When I was Chaplain of the United States Senate, I always was impressed when senators returning from a recess would exclaim, “So many of my constituents reminded me that they were praying for me. I am renewed with fresh commitment to seek God’s will for our nation!”
I’ve also been moved by how often I have heard members of both Houses of Congress remark that they decided to run for office when they knew there were thousands of people in their districts praying that they would run and promising to pray for them if they would. Once elected, these leaders knew that they were in office because of God’s appointment and were accountable to Him, but that they were also dependent on the continued prayer support of their prayer partners back home.
Already this year, there have been several special U.S. Congressional elections, and on Nov. 5 there will be two gubernatorial elections, three state legislative elections, and a number of mayoral and local elections.
I ask myself and you: Have we prayed for candidates to run for office who would affirm our nation’s pledge to be one nation under God? And an equally urgent question: Do we pray each day for them, that they will live under the plumb line of God’s righteousness and justice in the legislation they draft and on which they vote?
Prayer and patriotism are inseparably connected. Prayer for our nation inspires us to greater patriotism. And the more patriotic we become, the more we want to pray for our beloved nation. One of the most dynamic expressions of our patriotism is consistent prayer for those who are called to seek and do His will in government.
Our nation was birthed out of the womb of prayer. Our Founding Fathers made a powerful, prayerful declaration of dependence on Sept. 7, 1774, that eventually led to the courageous Declaration of Independence on July 4,1776. It occurred at the first meeting of the Continental Congress in 1774, held in Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia.
The delegates from the colonies met under the rumbling thundercloud of growing conflict with British troops. News carried by an express rider from Boston told of the bombardment of Boston Harbor. The delegates to the Congress came together to declare their “civil and religious liberties.”
Among the delegates was Col. George Washington, then age 42. He was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. He had cast a vote for Virginia to hold a day of prayer for the people of Boston. Preparing for the Continental Congress, he wrote in his diary, “Went to church and fasted all day.” He was ready to join the other representatives of the colonies in making a declaration of dependence on God.
So was John Adams. In his diary, he wrote about his profound longing for God’s strength and courage: “I wander alone and ponder. … The objects before me are too grand. … We have not men fit for the times. We are deficient in genius, in education, in travel, in fortune, in everything. I feel unutterable anxiety. God grant us wisdom and fortitude!”
Tom Cushing from Massachusetts felt the same longing for God’s guidance and power. With great urgency, he moved that the Continental Congress be opened with prayer. But conflict arose over who should give the prayer.
Samuel Adams, who had earned his right to be heard by his leadership in engineering the Boston Tea Party, rose to address the Congress and express his deep faith. He recommended that a local clergyman be called to open the Congress the next morning.
His speech and motion electrified the delegates. Adams’ strong faith and authentic patriotism brought unity among them. The atmosphere was transformed as the delegates realized how much they needed God’s blessing and vision in their deliberations and in the struggle of the colonies for independence.
Tom Cushing’s motion was passed. The minutes of the meeting the next morning read, “Agreeable to the resolve of yesterday, the meeting was opened with prayer.”
A nation under God was being born. George Washington called the experience “exciting.” Diaries and letters of the delegates reveal the profound impact of prayer on the unity that resulted.
The second Continental Congress, in 1775, continued the commitment to pray and called for a national day of humiliation, fasting and prayer. This spirit of dependence on God undergirded the drafting of the Declaration of Independence the following year. People prayed fervently, and they saw dramatic evidences of the intervention of God.
Another stunning example of the nation’s dependence on God came during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when a frail, 81-one-year-old man rose to seek recognition when the convention was deadlocked. What he said reminds us of the power of prayer for any time that prolonged, acrimonious disagreement cripples progress:
“In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer. … Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and 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. … I have lived, Sir, for 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? … I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed … no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded. … I therefore beg to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning.”
The author of that motion was none other than Benjamin Franklin, and the chairman of the Constitutional Congress was George Washington. The motion was passed, prayers were prayed, and the Constitution was completed.
This declaration of dependence on God expressed by the Continental Congresses and then by the Constitutional Convention was soon to become a sacred tradition. When the first Senate was constituted in New York City on April 6,1789, the first order of business was to appoint a committee to recommend a candidate to be the first Senate Chaplain. The committee recommended Samuel Provoost, the Episcopal Bishop of New York, who was a distinguished spiritual leader and a patriot during the war for independence.
After George Washington took the oath of office as the first President, he and Vice President John Adams proceeded to St. Paul’s Chapel, where Chaplain Provoost led in prayer, seeking God’s providential care for the new government and its leaders.
It was an honor for me to serve eight years as the 61st Senate Chaplain. I saw firsthand how crucial it was for the nation to elect senators who believed in God and in the guiding and unifying power of prayer.
In addition to opening each session of the Senate with prayer, it also was a privilege to attend the Senators’ Prayer Breakfast every Wednesday morning, lead the Senators’ Bible Study Group every Thursday at noon and participate with a small group of senators who met each week for sharing, vision and prayer. This small prayer group was one of many prayer groups of senators that still meet today. I also had the cherished privilege of being a friend in individual times with senators to pray about personal challenges and the soul-sized issues before the nation. I witnessed the impact of prayer in the crises that the nation faced during those years.
I was deeply moved on Dec. 4, 2001, when a historic meeting took place in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol, following the tradition of similar meetings called by presidents Washington and Lincoln. Concurrent Resolution 83 had been passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, establishing Dec. 4 as a Day of Reconciliation and calling for a two-hour meeting of both the House and Senate.
An air of expectancy filled the Rotunda at 5 p.m. that day. Throughout the session, representatives and senators shared prayers for the nation and asked God for His blessing and wisdom for their leadership. A consistent theme was echoed in so many of the prayers: “When there is nowhere else to turn, return to the Lord.” We are dependent on Him, and He seeks leaders who will commit their leadership to Him and pray together for His guidance.
As I sat in that historic gathering, my mind drifted back over the history of our nation and the crucial role prayer has played in our nation under the sovereignty of Almighty God. I looked up into the dome of the Rotunda and saw the rainbow on a painting that arches just below the feet of George Washington. The rainbow is the biblical sign of the Covenant and the faithfulness of God. As I looked at the statues and paintings around the Rotunda, I saw the many examples of the heroes and heroines of our history who expressed their dependence on God.
And then I looked around me and saw the contemporary leaders elected by you and me to be heroes and heroines of leadership in our time: men and women, Republicans and Democrats, people with immense responsibilities who needed God’s wisdom and vision as much as they needed their next breath.
Two things have not changed since that day in the tumultuous months at the end of 2001: Our nation needs prayerful men and women to serve God in government, and it needs believers who will pray for them each day.
There’s a challenging truth that calls us to pray: Often God waits to bless a nation until His people pray. This troubling, terrorist threatening, turbulent and divisive time calls us to a fresh commitment to pray for guidance in encouraging God-centered candidates for office, to work for their election, and then to pray for them daily as they seek to lead this nation under God.
When I was Chaplain of the Senate, I would get up early each morning and walk around the Capitol while praying for 20 of the senators, their families, their staffs and any particular needs I knew they were facing. So during the course of each work week, I interceded for all 100 senators in prayer. The early morning hour of prayer for them became the most rewarding hour of each day. Today, I add to my prayer list of members of Congress the current Chaplain of the Senate, my admired friend, the Reverend Dr. Barry Black; and the Chaplain of the House, the Reverend Patrick J. Conroy.
God wants to bless our leaders if we will pray for them. Just imagine what could happen if Christians in America set a time aside each morning to pray for senators and members of the House of Representatives and their chaplains! Why not do it? Why not now? Prayer and patriotism are inseparable! ©2013 Lloyd John Ogilvie