2 Chronicles 6
Although Solomon begins by declaring that he has built a magnificent temple in which for God to dwell, in verse 18, he recognizes that no temple built by human hands could ever contain the God who created the universe. From this point on, eight times he refers to God “hearing from heaven,” and four times he specifically emphasizes that heaven is “Your dwelling place.” The temple was never intended to contain God, but to be a conduit for their prayers to God.
What is even more compelling is remembering that as Ezra recorded Solomon’s words, they had already come to pass. God had judged between the innocent and the guilty; He had sent an enemy to defeat Israel because of their apostasy and idolatry, and then heard their prayers and restored them. He had sent drought and famine in the days of Elijah because of the sins of Ahab and Jezebel, and then sent rain when Elijah called upon Him. And even as Ezra wrote, He was bringing His people back from the exile and captivity that had resulted from their sin.
Ezra was writing this so the people could see how faithful God was, how He was answering Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple through their very lives in that moment.
So I wondered, what prayers were lifted up by our founders upon the establishment of this nation? What did they ask God to accomplish—and how are we, today, seeing God’s answer to those prayers in our lives? What have the prayers of our leaders asked of God over the last two centuries?
Here are a few excerpts I found compelling. I confess that I’m pulling snippets of their prayers without the full context in the interest of space and because these excerpts captured my heart. Bear in mind that, much like Solomon, our presidents have all been far from perfect. The devotion of their words did not often match their daily living, just as we also struggle to live up to the holiness we know is God’s desire for us, yet God gives us words of profound truth at times, just as He did them:
George Washington (from an undated prayer journal at Mount Vernon): Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the gospel; give me repentance from dead works; pardon my wanderings, and direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation…”
Thomas Jefferson (Washington, D.C., 1801): Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people, the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.
Abraham Lincoln (March 4, 1865): Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet if God wills that it continues… until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid another drawn with the sword… so still it must be said that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (D-Day, June 6, 1944) With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances.
John F. Kennedy (Thanksgiving Day, 1963) Let us therefore proclaim our gratitude to Providence for manifold blessings–let us be humbly thankful for inherited ideals–and let us resolve to share those blessings and those ideals with our fellow human beings throughout the world.
On that day let us gather in sanctuaries dedicated to worship and in homes blessed by family affection to express our gratitude for the glorious gifts of God; and let us earnestly and humbly pray that He will continue to guide and sustain us in the great unfinished tasks of achieving peace, justice, and understanding among all men and nations and of ending misery and suffering wherever they exist.
Jimmy Carter (Thanksgiving Day, 1977) I call upon all the people of our Nation to give thanks on that day for the blessings Almighty God has bestowed upon us, and to join the fervent prayer of George Washington who as President asked God to “impart all the blessings we possess, or ask for ourselves to the whole family of mankind.”
Ronald Reagan (February 6, 1986) The time has come to turn to God and reassert our trust in Him for the healing of America… Our country is in need of and ready for a spiritual renewal. Today, we utter no prayer more fervently than the ancient prayer for peace on Earth.
George H. W. Bush (Inauguration Day, January 20, 1989) My first act as President is a prayer. I ask you to bow your heads.
Heavenly Father, we bow our heads and thank You for Your love. Accept our thanks for the peace that yields this day and the shared faith that makes its continuance likely. Make us strong to do Your work, willing to heed and hear Your will, and write on our hearts these words: “Use power to help people.”
For we are given power not to advance our own purposes, nor to make a great show in the world, nor a name. There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us to remember it, Lord.
Bill Clinton (Inaugural Address, January 20, 1997) May Those generations whose faces we cannot yet see, whose names we may never know, say of us here that we led our beloved land into a new century with the American Dream alive for all her children; with the American promise of a more perfect union a reality for all her people; with America’s bright flame of freedom spreading throughout all the world.