Today is the 65th annual National Day of Prayer in the United States. The theme is “Wake Up America,” and the scriptural focus is from Isaiah 58:1: “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet” (New International Version).
This theme speaks to me of being alert and praising God in prayer. Billions of people, including me, have found that turning to God through prayer enriches and blesses our lives. Prayer is empowering. It gives us inspiration and strength.
It takes discipline and moral courage to pray consistently and “shout aloud” the benefits that come from relying on God for help and healing. But I’ve learned that discipline and courage originate with God. The Bible teaches that God, good, is the omnipotent Lawgiver, governing us through spiritual law, and He is divine Love. So His children – all of us – expressing His nature, naturally and inherently reflect all His goodness and might. Therefore, we have the capacity to be courageous, honest, loving, and unselfish. We don’t have to “conjure” courage; it’s natural to be awake and obedient to the scriptural demand to pray and “not hold back” from others.
But it’s up to us to remember and apply our God-given ability, to resist becoming complacent. One of the most compelling biblical examples of the need to stay awake and pray occurs in the account of Christ Jesus’ prayerful struggle in the garden of Gethsemane just before his crucifixion and resurrection. He asked several of his most trusted disciples to pray with him, to support him in this struggle as he prepared to meet the coming challenge with courage and grace. Jesus caught them sleeping three times. He implored, “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40).
Jesus’ most faithful followers were lulled into mental inaction. We are called upon today to watch; to pray for oneself, for one’s country, for the world; and to be ready witnesses to the glory, power, and ever-presence of God, good, in a culture that, statistically, seems to be turning away from God.
This is a lesson I am continuing to learn. On my last day working for an organization, a co-worker asked me how I’d been able to “keep my cool” in meetings that grew heated or confrontational. She said she’d observed this behavior many times through the years, and she was sincerely asking. The answer was prayer. I had applied what I’d learned about God and His creation through my study of Christian Science to maintain a sense of spiritual poise and grace in navigating difficult meetings – it was through ongoing watchfulness and daily praying that I was able to remain calm. I was deeply grateful she had noticed this tangible effect of prayer. But what I actually did say was something like, “I guess I just have that ability.”
I didn’t express much moral courage in that moment. I’m embarrassed to admit that I wanted my co-worker to like me more than I wanted to praise or honor God. I had prejudged her response to be negative, which ignored Jesus’ instruction to love my neighbor as myself (see Matthew 22:39). I knew something precious and powerful that could change her life, but I selfishly withheld it. Loving others requires being willing to rise above one’s own discomfort and go beyond assumptions – not to convert or lord over others, but to help, especially when asked!
When I left the office that day, I was quite ashamed of myself. Then I saw this same co-worker crossing the street in front of me. This time I was wide awake to my responsibility to be a witness for Truth, or God.
I called her over and said, “I wasn’t honest with you before. The real answer is that prayer has guided me in all of those meetings.” She accepted this answer, and we had a brief and congenial conversation about God and prayer. I was so happy for that small redemption, and I vowed to try harder to be more willing not to “hold back” in the future.
Perhaps this seems a small incident compared to much larger challenges we face. Not to me, when I think of how Jesus’ single voice, motivated and empowered by God, healed and changed the world. What a wonderful reminder we have today that prayer and action on the micro and macro levels matter. Humanity needs us to wake up and shout aloud our praise and gratitude to God!