"If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." — 2 Chronicles 7:14.
Our God, who hast Promised to
Hear Our Prayers:
Mercifully grant that as we behold the cross on which Thy Son, Jesus Christ, shed His atoning, purifying blood, we may receive the courageous trust which takes Thee at Thy word and finds strength in daily prayer! Keep us ever in communion with Thee! Make us strong to petition Thee confidently; humble, to ask according to Thy will; sympathetic, to intercede for our fellow-men; resolute, to plead even though Thine answer may be delayed; faithful, always to pray in our Savior's name! In Him alone we find forgiveness, peace and — God grant this to every one! — the pledged assurance of heaven, face to face with Thee, the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the glorious Redeemer! Until then strengthen us to meet our trials and through firm reliance on Thy grace to overcome temptation! We need Thy sustaining presence constantly, for evil days have come upon us and too easily can we be influenced to deny the truth! As we commend ourselves anew to Thee, O Triune God, hear us, for we trust in Jesus' unfailing promise! Amen.
CONFLICTING cries reecho across our country in these problem-weighted days. Protect yourself, America!" This plea demands increased armaments, more powerful airplanes, swifter cruisers, heavier cannon, bigger bombs, as the most stupendous defense program in our national history gets under way. With all our hearts we hope that these Titanic efforts will remove the danger of foreign invasion; but we need more protection than even this gigantic rearming project. It took hundreds of thousands of men hundreds of years to build the Chinese Wall, the largest defense structure known to man; but even that barrier — it would stretch half-way across the United States — could not save China from devastation. The French boasted that the Maginot Line was impregnable, yet it fell without having its strength tested. In 1914 the Germans assembled the greatest war machine known to military science, yet their well-equipped armies surrendered, and their navy was scuttled.
Others cry, "Remove your hidden enemies, America!" Martin Dies, chairman of the committee investigating un-American activities, has just issued a challenging volume in which he shows the Fifth-Column activities of Nazi, Fascist, and particularly of Communist forces. He claims that important youth groups, labor unions, Negro organizations, are Stalin's agents. Two thousand "outright Communists," he maintains, hold Government positions at Washington, with many radicals in the higher salary brackets, some even close to the White House. Again we agree that secret agents of Communists and totalitarians, as treacherous foes of our God and country, should be removed; for as broad as America is, it is not large enough to harbor any one who seeks to undermine our democracy in addition to destroying the Christian religion. Yet if every Fifth Columnist were exiled, other heavy problems would still burden us.
Again, this cry is heard, "Watch your financial structure, America!" Debates on currency and inflation, charges that wealth is being concentrated in fewer hands, fears produced by mounting national indebtedness, fill the air as money experts warn of impending danger. We realize, too, that the nation is living beyond its means, that all the gold safely stored in the Fort Knox vaults may not be sufficient to save us from monetary collapse; but if other nations have regained economic stability after the chaos of wild inflation, we can, too.
Yet, as Christians, we have another cry, incomparably more vital in these question-marked years — not a new plea nor a slogan from our economists, intellectual leaders, Government officials, but an ancient appeal from God Himself. Here it is, the summons which can help bring peace and promise to every one of us and to our whole country, the Lord's demand:
Only God's people can pray acceptably. In the text our heavenly Father says: To have your prayers answered you must be one of "My people, which are called by My name." Now, to be God's, we must be free from sin, for no man burdened with the wrong inherited by every one of us at birth and acquired by every one during life can approach Him before whom even the sinless angels shield their faces. When the Israelites of old thought that surely they, as the chosen people, with their Temple at Jerusalem, could come before Jehovah, sin-stained though they were, He gave this terrifying rebuke, "When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you; yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood," Though we remain on our knees until they are calloused, keep our hands perpetually locked in prayer, and scream until we lose our voices, if we are not right with God, if our sins are not completely removed, we are still children of wrath, and He will not hear our entreaties.
No human agent or intermediary can bring your prayers before the heavenly throne. No church in itself, no minister or priest, possesses the power to make your prayers acceptable. No saint of old, no self-sacrificing mother, no godly husband or wife, can take your place in praying. In the Middle Ages forgiveness of sins was sold at specified rates, and today, with similar folly, people are urged to approach the Almighty by their character, their good intentions, and their good resolutions. You must have your sin forgiven before you can draw near to God.
Here it is that Jesus, the Savior of mankind, comes into our prayer-life with His unfathomable, undeserved mercy. He broke down the barriers that separate us from God by taking away our sins, every one of them, transferring the guilt that rested on us to himself, paying completely the penalty we should have suffered. All this Jesus did for us when at Calvary He hung on the cross between heaven and earth; and because as our Substitute. He served the sentence that sin pronounced on every one of us; because the anguish and death of God's own Son was the required ransom price He paid to free us, the promise of His holy Gospel is the good news that "there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus," We have been washed pure, clean spotless, in the blood of the Lamb. Through Christ we have no more unforgiven sin; and since faith in His reconciling, restoring love makes us the sons of God, nothing can keep us from approaching Him as trusting children petition their loving father. Talk about the great changes in history, the wonders of nature, the marvels of science! There is not in all the centuries, the phenomena of laboratory research, the glories of earth, sea, and sky, a more startling miracle than the change exerted by faith in the Cross of Jesus Christ, which takes sin-stained men and women from the highway to hell, makes them sin-free and sets them on the open road to God and His heaven.
Prayers, to be answered, must come from Christ-dedicated hearts. The Lord Jesus says, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you," The name of Jesus Christ, our God and Savior, and with it the trust in His fathomless, unfailing mercies — that is the key which opens the door to eternal riches! The name of Jesus Christ, our one Mediator and only Ransom, and with it the unshaken reliance on His power to save to the uttermost — that is the banner under which a praying Church can advance from victory to victory!
Yet that holy name, above all other names, is systematically avoided today, when, more than ever, men should acclaim our Lord. Many, including some nominal Christians, do not like to mention Jesus Christ for fear they may displease those who reject Him. In this spirit certain churches have deleted "Jesus" from their prayers. In many lodges to which, inconsistently, some of you Christian men belong, all reference to Christ has been banned from the ritual. In politics, prayers are spoken which drop his holy name so they will be wide enough to embrace those who deny the Savior's deity and atonement. During the recent presidential campaign one speaker closed his address with a petition for our country taken word for word from The Book of Common Prayer, except — and I hope sincerely it was an oversight — that the concluding words of the prayer, "all which we ask through Jesus Christ, our Lord," were completely omitted.
May God give you the loyalty to Christ shown by Samuel F.B. Morse, internationally acclaimed inventor of the electric telegraph, a scientist heaped with honors such as few men have ever received. He testified that in the darkest hours, when everything seemed hopeless, prayer to Jesus brought him light and the assurance of his salvation. He wrote: "To Him, indeed, belongs all the glory. I have evidence enough that without Christ I could do nothing. All my strength is there, and I fervently desire to ascribe to Him all the praise. If I am to have influence, I desire to have it for Christ, to use it for His cause; if wealth, for Christ; if more knowledge, for Christ. I speak sincerely when I say I fear prosperity lest I should be proud and forget whence it comes." May the Holy Spirit similarly grant you the grace to approach your God and say: "Father, I bring these petitions to Thee not in my own name, for who am I, with evil in my heart, on my hands, that I should dare to come before Thee! Father do I kneel in the name of Thy Son, my own Savior. Hear me for His sake. By His promise bless me and fill me with His love."
If this cry, "On your knees, America!" is to help bring the divine answer to your problems, millions in this country must pray with contrite sincerity. The text reminds us that God requires His people to "humble themselves... and turn from their wicked ways. Then," He promises, "will I hear from heaven." Common reason, not to mention the Bible warning ought to make this fact clear: we cannot expect the national benefits which Thanksgiving week again recalls, to bless our land automatically and indefinitely if the rebellion against the Almighty and the bold breaking of His Ten Commandments continues unchecked. We cannot always be the most richly blessed and at the same time the most crime-ridden nation on earth. The call, therefore, is for a repentant, prayerful spirit throughout the land: Back to God, back to the Bible, back to Christ in humility and contrition!
This cry "On your knees, America!" becomes the more necessary when we survey the counter-offensive against Christian prayer waged on every side with an insistence hitherto unknown. Millions in this country are being stampeded into a self-reliance which has no room for intercession, an overconfidence which regards trust in God as effeminate. American Christian homes basic units in social and religious improvement, frequently set family worship aside. American churches have often questioned the full power of prayer and robbed it of its promise. American educational theories reject the petitions of children on the ground that dependence on God weakens self trust. As a consequence we are paying a prohibitive price for this neglect, but not nearly as fearful a price as we may have to pay in the future unless humility, repentance, and trust in God find a far greater place within our boundaries. If American Christians neglect the privilege of prayer, hard and trying times may lie ahead — far worse than the bread-line, closed-bank, crashed-stock-market days of the past decade — Heaven's visitation, by which this country and its churches may be purified and restored to a deeper recognition of God.
Let us not, however,
overlook the strengthening fact that penitent
prayer in Christ's name helped this nation in the past. George
on his knees at Valley Forge, his face wet with tears, his voice
raised to God; Abraham Lincoln who, during the crucial years of the
War, started the custom of an annual Thanksgiving Day — these men and
of humble Christians joined with them in prayers mightily answered knew
God's ancient promise, which also assures the American people today
if they "humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from
wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin
will heal their land." Put confident prayer into the hearts of
nation's youth, instead of the un-American drivel with which some of
sons and daughters are being filled today, and we shall have real
Nathan Hale, a young man of twenty-one, was sentenced to die for his
During his last moments, instead of surrendering to fear, he turned his
face heavenward and was in such complete communion with his heavenly
that he did not even hear the harsh commands of the British
Strengthened by prayer, he cried out from the gallows: "If I had ten
lives, I would lay them down for my injured, bleeding country. I
regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." Bring
humble, penitent, Christian prayer into our nation's homes' win
of America's unchurched for Christ and make them mighty intercessors
the nation; let each of the quarter million churches in our forty-eight
States intercede for the President, the Congress, and those in
teach all of us the power of Christ-exalting prayer — and, with this
to the cry "On your knees America!" we can, under God, bring America to
its highest heights!
Pray confidently, believing that no problem you face is too great for the Almighty, with whom "nothing shall be impossible." Henry Ward Beecher tells of a poor Indian Christian woman on Long Island, who faced a Thanksgiving without food. A day or two before the holiday, while standing on a hill overlooking the beach, she saw a large flock of wild geese and prayed, "On, that the Lord would give me one of those for Thanksgiving!" She had hardly uttered the words, when a hawk flew into the flock and killed one of the geese, which fell to the ground not far away. Thus did God provide a Thanksgiving feast for an impoverished Indian. God can help you in the same way of you are Christ's. He "shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus," if you trust Him fully.
Recall the prayer of Hudson Taylor, consecrated missionary to China! Once the sailing-ship in which he traveled was becalmed close to a cannibal island. To the horror of those aboard, the ship drifted slowly shoreward, and nothing could stop its course toward the savages on the beach, who eagerly prepared for a great feast of human flesh. In that emergency the captain asked Hudson Taylor to beseech God for help. "I will pray," the missionary replied, "provided you set your sails to catch the breeze." At first the captain refused, but Taylor warned, "I will not pray unless you prepare the sails." That request carried out, the heroic man of God knelt in confident pleading. Before long the captain returned to say joyfully,"You had better stop praying now, for we have more wind than we can manage." With the ship a hundred yards from the shore, God had answered by sending a strong wind to save the passengers and the crew.
I can almost hear some of you object, however, "I have prayed, but God has not answered me." Perhaps you have not persevered enough, for our heavenly Father knows far better than we do the best time for answering. Most of us pray far too little, and to teach us the blessing of protracted pleading, God may let us wait. Sometimes Jesus was so busy that He could not eat; but He never was so preoccupied that He could not pray. Regularly He devoted hours to communion with His heavenly Father, and sometimes He spent the whole night in prayer. Yet we — may God forgive us! — are often too engrossed with our petty worries and trivial joys to find time for the Savior who gave His lifetime for us. Pray continually and courageously!
Reviewing the history of his transatlantic cable, Cyrus Field writes: "It has been nearly thirteen years of ceaseless toil. Often my heart has been ready to sink. Many times, when wandering in the forests of Newfoundland in the pelting rain or on the decks of ships on dark, stormy nights, alone, far from home, I have almost accused myself of madness and folly.... Yet one hope has led me on; and I have prayed that I might not taste of death till this work was accomplished. That prayer is answered." If his pleading was granted after thirteen years, why do you protest when it seems that God does not hear you after thirteen days or thirteen minutes?
Again, some of you will object, "I have prayed incessantly. I have pleaded humbly and in Jesus' name; and yet God has done just the opposite of what I requested." Some of you clutch a baby's shoe or fondle a little pink garment to recall that you once implored the Almighty with persistent pleas to save an infant life; but the child died. Some of you think of the long nights of prayerful waking and watching with a beloved one, during which you literally wore yourself out; yet God took your dear one home. Some of you have continually prayed for health and happiness, but your bodies are broken beyond repair, your joy of life crushed into a thousand irreparable fragments and you demand, "How can you say that God hears prayer?"
Human reason offers no answer, but faith does. Because you are Christ's every time it seems such prayers are not heard and God, far from being the Lord of love, has dealt cruelly with you, He has in reality given far more than you have asked. Above our poor powers of understanding, Jesus, who loved us into the bitter, bleeding end at Calvary, loves us even when it seems He hurts us. That child, snatched away all too young in your opinion, is far better off in the heavenly life than it would be were it to live long on earth; and because you are the Lord's, you, too will say in the joyful reunion of eternity, "He hath done all things well." The Christian husband or wife, called home against your wishes, was taken by God's mercy and not His cruelty, as hard as it is to understand this. And in the fuller knowledge of the hereafter you will realize His blessed truth "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter." Would you not prefer heaven through Jesus, after broken health and heaped miseries, to hell without Christ, after the fleeting pleasures of this life?
I know of a man who graduated from a theological seminary and was privileged to serve his Savior three years as a missionary. Then his afflictions began. In the tropics he lost the sight of one eye. A few years later, without a moment's warning, the other eye failed to function. His little girl was smitten by infantile paralysis. His wife, on whom he leaned because of his blindness, was called Home after severe suffering. Three years later his second child died. In the midst of these difficulties his shepherd dog, trained by the Seeing Eye Foundation, was killed in an accident; but as blow followed blow, did this twentieth- century Job rise up to curse God? No! Triumphant over these successive afflictions he declares faith and the power of prayer have taught him that God's Word never fails. He has found the joy and peace which make him tell you in Saint Paul's assurance, "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus."
Will not you, my fellow-redeemed, turn to our God in prayer and answer the appeal directed personally to every one of you: "On your knees, America! On your knees in penitent, humble prayer! On your knees in sincere and heartfelt prayer! On your knees in trusting, confident prayer! On your knees in the name of Jesus Christ"? God grant that you will for the Savior's sake! Amen.
The preceding Lutheran Hour sermon first aired in November 1940.