How to Pray for America
Dr. Jim Denison
It was 1945. Spencer January, a lifetime resident of Dallas, Texas, was a soldier in the U. S. Army’s 35th Infantry Division, 137th Infantry, Company I. They were pushing through the Rhineland region of West Germany toward the Elbe River to meet the Russian troops.
On March 9 the American troops were ordered to move into Ossenburg, Germany, where a factory that had once manufactured soap was now producing gun powder and other war products. As Spencer and the rest of Company I were cautiously making their way through a wooded area, word came that the company ahead of them had been hit hard and they were to replace it.
When his company arrived at the scene, Spencer was appalled at what met his eyes. Only a handful of badly wounded soldiers, hiding behind a stone house at the edge of the woods, had survived. Straight ahead a 200-yard stretch of open field, bordered on the far side by thick woods, was covered with the bodies of dead American soldiers.
Three nests of German machine guns had mounted the fierce assault. To try to cross that flat, open field meant suicide, yet there was no other road into the town. As the order was given to advance, Spencer prayed desperately, “God, you’ve got to do something.” Thinking of his wife and tiny son back home, he pleaded, “Please, do something.”
Their advance began. Just as the soldier at the front took his first step, something to the left caught their eye. A cloud, a fluffy white cloud, appeared out of nowhere and settled on the ground, completely obscuring the Germans’ line of fire.
Taking advantage of this miraculous turn of events, Spencer and his fellow soldiers bolted into the clearing and ran for their lives. Safe in the sheltering woods on the other side, his heart pounding in his ears, Spencer hid behind a tree and watched as the last American soldier raced to safety. He will never forget what happened next: the instant the last soldier scrambled to safety, the cloud vanished!
The Germans, thinking they still had the American soldiers pinned down behind that stone house, radioed its position to their artillery. Within minutes the house was blown to bits.
But that’s not the end of the story. Two weeks later a letter arrived from Spencer’s mother back in the States. “Son, what in the world was the matter on such and such a day,” she asked, pinpointing the very day and time that Spencer and Company I had faced such grave danger.
“You remember Sister Tankersley from our church? Well, she called me that morning and told me that the Lord had awakened her at 1:00 in the morning and said, ‘Spencer is in serious trouble. Get up now and pray for him.’ Sister Tankersley said she prayed for you until 6:00, when she had to go to work. She told me that the last thing she prayed before getting off her knees was, ‘God, whatever danger Spencer is in, just cover him with your cloud.’”
Andrew Murray said, “Most churches don’t know that God rules the world by the prayers of his saints.” John Wesley was even more specific: “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” And E. M. Bounds claimed, “The church upon its knees would bring heaven upon the earth.”
The best way to know Christ is in prayer. We know any person best by spending time with him or her, talking together, listening to each other, being with each other. So it is with Jesus. The more time we spend together in prayer, the more we grow to know him and be like him.
This focus is especially urgent for this patriotic day, because the greatest gift you and I can give our nation is to pray for her. To pray for her leaders, her people, her spiritual life and God’s divine blessing.
So today we’ll look at the life of prayer, and focus that life on our nation and her needs this day.
Our text finds us in the midst of the Galilean ministry of Jesus. Matthew tells us that he went “everywhere,” to all the villages in this northern part of the Holy Land. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, records the fact that there were no less than 204 such villages in the time of Jesus. Jesus goes to them all, teaching, preaching, healing. Touching their lives. And when he does, he sees something.
He sees that they’re “fainting”—the Greek word originally meant to be flayed or skinned. Here it means that they are distressed, hassled, worried. They’re “scattered”—cast down, wounded, lying around. Abandoned by their shepherds.
And seeing their enormous pain, their terrible need, he is moved with “compassion”—this is the strongest word in the Greek language meaning pity and tenderness to the depth of one’s being. They’re hurting, abandoned, lost, and he feels their pain and suffering. He sees their need.
And so he calls his disciples to pray.
The life of prayer begins with the need for prayer. If we don’t think we need to pray, we won’t.
Do you need God’s help with your marriage? Your kids? Your parents?
Do you need his guidance for your future? Your job? Your money?
Does our church need God’s power for our future? Our ministry? Our people? Or, are we self-sufficient enough that prayer is an activity we practice, not a relationship we need?
Does America need us to pray? Beneath the surface of our prosperity and blessing, is there a deep chasm of need and pain? In a country where half our marriages end in divorce, where suicides are higher than ever in our history, where teenage pregnancy is at an all-time high, were drug and alcohol abuse now starts in our elementary schools? Do we need to pray for our country?
Jesus sees their crushing need, and so he says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field” (v. 38). “Ask.” In the King James, “Pray ye therefore.”