This week, a Supreme Court ruling made headlines. I’m not referring to the draft by Justice Samuel Alito of a majority opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. The day before the “leak heard ’round the world,” the court ruled that Boston violated the free speech rights of a person when it refused to fly a Christian flag on a flagpole outside City Hall.
The court determined that the city discriminated against Harold Shurtleff because of his “religious viewpoint.” Boston had approved 284 consecutive applications to fly flags before rejecting Shurtleff’s because he wanted to fly a Christian flag.
Here’s the amazing part: the Supreme Court not only overturned lower courts that had sided against Shurtleff, but it did so by a unanimous 9–0 decision. And that decision was written by Justice Stephen Breyer, who was nominated by President Bill Clinton and is considered the second-most liberal member of the court.
On this annual National Day of Prayer, let’s give thanks for the freedom to have a National Day of Prayer, a right that would be unthinkable for Christians in many countries around the world.
And let’s use this right as God intends, which is more counterintuitive than you might think.
The Supreme Court flip that led to 22 million abortions
I am grateful that the Continental Congress issued a national call to prayer in 1775. I am also grateful that Billy Graham’s call for America’s leaders to unite in prayer during the Korean War led to the National Day of Prayer tradition that began in 1952.
However, I am confident that American leaders who believe in prayer also believe that we need to pray for our nation not just once a year but every day of the year.
The Supreme Court leak has once again exposed the danger of self-governance without personal morality. Presumably, a single person made the decision to leak this document, a decision to betray their trust and the confidentiality of the court that has precipitated a crisis now dominating the news.
Consider another example of the power of one person in a democracy. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s flip on abortion when the Supreme Court considered Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1992 caused the court to affirm rather than overturn Roe v. Wade. Had he remained consistent with his long-held position on abortion, more than twenty-two million babies aborted since that time could have been saved. This is the population of Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Idaho, West Virginia, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, the District of Columbia, Vermont, and Wyoming—combined.
We could spend the rest of the day discussing the other moral crises of our day. My point is simple: America needs America’s Christians to pray for America fervently and daily.
But there’s a catch.
“Can man make for himself gods?”
Paul declared, “We ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29). This seems to be a self-evident assertion: If a human makes an object, how can that object be divine?
The prophet Jeremiah similarly asked, “Can man make for himself gods?” Then he answered his question: “Such are not gods” (Jeremiah 16:20). You and I would obviously agree.
However, the great British pastor Charles Spurgeon would caution us that our response might be too hasty. He wrote: “We pity the poor heathen who adore a god of stone and yet worship a god of gold. Where is the vast superiority between a god of flesh and one of wood? The principle, the sin, the folly is the same in either case.”
Then he added this convicting note: “In ours the crime is more aggravated because we have more light and sin in the face of it. The heathen bows to a false deity, but the true God he has never known; we commit two evils, inasmuch as we forsake the living God and turn unto idols.” He then prayed, “May the Lord purge us all from this grievous iniquity!”
I fear that one such “grievous iniquity” is the way some of us pray. When we make prayer merely a day or an event, we violate the biblical command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). When our prayers are merely transactional—praying for our nation so God will bless our nation—our prayers make God a means to our ends.
I fear that God would consider such prayer to be akin to idolatry. We are not praying to the wrong God, but we are praying for the wrong reasons.
“Prayer is the life of the saint”
A. W. Tozer observed, “The Scripture does not say of Abraham that he believed the text and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Abraham believed God. It was not what Abraham believed, but who Abraham believed that truly counted” (my emphasis).
The purpose of prayer is first that we know God. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The psalmist spoke for us all when he prayed, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2).
The Scottish minister John Baillie was thus right to pray: “You have breathed your Spirit into my spirit; you have formed my mind to seek you; you have turned my heart to love you; you have made me restless for the rest that can be found in you.”
Oswald Chambers would have agreed. One of the great spiritual geniuses of all time, he observed: “The correct concept is to think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts. Our blood flows and our breathing continues ‘without ceasing’; we are not even conscious of it, but it never stops. . . . Prayer is not an exercise, it is the life of the saint.” As a result, he taught us to “maintain the childlike habit of offering up prayer in your heart to God all the time.”
Our larger prayer
Without question, we should pray for God to bless America. In fact, we are commanded to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1–2) and for our needs (Matthew 7:7). We should pray for our nation as the Jews prayed for theirs (Psalm 122:6).
But our larger prayer should be that Americans would know God. That we would receive not just his gracious favor but his living presence. That we would seek not just what he can do for us but the salvation he alone can give us. That we would experience the spiritual and moral awakening that is our true hope for the future.
Would you make this your prayer for America today?
Would you make it your prayer for your soul?