No doubt, many of our older readers can remember their long-ago school days beginning with the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer, usually reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Back then, there was even an occasional devotional thought the teacher might give or other special emphasis related to praying about what was taking place in the world or a classmate’s life. That was in schools all across the land — north, south, east, west, rural, city. I’m sure there were places where it wasn’t all that important, but sometimes in the individual classroom and other times over the loudspeaker, we would begin our day with, “I pledge allegiance…,” and then, “Our Father which art in heaven…”
That was long ago. I was thinking about that just recently because there was a survey taken on some college campuses asking students if they thought the motto, “In God We Trust,” should be removed from our money. What they discovered was that those who said “yes” approached half of all those who were surveyed. In God We Trust is more than just something stamped on our coins and bills; it is our national motto. Almost half of the college students said they thought it ought to be taken off.
I don’t know to what extent the survey reached across the nation or how scientific it might have been, but it got some folks’ attention and some chatter from a few news programs. How could our young people come to a decision that they wanted In God We Trust removed? How could that have ever happened?
One of the significant yet slow and unnoticed ways that may have happened is because the highest court in the land declared in 1962 that prayer, or more specifically school-sponsored prayer, unacceptable. I remember when it happened and there was some criticism of it, but some people thought maybe we could get by without it. I remember the somewhat tongue-in-cheek and a little bit of humor involved when some said there would always be prayer in the classroom as long as they taught Algebra II.
The fact is the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court affected a huge range of areas where prayer took place, even if it was just routine and somewhat methodical. On the mornings when we prayed in school, it was just a rote memory of the Pledge and the Lord’s Prayer. A couple of things were happening. One, occasionally there was something going on maybe in our school or in our world or in our individual lives that made it seem more significant and more personal. Two, significant pieces of our country and our spiritual development were being etched on our brains and our hearts. In a time of great need, those words would be fixed and unremovable.
The court’s decision reached farther still in that prayers began to be stopped everywhere. We used to have prayers before ballgames and prayers with the team before we went out to play the game. There were prayers offered at civic gatherings and prayers that you would hear before the Parents and Teachers Association meetings. There were even times I can recall when the teacher called attention to some great need in someone’s life and she or he would just simply lead in prayer.
It said something about the importance of prayer in their lives. It said something significant about prayers in our own lives. I can recall numerous times when a big testing event was taking place in our school and the teacher would say, “I know you have studied and learned, but before we take this standardized test, I want us to have prayer,” and she would pray that God would give us clear minds and the ability to recall what we had learned and help us to do our best. In a moment of time, that may not seem like much but it was.
The decision of the court has had long-term, lasting impact. Prayer has been eradicated from schools and civic places, and from our hearts as a daily part of beginning our activities. Did it make any difference? Oh, I think that it did make a difference at times in our lives. I think it did make a huge difference where it has become a great void in so many people’s lives who never hear a prayer at all. It is said that you don’t know what you know, and when you don’t know that you can call upon God in the midst of trials or needs or everyday living, then you just don’t know.
The second thing for us to think about is the decline. If prayer to the God of heaven is removed from any place or space in our public gatherings for young people and in our civic meetings, it is not just a removal of a prayer recited by rote memory; it is removal of our focus on prayer — and that being God Himself. If you remove prayer and the One to whom prayer is offered, what is left? Wherever you turn to get you through the day — usually that’s self or secular things — but it is not the God who made you, loves you, and wants to provide for you.
What happens? The loss, the decline, so gradual that you hardly even notice it is taking place. It’s not just an empty time but much more important, it’s an empty space in our hearts and our minds. When you come to those times in your life when you don’t know where to turn to get help or you need peace and don’t know how to manufacture it yourself, where do you turn? What do you do when you have no experience with prayer and no God is mentioned to Whom you can pray?
Back to the survey of the college students. You begin to think no wonder they could do without In God We Trust. We have provided a world for them that is void of Him and they have grown up detached and not having to trust Him, and we just simply move on.
The third and final thought is about the desert, the wasteland. “No Prayer — No Problem” is better stated, “No Prayer — Big Problem.” We have created a spiritual wasteland in which our children grow up not knowing they can call upon God and not knowing the God upon whom they can call.
I remember back during the days of the Cold War when America and the Soviet Union seemed to be at odds all the time. We wondered what it might be like to be raised in a world like the Communists dictated that is atheistic in nature and refuses to let God be a part of any of their activities. We used to be highly critical of them for creating that world, and to some degree out of our own freedoms we have created a godless and empty environment — a world that shapes itself around social activities and intellectual pursuits and at the same time leaves out prayer, leaves out God, reduces morals and respect for one another, and becomes increasingly lawless and godless. What can we possibly do?
We can touch our children and those around us to point them to God. We need to do that. Whether it’s the prayers we offer in private or public, whether it’s at church or in some meeting that allows freedom of expression, we need to pray. It’s only then that God can begin to hear from us and come and meet with us to not only bring His presence to bear in our lives but put our lives together for His glory.
It’s what He said when He told us, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).
Has America ever had a day that spiritually-greater healing was needed than now? No Prayer — Big Problem. Start Praying — Supernatural Power. Let it begin today.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Jim Futral