My wife stitched a needlework for our home that says, “Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.”
But to many with a secular mindset, prayer is meaningless. In our politically correct age, the notion of “thoughts and prayers” is old-fashioned — maybe even offensive to some. Consider some alternatives, declares one website: “It’s a lovely sentiment that may well be true ... But you might want to say something else.” Why do many downplay prayer? Because ultimately, they don’t believe in God who answers prayers.
Saul Alinsky was a radical community organizer from Chicago, who wrote Rules for Radicals in 1971, in which he includes a dedication to “the very first radical … who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”
Alinsky somehow viewed prayer and work as an either/or. Alinsky said, “I think somebody who goes off to a monastery and starts praying for the salvation of mankind and doesn’t do a d***ed thing, but sits there and prays, I think that, according to my conception of God, when that guy comes up for judgment, the Judge is going to say, ‘Why, you cruddy b******.’”
But Alinsky’s false dichotomy is nonsense. Of course, as the Apostle James writes, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” And it tends to be those who pray the most who also help others the most.
In these trying times, prayer is a tremendous source of strength and comfort.
Millions of Christians and people of good will have prayed for the victims of Hurricane Ian. And many of them have put feet to their prayers. In storm after storm, often the first group out there providing relief are Christian agencies of one sort or another, such as Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse and the Salvation Army.
In our TV special for D. James Kennedy Ministries, “What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?” (based on the 1994 book which I co-wrote with Dr. Kennedy), Rabbi Daniel Lapin said, “When one travels around the world, every single time there is a calamity — you can’t mistake this — every time there is a natural disaster, who is on the spot? Numerous American, religious, Christian-driven charities bringing relief.”
Last week, I was privileged to be asked to compose a prayer before Hurricane Ian for an article in FoxNews.com. They quoted my prayer and those of a handful of religious leaders, including Franklin Graham and National Religious Broadcasters President Troy Miller.
I included this quote from Abigail Adams in one of her copious letters to her husband John Adams. On September 16, 1775, she wrote: “And unto Him who mounts the whirlwind and directs the storm, I will cheerfully leave the ordering of my lot and whether adverse or prosperous days should be my future portion, I will trust in His right Hand to lead me safely through.”
Adams’ letter is one of many reminders of the importance of prayer in the American tradition. Every president, from George Washington to Joe Biden, mentioned God or prayer when they were inaugurated. It’s a deep and rich tradition.
For example, Ronald Reagan was a president with a deep appreciation of the importance of prayer.
In a speech he gave on November 16, 1982, our 40th president declared, “Above all, let us remember the mountain of strength that offers the greatest hope and inspiration for all. I believe with all my heart that standing up for America means standing up for the God who has blessed our land. We need God’s help to guide our nation through stormy seas.”
However, Reagan pointed out, we shouldn’t just pray when things are calamitous: “But we can't expect Him to protect America in a crisis if we just leave Him over on the shelf in our day-to-day living.”
On November 1, 1886, President Grover Cleveland issued a Proclamation of a National Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer: “And while we contemplate the infinite power of God in earthquake, flood, and storm let the grateful hearts of those who have been shielded from harm through His mercy be turned in sympathy and kindness toward those who have suffered through His visitations.”
To the Christian, the most important storm that ever took place was when God the Father poured out His wrath against our sin on His only begotten Son. As Paul notes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
As we continue to pray for the victims of Hurricane Ian and other storms in our nation, it’s good to remember what the great hymnist Isaac Watts wrote in 1719 (based on Psalm 90):
“O God our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Out shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.”
Hat tip to Bill Federer and his book, America’s God and Country, for historical quotes.
Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., is the executive director of the Providence Forum, an outreach of D. James Kennedy Ministries, where Jerry also serves as senior producer and an on-air host. He has written/co-written 33 books, including George Washington’s Sacred Fire (with Providence Forum founder Peter Lillback, Ph.D.) and What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (with D. James Kennedy, Ph.D.). www.djkm.org? @newcombejerry www.jerrynewcombe.com