I am not a big history buff. In fact in school, history was one of my worst subjects. It seemed extremely boring to me and a waste of my time. Overall, I just didn’t see the value in it. As an adult, thankfully that changed. I have a different outlook on history today. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still no expert on history, but I do value and appreciate it. I’ve learned that without knowing our history, we will only repeat it even faster.
I’m not exactly sure where my appreciation of history came from, other than living near Gettysburg and realizing there was this rich history I knew very little about, and possibly through my grandfather who was also very interested in Gettysburg and was also an excellent storyteller. I just absolutely loved listening about life in the years that I didn’t exist. Hearing it straight from someone who was there. I heard stories of all the things my grandfather saw over his lifetime, which was full of changes and struggles. Just learning how life was so different from the 1930s to the 1980s, from when he was a kid to when I was a kid, just blew my mind.
Knowing where you come from can affect your whole world. History is a part of who we are. That’s why these DNA test kits that tell you what nationality you come from and the genealogy sites have been so successful. History teaches us to appreciate where we came from, and it’s not just a thing of the past. History helps us understand where we’re heading. Take the Bible for example. It’s a huge history book and yet don’t we use it as a guide for today? That’s why great men like Paul knew the Old Testament so well. He knew the history.
So everything from our nation’s past and beyond should be a guide for today as well. The day you celebrated yesterday was a very important mark in history. Without this day, we would not be living in a free country where you and I can live the way we want to live, believe the way we want to believe, and speak whatever is on our mind.
244 years ago, on July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed declaring the independence of the 13 colonies from Great Britain. The legal separation actually occurred on July 2, 1776, when Congress voted for independence from Great Britain. But Congress debated and revised the wording of the Declaration, finally approving it on July 4th. When everyone actually signed it is debated, but the last signatures were probably put on it sometime in August. It was a little different then. People couldn’t just hop a train or fly where ever they wanted to go.
On July 1st, John Adams had written to his wife Abigail:
“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable era in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
Adams was close. His prediction was only off by two days. But it hasn’t always been a celebration like he thought it should be, and even as we think of today.
This certainly wasn’t just as easy as signing a piece of paper. Many men lost their lives for this freedom, just in the American Revolutionary War alone (1775–1783) which was an 8 year war that started just a year before the Declaration of Independence was signed. And needless to say, we won that war, but like the Founding Fathers, I believe that happened because those men who signed that Declaration of Independence were trying to build this country on the foundation of God. There was a Divine accountability.
There was another significant man in history that wanted to keep it that way.
The Declaration of Independence was brought back to the forefront in 1854 (about 78 years later) by at the time, a not well-known former Congressman named Abraham Lincoln. So this was before he was president. Lincoln, who idolized the Founding Fathers, thought that the Declaration of Independence expressed the highest principles of the American Revolution and that the Founding Fathers had tolerated slavery with the expectation that it would ultimately wither away. So when the United States wanted to legitimize the expansion of slavery with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln thought that would reject the principles of the Revolution. So in October of 1854, Lincoln made a speech with specific arguments against slavery, that was an important step in his political rise. He said:
“Nearly eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a “sacred right of self-government”.
(Here’s “my rights, my privilege, my wants” again, instead of thinking of others.)
“Our republican robe is soiled and trailed in the dust…. Let us repurify it. Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it (Divine Accountability)….If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union: but we shall have saved it, as to make, and keep it, forever worthy of the saving.”
Do you see how much history repeats itself? When people turn their eyes from God. We are not alone in our struggles.
July also marks another significant event in our country. It was just 87 years after the Declaration of Independence was written, about 9 years after Lincoln made this speech, that the country was facing again a situation that would take the lives of many of our country’s men. But this time they were against each other. Two sides who believed they were each right. It was the Civil War, and it was just a few miles north of us at the battle of Gettysburg, on July 1-3, 1863, that is known as the battle that made a huge mark in the history of this war.
While that battle was going on, 100 miles from Gettysburg in the nation’s capital, Abraham Lincoln waited. News was scarce and the world around him seemed struck with fear and panic. So Lincoln went to his room, locked his door, got on his knees, and prayed. With a firm decision, he placed his boys on the battlefield into the hands of his Almighty God. In solitude and quiet, his soul was comforted and his mind found peace. He then receives his answer. The Union won the battle, and this means the turning point of the war.
It’s not the only time President Lincoln was known to pray. Nine times during his 4 years as president, he called for a National Day of Prayer. And through countless letters of thanks and encouragement to friends, windows, and grieving mothers, Lincoln earnestly shared that he was lifting their needs to God. You see in the end, Lincoln’s power as president didn’t come from any political party or financial backing, it came from his determination to fight for his country on his knees.
With the Civil War came great devastation. Over 700,000 were dead (the North losing 10% of their males, and the South losing 30% of their males). On both sides, it was a high price to pay for what they believed in. Lincoln understood this very well. His heart ached for both sides. All those men, families, friends. But it was turning to his Lord, that not only got him through those long dragged out 4 years, but that also gave him the reassurance over and over again, the power, and the peace to fight for the right thing.
Lincoln wasn’t the first leader to live a life of prayer. In the Old Testament, we read about another great leader who had a tight prayer life. From the very beginning during his time as an aid to Moses, prayer set Joshua apart from the rest of Israel.
Joshua is introduced in the scriptures as the field general of Israel’s army when Moses sent him to battle against the A-mal-e-kites, and Moses stood at the top of the hill holding the staff of God up in the air. As his arms got tired, Hur and Moses’ brother Aaron held up his arms until Joshua overwhelmed the A-mal-e-kites in battle. And at that point, Joshua’s leadership training was well on the way. Joshua became Moses assistant, later being appointed by God to lead the Israelites into the Promise Land, and was the only person allowed to accompany Moses partway up the mountain when Moses received the Ten Commandments.
When Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the commandants from God, do you know what Joshua was doing? Hanging out on the mountain side praying. When Moses went to the Tabernacle to speak to God, do you know Joshua was doing? He also went to the Tabernacle to pray – often remaining there in worship long after Moses was done. In the book of Joshua, Joshua is consistently presented as the ideal successor to Moses.
Joshua 11:15 – “As the Lord had commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.”
Before being a public leader, Joshua lived a private life of prayer. When Moses died and Joshua assumed the responsibility for Israel, he kept that up. All throughout his leadership, he continued a humbled prayer life. It was through his personal relationship with God, that Joshua was directed and empowered to lead the Israelites to conquer kings and nations like the famous Jericho, and even on one occasion to command the sun and the moon to stand still. Let me tell you about this one. This is a great look into his prayer life.
Joshua’s reputation was beginning to build after they destroyed the towns and kings of Jericho and Ai. The king of the Amorites heard of this and rallied five other kings and their armies to take out a nation called the Gibeon-ites because they were a large town with a strong army and they had just become an ally of the Israelites. So when all this started, the Gibeonites call for Joshua’s help, and Joshua and his army travel all night to get to them. On their way, Joshua prayed to God and God told him, “Do not be afraid of them, for I have given you victory over them. Not a single one of them will be able to stand up to you.” Joshua 10:8
As they fought the Amorites, they were doing well, God was helping them all along the way even causing a hail storm that killed more of the Amorites then Joshua’s army did with the sword. But the daylight was coming to an end, and instead of holding off the fighting till morning, Joshua had so much confidence in God that he did something you and I would think could never happen. He again prayed to God, this time asking him to delay the sunset. What a request!
On the day the Lord gave the Israelites victory over the Amorites, Joshua prayed to the Lord in front of all the people of Israel. He said,
“Let the sun stand still over Gibeon, and the moon over the valley of Ai-ja-lon.”
So the sun stood still and the moon stayed in place until the nation of Israel had defeated its enemies…The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like this one before or since, when the Lord answered such a prayer. Surely the Lord fought for Israel that day!
The strength of men alone does not accomplish the purposes that God has in mind for his people. God’s intervention that day turned the tide of battle for his people. It is only when we humble ourselves before Him in confession, prayer, worship, and thanksgiving that He moves in us and through us to accomplish His will.
Joshua trusted God, because he had a relationship with God. He spent time with God. He knew God. Joshua wasn’t just a battle warrior. He did a lot of his fighting on his knees. The successes of both Joshua and Lincoln did not come from their own might, but from their private humility before God. They found victory when they fought on their knees. From these two great men, we can learn how to get on our knees, put it all in God’s hands, and trust Him.
Matthew 6:6 Jesus says, “But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”
I know we read this and think Jesus is deciphering between heartfelt and hypocritical prayers. But look closer. This is what Abraham Lincoln did. What happens when we shut out the rest of the world for a little while? What happens when we have some quiet time with God? We can listen. Our souls are comforted and our minds find peace.
Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God!
How do you know who God is? How do you trust Him? You be still. You seek Him. And you do your fighting on our knees.
What’s going on in our country right now should make us want to go to our knees and listen for God all the more. If you want to stand up for God’s truth, if you want to make a difference in the world, you have to start by fighting on your knees. I know we often want to fight with our voices or even our own might, but God has called to do something else. To serve one another. Love your neighbor as yourself. And how are you going to do that in such a broken world, by yourself?
This world has us angry. Things in this world are hurtful, confusing. And the only way to sort all of that out is to get still with God. Let His comfort and peace fill you. Let Him show you His will. So when you want to fight, fight on your knees.
And it’s like anything else, don’t just assume that someone else is going to do it for you. God is calling out to you right now to get on your knees, listen for His voice and quit listening to all the other noise.
You know there was another great leader who fought on His knees…Jesus Christ. Let’s not waste the lessons, the history that has been before us. Let us too get on our knees and fight for God’s truth.