Independence Day is just around the corner. Maybe you’ll be celebrating the day in the backyard with friends or in a cabin in the woods or on a golf course. You might even take time to be thankful for the freedom to do such things. I hope you do much more.
Usually this time of the year, some preacher type will quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 (if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray… you know the verse). The minister will then call on the people to pray. Recognizing the importance of prayer (or at least not wanting to appear to be a person contrary to prayer), the congregants will agree that prayer is an important faith practice for the betterment of our country. “Amen. Amen. Amen,” 100% of the group will chime. That’s the good news.
Here’s the bad news: Most people aren’t praying for our country. The Barna group in 2017 reported (see the stats here) that 79% of Americans prayed at least once in the last three months. I’m not sure if the pandemic would have increased or decreased those numbers, but in any event, that’s not a particularly high standard– one prayer every ninety days. Of those who were praying once in three months, only 26% with a high school or less education reported to have prayed for our nation (only 17% of the college graduates did). I wasn’t a math major, but I don’t think that is very good either. The only ones praying for our country are 22% (give or take) of the pray-ers, who might only be being praying very occasionally. No wonder we are a mess.
Barna didn’t ask the other important question: Did you DO something other than pray? Did you participate with God in the answer to those prayers? I don’t think we’d like the answer to that question. James wrote a five-word indictment of too many pew sitters: faith without deeds is dead (James 2:26). In other words, “thought and prayers” alone doesn’t cut it. You gotta do something. Sadly, when people aren’t praying and they aren’t doing anything, this is the formula:
Little faith + Little action = a county in trouble.
Our country is divided. We need prayer (of course). We need action too. There is a long list of things you can do this Independence Day to make our country a better place: include a lonely neighbor in your cookout; clean up a vacant lot in the city; sign up to volunteer at a hospital, local school, soup kitchen or nursing home; write a letter to an incarcerated person; take a plate of cookies to the local fire or police station; have your kids color a picture and send it to a soldier overseas; volunteer to watch the kids of a single mom; take a roll of quarters to a laundromat and give strangers a free load of clean clothes; or surprise a teenager with an unexpected gift.
After you do any of these things (or something completely different. Use your imagination there are hundreds of possibilities), then pray. Pray for the people who were touched by your actions. Pray that they would be blessed by the Lord. Pray that, in turn, our country would start being a better place.
President John F. Kennedy in a famous speech said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” The answer: It’s not sending “thoughts and prayers” (and then not even praying). It’s actions and prayer (real prayer) that our country needs. You want a better country? Stop complaining and partner with the Almighty to make our country a better place. Actions and faith (quoting the great theologian, Larry the Cable Guy) will “get ‘er done.” Maybe James could have written:
Faith + Deeds = a Better Country.