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Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer

Like many of you, I am disturbed by the the incredible threats to life, liberty and property that have emerged so quickly and am looking for wise ways to act....and yes, we must act. However - appropriately - the photograph below is what popped up as my "Facebook memory" for today.

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Prayer is vital always but urgently needed now. I'm reminded that the spiritual preparation for American independence was the Great Awakening - a mighty move of the Holy Spirit of God. I'm also reminded that the founding period records are full of regular declarations of days of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer.


Today, we still call for days of prayer and sometimes of fasting, but never "humiliation." Yet, if we hope for God's mercy and blessing, that element MUST be recovered. The responsibility falls to God's people (not to the masses) to humble themselves before a holy God and repent, remembering that God "opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (I Peter 5:5). God himself has told us...."When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 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 I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:13-14


Of the many colonial-era calls for Days of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, the one that follows is special to me. Retaliatory action had been planned by the British Crown against Boston for its resistance to tyranny, specifically the closure of their port and forbidding all commerce (rings a bell). In support of New England, the members of the House of Burgesses in Virginia defied their royal governor and issued this resolution (authored jointly by Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry) in May of 1774:


"This House being deeply impressed with Apprehension of the great Dangers to be derived to British America, from the hostile Invasion of the City of Boston, in our Sister Colony of Massachusetts Bay, whose Commerce and Harbour are on the 1st Day of June next to be stopped by an armed Force, deem it highly necessary that the said first Day of June be set apart by the Members of this House as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer, devoutly to implore the divine Interposition for averting the heavy Calamity, which threatens Destruction to our civil Rights, and the Evils of civil War; to give us one Heart and one Mind firmly to oppose, by all just and proper Means, every Injury to American Rights, and that the Minds of his Majesty and his Parliament may be inspired from above with Wisdom, Moderation, and Justice, to remove from the loyal People of America all Cause of Danger from a continued Pursuit of Measures pregnant with their Ruin.


Ordered, therefore, that the Members of this House do attend in their Places at the Hour of ten in the Forenoon, on the said 1st Day of June next, in Order to proceed with the Speaker and the Mace to the Church in this City for the Purposes aforesaid; and that the Reverend Mr. Price be appointed to read Prayers, and the Reverend Mr. Gwatkin to preach a Sermon suitable to the Occasion".


The royal governor promptly dissolved the House of Burgesses for this action but, in the days intervening, they continued to meet informally and began to organize official communication with the other colonies, laying the groundwork for a "Continental Congress" or gathering of representatives from across the English colonies, that would meet for the first time 3 months later.


But on June 1st, members of the House of Burgesses led by Speaker Peyton Randolph did indeed process down the Duke of Gloucester Street to Bruton Parish Church to lay the foundation of their efforts in "fasting, humiliation, and prayer." In that noble line were Henry, Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Nelson Jr., and George Washington. Washington wrote in his journal for June 1st: "Went to church. Fasted all day."


Postscript: When representatives from across the colonies met in a Continental Congress in September of 1774, they gathered in Philadelphia. For the first time Patrick Henry of Virginia would meet Samuel Adams of Massachusetts; John Jay of New York would meet John Rutledge of South Carolina...a united force was being assembled to petition a tyrannical government and ultimately to defensively resist that same force. But they recognized the overwhelming nature of their challenge...that without careful and biblical action, without the mercy of God, their cause was lost. Their first official act was to propose that their session be opened in prayer. Here is that prayer, offered by a local pastor, the Rev. Jacob Duche. It is worth praying today:


"O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior."


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