Lessons from the Past: Praying for Unity in Our Nation
Division in America today is sadly in plain sight. As a remedy, we can look to our forefathers and their example as they sought unity when our fledgling country came together to pray—243 years ago today—on Continental Fast Day July 20, 1775. It may serve us well, individually and collectively, to assume their humble posture before God as they recognized Him as their Protector and Provider. They powerfully understood that “prayer is our only weapon.”
CONTINENTAL FAST DAY: JULY 20, 1775
The Honorable Congress have proclaimed a Fast to be observed by the inhabitants of all the English Colonies on this continent, to stand before the Lord in one day, with public humiliation, fasting, prayer, to deplore our many sins, to offer up our joint supplications to God, for forgiveness, and for his merciful interposition for us in this day of unnatural darkness and distress.
—Jonathan Trumbull, July 13, 1775, Lebanon, Connecticut to George Washington
Amid the brewings of war, the Continental Congress requested that the nation set aside the 20th day of July 1775, be “observed with a becoming solemnity,” with the hope that “many earnest prayers” be presented to the Father of Mercies. This time of fasting, prayer and public humiliation was a time to “be reduced to lowliness of mind, meekness, penitence and submission” before God. While the Continental Congress did meet on that day, later they adjourned to Christ Church, Philadelphia, where together they heard a sermon by Rev. Jacob Duche, based on Psalm 80:14— Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine;
A Prayer for Unity from our Past
On that same July day at Yorktown, a sermon from 1 Kings 8:40 was preached before Captain Daniel Morgan’s and Captain Price’s companies of rifle-men. This sermon, by Episcopal Reverend Daniel Batwell, M.A. of Philadelphia, was preceded by a prayer worth mimicking, as today, we too, pray for our nation.
Batwell opened his prayer with these impactful lines:
“O Most Mighty God, terrible in thy judgements and wonderful in thy doings towards the children of men! We thy sinful servants here assembled before thee, confess, and adore the mysterious strokes of thy supreme Providence.”
Batwell first recognized God’s sovereignty and His protective and spiritual care over the nation as well as man’s fallibility before Him.
“Long has the land rejoiced in the abundant emanation of thy tender mercies. Not our merit but thy goodness, has turned wilderness into fruitful fields, and the lonesome solitude into the cheerful dwellings of man. From year to year, almost from day to day, new habitations have sprung up, which ought to resound with the praise of thy holy name, of thy eternal and uncreated son, and of thy most blessed spirit.”Batwell recollects the work that God had faithfully done in enabling the first settlers to thrive and multiply in the New World He had given to them. Batwell also acknowledges that this blessing alone is worthy of resounding praise and admiration of the Trinity.
“But alas with grief and shame we acknowledge, that we have not always made a right use of thy continued favours. Not according to thy benefits have been our improvements, not according to thy bounty has been our gratitude. Our hearts smite us when we reflect on the many instances of our neglect of heavenly, and our attachment to earthly things. Creation and all its blessings, redemption and all its graces have but too frequently elapsed from our memories; and whilst we have been anxiously attentive to the life that now is, we have been foolishly inattentive to the promise of the life to come.”
With eloquence and humility, Batwell recognized that the nation had lost both gratitude for the blessings that had been bestowed upon them by God, and the vision of the life to come (eternity and its promise) had been lost amid the activities of daily life. In recognizing this lack of gratitude and lack of focus on eternal treasures, Batwell continues his prayer—
“We see, we feel, we own ourselves unworthy of the least of thy gracious vouchsafements; whereby as a state we have been gradually led from weakness to strength, as individuals from lonely helplessness to all the numerous comforts of society. Hence, doubtless it is; so becomes us to believe, and so confess, that thou hast permitted the brightness of our prospect to be overclouded, hence, for without thy sovereign will nothing can take effect, the dreadful flame of discord has been kindled, and the devouring sword of war unsheathed: Hence, we are wounded in the tenderest part, are at variance with those whom hitherto revered as fathers, honoured as teachers, loved as brethren, and dealt with as friends. For it is not an open enemy that has done this dishonor, neither is it an adversary that has magnified himself against us; but it is even our brother, our guide, our familiar friend, with whom we took sweet council, and in the most amicable intercourse, walked together in the house of God.”
Batwell understood that the division in the nation was not just political, it was personal, hemorrhaging into family life, friendships, and even church life. At this point, Batwell said these powerful words:
“In this severe distress whither shall we fly but to thy presence? As a society, prayer is our only weapon: O may it prove the prayer of the humble, may it pierce through the clouds, reach the footsteps of thy Almighty throne, and not turn away till thou, O most high, regardest it!”
Batwell’s prayer continues as he prays specifically for the leaders of his time, for those that would be affected by the choices made, and for those yet unborn that would inherit the nation.
Today, we acknowledge our nation is once again experiencing division just as it was in 1775. May we, as a nation, model Batwell’s humble prayer. May we, too:
—Acknowledge the Sovereignty and Providence of God
—Acknowledge His work and His hand in our nation thus far
—Praise Him for what He has done – He is worthy!
—Confess that we have sinned against Him, that we have been ungrateful, and that we have lost sight of the eternal blessings that await us
—Recognize the effects that our sins have had on our nation and in our personal relationships with family, friends, and brothers in the Lord
—Recognize our need for Him—we can’t fix this—all we can do is “fly to His presence”
—Pray specifically for our leaders that the Lord would give them “righteous and understanding hearts, that wisdom and gentleness, fortitude and moderation may equally animate their councils and actions, that in the present dangerous crisis of affairs, they may leave nothing undone that appertains to our safety and welfare, nor do anything from a principle of ambition, vain-glory, or self-interest, that in the midst of war they may remember peace, and in the very moment of opposition, wish, long, pant, for a safe, happy, and honorable accommodation.”
—Pray for those yet unborn who will “be affected by the consequence of our present calamities”
—Finally, acknowledge that we cannot rely on ourselves for deliverance, but “on our Savior’s merits do we depend for mercy.”
May we continue to pray as those who built our country prayed, and live as we are charged to live: “fearing the Lord all the days that we live in the land which God gave to our fathers.”
At Dayspring Christian Academy, we are committed to raising up the next generation of Christian leaders who acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of life, demonstrate a biblical worldview, become citizens of excellence in Christian character and scholarship, and aid in the restoration of America’s biblical foundation. If you would like to learn more about Dayspring Christian Academy, please contact Karol Hasting at 717-285-2000 or schedule a private tour using the button below.