living – because we can no longer bear the wickedness and perversion of a sin sick world nor bear to see his Holy name blasphemed.
Frank Bartleman, whose intercessory prayer ministry preceded the great Pentecostal outpouring and Azusa Street Revival on 1906 writes: “The depth of revival will be determined exactly by the depth of the spirit of repentance. And this will hold true for all people at all times. In fact, this is the ‘key’ to every true revival born of God.“11
The central lesson of every revival was the fact that the Spirit of God moved to convert the unsaved in magnitude and power as soon as the Christians within a specific church were walking in obedience to God. Evan Roberts, leader of the great Welsh revival wrote: “My mission is first to the churches. When the churches are aroused to their duty, men of the world will be swept into the kingdom. A whole church on its knees is irresistible … When the bonds of Paul and Silas in Phillipi’s prison snapped, the bonds of all the prisoners snapped also. So when the church is freed from the bonds of apathy and worldliness, those who are being drawn by Satan to eternal death will be released also.“12
Perhaps your heart is crying out, “Lord, I want revival in my life and nation. What must I do?”
Repent of and forsake all known sin. Jesus came to save His people from their sins. Make restitution where necessary. Find a friend of “like mind” and pray together daily for revival. Let the Spirit of God direct your prayers and He will lead you into all truth. Commit yourself to a life of absolute obedience to the Spirit of God. God has promised, if we will do this, He will hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and heal our land.
1 John Locke, “Of the State of War” quoted in Verna Hall and Rosalie Slater’s The Christian History of the Constitution (San Francisco, CA: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1978) pp.61-62. 2 Ibid. pp.77-78.
3 David Barton, America: To Pray or Not to Pray? (Aledo, TX: Specialty Research Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 397, 1988) pp.ix,xi.
4 Barton, p.75. 5 Ibid, p.155. 6 Ibid, p.viii.
7 W. Cleon Skousen, The Making of America, (Washington, DC: The National Center for Constitutional Studies, 1985) p.234.
8 Ibid., p.1. 9 Ibid., pp.162-163.
10 Winkie Pratney, Revival (Whitaker House, Springdale, Penn. 1983) p.22.
11 Frank Bartleman, Another Wave of Revival (Springdale, PA: Whitaker House, 1982) pp.10,19.
12 Spirit of Revival (Buchanan, MI: Life Action Ministries, 1988), Vol. 18, No.1) p.26.
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved