Prayer Is America’s History
Speech in Salt Lake City, 1956
MY BRETHREN AND SISTERS AND FRIENDS, both seen and unseen: Humbly and prayerfully I stand before you this Sabbath day. I have prayed fervently that I might have the power to say what is in my heart, and what our Father in heaven would have me say.
It is good to come home.
I have felt in my heart, my brethren and sisters, that I would like to say just a word regarding a simple principle and practice… I’d also like to express my testimony regarding the power of that simple principle and practice, and also express my gratitude for the influence which that principle and practice has had in my life and the lives of those whom I love and associate with.
I speak of prayer.
Only recently I was speaking at a great meeting in Chicago–a dinner meeting–to an audience not wholly friendly. Just before I was to speak a colored waiter whispered over my shoulder and said “Mr. Secretary, would it be helpful to you before you speak to know that thousands of people throughout America are praying for you tonight.”
I know not by what methods rare
But this I know: God answers prayer.
I know that he has given his word
Which tells me prayer is always heard
And will be answered soon or late
And so I pray, and calmly wait.
I know not if the blessings sought
Will come just in the way I thought
But leave my prayers with him alone
Whose will is wiser than my own;
Assured that he will grant my quest
Or send some answer far more blessed.
Eliza M. Hickok
It is my testimony, my brothers and sisters and friends, that God does hear and answer prayers. I have never doubted that fact. From childhood, at my mother’s knee where I first learned to pray; as a young man in my teens; as a missionary in foreign lands; as a father; as a Church leader; as a government official, I know without any question that it is possible for men and women to reach out in humility and prayer and tap that Unseen Power; to have prayers answered. Man does not stand alone, or at least he need not stand alone. Prayer will open doors; prayer will remove barriers; prayer will ease pressures; prayer will give inner peace and comfort during times of strain and stress and difficulty. Thank God for prayer.
I am very grateful today that prayer has played such an important part in the establishment of this great nation. To every [saint] this nation has a prophetic history. I have always been very grateful in reading the official records to find that Columbus and the Pilgrim fathers humbled themselves before the Lord; that their first official act in coming to these shores was to go on to their knees in humble gratitude and thanksgiving to the Lord.
The Founding Fathers, in order that their new experiment make sense, had to turn to religion, had to turn to the scriptures, had to turn to the prophecies the Decalogue, the Sermon on the Mount. Then when the time came for the establishment of the Constitution and when the time came for them to issue their Declaration of Independence, a sacred document issued in white heat on the anvil of defiance, they appealed to the Almighty, both at the opening of that document and at its closing. They spoke of eternal truths. They spoke of the fact that men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, about which President Clark spoke so beautifully last evening.
Then, at the close of the document they said,
. . . with a firm reliance on Divine Providence we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
And even in the formulation of the Constitution, which was done slowly and painfully, wrought on the forge of national necessity, prayer played an important part. There at the Constitutional Convention, when it seemed as if their efforts were to fall flat and to be of no avail, one of those whom the God of heaven had raised up unto this very purpose, to help establish the Constitution of this land, one of these Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, his head gray with age, about the oldest in the group, and possibly the most experienced statesman of the lot, is reported to have stood up in the convention and uttered these words:
“In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, sir were heard and they were graciously answered…. I have lived a long time and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth–that God governs the affairs of men.”
And the old statesman continued,
“If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it possible that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that except the Lord builds a house they labor in vain who build it. I firmly believe this and I also believe that without this conferring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”
It is my belief today, my brethren and sisters, that we need as a nation that same faith, that same reliance on divine aid and assistance, as was needed at that Constitutional Convention. I am very grateful that they established and wrote into their documents–their basic documents–a recognition of their dependence upon the Almighty; that they stamped on their coins the slogan, “In God We Trust.”
Does it not inspire you, as it does me, when you go back through the history of this land and try to envision in your mind Washington at Valley Forge, during that terrible winter, on bended knees in the snow imploring divine guidance? Does it not thrill you as you see Abraham Lincoln during the crucial days of the Civil War driven to his knees in prayer to the Almighty, and to hear him say,
“God rules this world. It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the over-ruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow . . . and to recognize the sublime truth that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.”
It is my plea today, my brethren and sisters, that we use our influence as American citizens, and as citizens of the kingdom of God, as men who have faith in prayer, faith in God, that we will encourage our leaders, national, state, local, and civic leaders to take an interest in this matter of encouraging our people in this blessed land to bow themselves before the Almighty in prayer. I think there would be great safety in a nation on its knees. What assurance it would give of the blessings of the Almighty if the American people could all be found daily–night and morning–on their knees expressing gratitude for blessings already received, and acknowledging their dependence upon the Almighty and seeking for his divine direction.
I hope we may encourage that practice in our service clubs, schools, in our meetings of farmers, businessmen, and professional men. I have been pleased to see what I think is a turn toward an increase of interest in prayer and in religion. I was very pleased to find an increasing number of prayer groups in the Congress of the United States, where members of that body, of opposite political faith, could come together weekly and unite in humble prayer and petition to the Almighty.
I am pleased to find the increasing evidence of the practice of prayer in the executive branch of the government. I testify to the blessings which prayer has brought to the cabinet meetings of the President and to my own staff meetings. I think there is a need for it, my brethren and sisters, throughout our government. Without his divine help we cannot succeed. With his help we cannot fail.
May I mention a simple little experience that came to my personal attention some time ago. I think it was two or three years ago now when the President of the United States issued a proclamation for a day of prayer. It was not the first time it has been done in this great country, and I hope it will not be the last time. I am glad it has been done again this year. Then as is the custom, as the head of one of the departments of government, it was my responsibility, I felt, to send a memorandum to the heads of the twenty agencies in the Department of Agriculture, and to the employees, referring to the presidential proclamation in which we were asked to devote a day to giving of thanks for blessings received, and to beseech God to strengthen us in our efforts toward a peaceful world. And so, this memorandum was sent out, from which I read just one or two sentences:
“In keeping with the President’s proclamation, all members of the Department of Agriculture are requested to plan their work schedules and reserve the time between 11:30 a. m. and 11:45 a. m. free from appointments and interference so that all in their respective offices may utilize this time for meditation and prayer. Facilities are inadequate for the Department as a whole to meet together. We feel, therefore, that in addition to this brief period of time set aside during the day, all should be encouraged to petition God in their homes and with their loved ones both morning and evening for guidance, clemency, and forgiveness.”
I was not only pleased, but I was also delighted with the response that came from the employees of that great department. I have before me a typical little note that went to the head of one of these agencies from one of the men appointed in charge of one of the groups. I would like to read it to you as an evidence of the fact that people do respond to leadership which calls for men and women to recognize their dependence upon the Almighty, and to humble themselves before him. This is the note:
“In response to Secretary Benson’s memorandum of September 20 about President Eisenhower’s proclamation for a day of prayer, approximately 100 of our Forest Service family met in the conference room from 11:30 to 11:45 a. m. on Wednesday September 22. Every division in the Washington office was represented from the messenger rooms up.”
“I read the Secretary’s memorandum which in itself is a spiritual message of encouragement and inspiration. W. K. Williams read a prayer by J. Edgar Hoover, a copy of which is attached. The meeting was closed with oral prayers by both Mr. Williams and myself.”
“Following the meeting and continuing through today there have been numerous telephone calls and personal expressions of satisfaction over this opportunity for the Forest Service family to join with the President, Mr. Benson and other national leaders in this period of prayer for a more peaceful world.”
Brethren and sisters, I am convinced in my heart that the spectacle of a nation praying is more awe-inspiring more powerful, than the explosion of an atomic bomb. The force of prayer is greater than any possible combination of man-controlled powers because, as J. Edgar Hoover has so well said, “…prayer is man’s greatest means of tapping the resources of God.”
Brethren and sisters, I would like to see this nation on its knees in humble prayer. A few months ago I received a lovely poster from Conrad W. Hilton of hotel fame. This poster showed Uncle Sam in his red, white, and blue uniform on his knees, praying to the Almighty. Then the caption: “America on its knees . . . not beaten there by the hammer and sickle, but freely, intelligently, responsibly, confidently, powerfully. America now knows it can destroy Communism and win the battle for peace. We need fear nothing or no one . . . except God.”
Yes, it is in our own enlightened self-interest to engage in this simple practice, this powerful practice of prayer. Roger Babson said many years ago: “What this country needs more than anything else is old-fashioned family prayer.”
Thank God for prayer!
In closing may I quote from one or two of the scriptures because the scriptures are replete with admonitions and direction to God’s children to pray. Of course, Christ set the all-important example.
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14.)
So said our Heavenly Father to ancient Israel, and I am sure that call is repeated to us today.
Yes, my brethren and sisters, there is power in prayer. All things are possible through prayer.
God grant that we may so live and so pray, that we may be lifted up at the last day, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.