This is my message for America on the National Day of Prayer, which I’m delivering at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library at a pastors’ breakfast meeting.
In 1982, President Ronald Reagan said, “We can’t have it both ways. We can’t expect God to protect us in a crisis and just leave Him over there on the shelf in our day-to-day living. I wonder if sometimes He isn’t waiting for us to wake up.”
America needs a wake-up call—a spiritual awakening. Does that seem impossible? With God, nothing is impossible. He can even turn around the United States of America.
Do we believe that’s really a possibility, or are we resigned to the notion that things are just going to get worse? We see the violence in our streets in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, and we wonder “Will our streets ever be safe again?” There are acts of terror by ISIS and other groups, even happening in Texas! Add to this the very real threats from Iran and North Korea who vow to destroy us.
Yes, we can look at enemies on the outside, but we would be wise to look within as a country. Historian Will Durant, in his book on Rome’s history Caesar and Christ, said, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has first destroyed itself from within. The essential causes of Rome’s decline lay in her people and morals.”
The difference between Rome and the US is that we were founded on Judeo-Christian values. We’ve strayed from the original vision of our founding fathers that produced America. What was once “freedom of religion” has now become “freedom from religion.” We have succeeded in getting God out of our schools, sporting events, public spaces, and workplaces.
Then, of course, there is the breakdown of the family. So many of our social ills today can be traced to broken homes, and specifically fatherless households. Most children born in the US are out of wedlock now.
- 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes.
- 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
- 85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home.
It’s been said, “A family can survive without a nation but a nation cannot survive without the family.” We in America need to turn to God in prayer and turn back to His Word.
The Supreme Court is deciding if they should strike down the historical definition of marriage. George Washington warned that we can never expect the “smiles of Heaven” on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.
Peter Marshall, former chaplain to the US Senate, once said, “The choice before us is plain: Christ or chaos, conviction or compromise, discipline or disintegration.”
Ronald Reagan said, “America needs God more than God needs America. If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
We need a spiritual awakening in America—a nationwide revival. The prophet Habakkuk understood this when he prayed, “I have heard all about You, Lord, and I am filled with awe by the amazing things You have done. In this time of our deep need, revive Your work, as You did in years gone by. Show us Your power to save us. And in Your anger, remember Your mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2 NLT).
America needs God’s intervention.
We saw many turn to the Lord after 9/11. Remember those prayer vigils on street corners and packed churches? Remember the members of congress spontaneously singing “God Bless America”? This gives me hope that there could be at least one more great revival in America’s future.
By the way, the song “God Bless America,” written by Irving Berlin in 1938, is a prayer: “While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free. Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.” Then the familiar refrain: “God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from above. From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.”
Yes, I have hope for America!
We need to pray for God’s blessing on America, “through the night with a light from above.” And that will come when we have a national spiritual awakening. That is what we must pray for. But how? God gives the answer in 2 Chronicles 7:14. It is His cure for a sick country. Contextually it was given to Israel, but in principle it applies to any nation:
“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, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Notice that God says if we want our land to be healed, it starts with His people. God does not point His finger, so to speak, at the White House, but at His house. It is easy as Christians to put the blame on Hollywood or Washington, but God says that we need to be living as true followers of Jesus Christ. We must “turn from our wicked ways.” If you have unconfessed sin in your life, your prayer will go nowhere.
I trust you have heard of Pastor Saeed Abedini. Today he is in an Iranian prison for his faithfulness to Jesus Christ. He has been beaten and tortured for his faith and unwillingness to turn to Islam. He wrote this letter for us on National Day of Prayer.
“As an American and as a prisoner for Christ, I have spent many hours praying and crying out to God for revival for this great nation. We all hope for the success of our nation and for America to be blessed, but without revival there can be no true success or blessing.
“Change starts with us. Revival starts with us. The first step to revival is praying together in unity as a nation. The National Day of Prayer is a great opportunity for us to come out and use the freedom that we have been given. So many Christians around the world are imprisoned and martyred for their faith in Jesus. You have the freedom to gather across the United States at your state capitol to pray. Please use this opportunity. Please use your freedom for the kingdom of God!”
Let’s see now how the early church prayed for someone in prison:
“Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.” (Acts 12:5)
Things were looking mighty bleak for the fledgling church. King Herod had murdered James. This was the brother of John (together called “the sons of thunder”), who was one of the earliest disciples. Thus James became the first of the apostles to be martyred.
Herod, being a consummate politician, saw it pleased his constituents. So he then had the leader of this new church, Simon Peter, arrested. It looked like Peter was next for execution. Peter was behind two gates, chained to two guards, and guarded by 14 more! So what did the church do?
- “The church organized a protest and stormed Herod’s palace.”
- “The church had a boycott of all products made in Rome.”
- “The church went with swords and smote Herod and his soldiers.”
No, instead the church used their secret weapon: “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5 NKJV)
Though all other doors were closed, one remained open: the door of prayer! The door into the presence of God. So often prayer is our last resort when it should be our first!
Here are three characteristics of prayer that changes things:
1. It is offered to God.
“Constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
Isn’t all prayer offered to God? Not necessarily. Often in prayer there is very little thought of God Himself. Our mind is taken up with the thought of what we need instead of our Heavenly Father. Sometimes it’s even taken up with how we sound or look to others. Jesus warned about the Pharisees who stood on street corners to draw attention: “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me” (Matthew 15:8 NLT).
For prayer to be powerful and effective, there needs to be acknowledgement of who it is exactly we are speaking to. Jesus taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. . .” The key is to get our will into alignment with God’s will.
And how do we know what His will is? By the careful study of Scripture. Knowing God’s will also comes from living in communion with Him. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7 NKJV). Nothing lies outside the reach of prayer except that which lies outside the will of God. God only answers the requests which He inspires.
As John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (NKJV). Yet there are times we think we know God’s will, but we are not sure, so we pray, “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.”
Does God want to send a spiritual awakening to our country? Yes!
2. It is prayed with passion and persistence.
“But constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
“Constant prayer” can be translated “earnestly “or “stretching outwardly” or “with agony.” This was not a flippant “Lord, please save Peter (yawn), or whatever” kind of prayer. This was a “storm the gates of Heaven” prayer: Oh Lord, deliver Peter!
Have you prayed like that for your family?
Have you prayed like that for your church?
Have you prayed like that for your country?
James 4:3 tells us, “You have not because you ask not.”
“Constant prayer” could also be translated “with intense desire.” Much of our prayer has no power in it because there is no heart in it! If we put so little heart in our prayers, we can’t expect God to put much heart in answering. God promises that His people will find Him when they search for Him with all their heart!
3. It is a prayer that is prayed together.
“Constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
There is power in united prayer! Jesus said, “If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19 NKJV). This speaks of two people with the same God-given burden praying together.
When you have a prayer need, get other believers to pray with you about it. All around our country, and indeed the world, people are praying for America today.
There is a fourth thing that we notice about their prayer, and it is not at all commendable like the first three: they prayed doubtingly. Yes, they prayed to God, passionately and together, but they also prayed doubtingly. Yet even though their prayer was weakened, it still was mightier than Herod, and mightier than Hell!
God answered the prayer of the church and sent an angel to deliver Peter. The doors of the prison opened and when he was out on the street the angel left him. Peter then went to a house where the believers gathered for prayer. In other words, Peter went to a prayer meeting where they were probably praying for him!
He knocks at the front door and a girl named Rhoda answers. She cannot believe her eyes, so she goes and tells the disciples that Peter is at the door! How did these great men of faith react? “‘You’re out of your mind,’ they said. When she insisted, they decided, ‘It must be his angel!’ Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed” (Acts 12:15–16 NLT).
So you see, in spite of their lack of faith, God still came through! Clearly there is an important place for faith in our prayers. And no doubt we, on many occasions, have hindered the working of God by our unbelief. But sometimes we just don’t have as much faith as we ought. Even then, God can intervene as He did for these doubting believers.
There is the story in Scripture of a man who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus. Jesus responded, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes!” (Mark 9:23 NKJV). Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” And Jesus delivered that man’s son from demon powers.
Look at how things change as a result of powerful prayer! In the beginning, we saw a seemingly all-powerful Herod wreaking havoc on the church. Herod had on his side the power of government, the sword, and the threat of prison. So the church used their secret weapon: prayer!
We have another secret weapon: gospel proclamation. That’s what America needs—the gospel proclaimed. Every one of us as pastors need to see people coming to Christ in our churches. New believers are the lifeblood of the church. You show me a church that does not have a constant flow of new believers and I will show you a church that is beginning to stagnate. We have a choice: evangelize or fossilize!
Pastors, I urge you to call people to Christ every week at your churches. I urge you to exhort your people to reach others with the gospel. We have two big evangelistic events you can utilize: the SoCal Harvest at Angel Stadium (August 28–30) and Harvest America, live from Dallas in November.
Praying and preaching—those are our secret weapons!
The story ends with the great Herod giving a speech met with adulation. They audience shouts. “It’s the voice of a god and not a man!” The Jewish historian Josephus adds the detail that his clothing was made completely of silver and shone so brightly in the sun that the people hailed him as a god. And upon this (Josephus says) the king did not rebuke them nor reject their flattery. Both Luke and Josephus agree that He was judged because he glorified himself instead of God; he was killed on the spot.
At the beginning of the chapter, Herod is on the rampage, arresting and persecuting church leaders. At the end, he himself is struck down and dies. The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison, and Herod triumphing. It closes with Herod dead, Peter free, and the Word of God triumphing. Man has his will, but God will have His way. “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
When I travel and have a meeting in the morning, I ask for a wake-up call. The arrest of Simon Peter was the church’s “wake-up call.” As we observe the National Day of Prayer, let’s pray for America to wake up! Let’s pray for a great spiritual awakening to sweep our land:
Father, we come to You to pray for our nation, the United States of America. How You have blessed us through the years, Lord! We rightly sing, “America, America, God shed His grace on thee.”
Yet we see trouble in our culture today. We see the breakdown of the family, crippling addictions, and random acts of horrific violence. Lord, we need Your help in America.
In recent days, we have done our best to remove Your Word and Your counsel from our courtrooms, classrooms, and culture. It seems, as President Lincoln once said, that we have “forgotten God.” But Lord, You have not forgotten us! You can bless and help and revive our country again.
Scripture tells us that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Lord, in Your mercy, we ask that You would exalt our country again. We have had a number of great awakenings in America. We have experienced times of refreshing, and revivals that changed not only the spiritual but also the moral landscape. As the psalmist said, “Will You not revive us again, So that Your people may rejoice in You?” (Psalm 85:6).
That is our prayer for America today, Lord. Send a mighty spiritual awakening that will turn the hearts of men and women, boys and girls, back to you. You have told us if we will humble ourselves and pray, and seek Your face and turn from our wicked ways, that You will forgive our sins and heal our land. Forgive us today, Lord, and heal this troubled land that we love so much. We ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ.
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