Sometimes I want to give up on America and our society. Sometimes I want to throw in the towel on family, on marriage and even myself. But just when I’m ready to let go of the rope, I encounter an unexpected knot encouraging me to hang on. One such moment happened this week in Washington, D.C.
Washington is one of my favorite cities. I’ve marveled at all the monuments and spent hours in its wonderful museums. I’ve even received a behind the scenes tour of the Capitol. Yet in all my visits there I had never toured the Library of Congress. On this trip, however, I had a strong determination to get there. Two reasons; I love libraries (I guess that officially makes me a geek) and I also had a book of my own I wanted to donate to their vast collection. Granted, it’s always a long shot as to whether they will take it. But if you don’t make the effort you will never find out.
Coincidentally, on the day of my visit, a rare book from the 1600’s was on display. It was a book I had never heard of, and yet it had tremendous significance in our nation’s history. It seems 20 years after the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock, a British immigrant named Stephen Daye was commissioned to print copies of the Book of Psalms translated from the Hebrew writings.
The Bay Psalm Book, as it is called today, was printed in 1640 for the early settlers at Massachusetts Bay. It was to be used during liturgical readings and also for singing. What makes this book of such importance is that it was the very first book printed on American soil. In other words, the first book to be printed in America was a book of prayers, printed for a group of praying people who were earnestly seeking God for the uncertain distressing times they were facing.
Originally, about 1,700 copies were made. Today, only 10 are believed to be in existence. And one just happened to be on display at the Library of Congress on the day I was there to submit a book I wrote about prayer; a book I wrote for my generation of praying people, who are also trying to know God, also trying to make sense of the uncertain tumultuous times in our society.
That same afternoon, just one block down the street, something else was on display. In front of the Supreme Court, hundreds of people were protesting. While inside nine Justices were deliberating. Whether inside or out, everyone was debating about the definition of marriage, about what to do with the gray areas in the landscape of our society, about what our nation values and how it should go forward.
In the midst of all the arguing and chanting, just a stones through from where great minds grappled with fundamental issues in our country, at the Library of Congress, average citizens paid tribute to a simple book of prayers. The Book of Psalms, originally written thousands of years ago. A collection of prayers penned by praying people, struggling to know God for the uncertainty and societal tumult of their day.
The irony of it all overwhelmed my heart with encouragement. It helped me remember that though the Constitution is a miraculous document, though the Bill of Rights helps us govern and legislate with civility, that they were all created and put forth by learned men and women desiring to forge a great nation, none of those writings are the original foundation of our country. The truth is our great nation was founded on the prayers of praying people. America was founded on prayer.
Such a poignant reality-check humbled me. It challenged and convicted me to never give up on my country. Further, it help reinforce the important role each of us plays in the shaping of our nation. Whether writing a book on prayer or coaching a softball team, whether teaching, preaching, working, serving in the military, raising a family or anything else God has laid on your heart. As God’s people, as people of prayer, we need to be faithful in doing whatever we are doing as unto the Lord. That’s what the early settlers did. That’s what Stephen Daye did.
Our greatest calling as Americans is to fight the good fight of faith, not our fellow-man. Yes, we need to make our voices heard. Yes, we need to vote and sometimes protest if the Lord guides. But regardless of the outcome, regardless of who is in office or what the Supreme Court rules, we need to remember that our nation’s greatness does not rest on the decisions of man. The greatness of America depends on prayer. Our greatest impact on society and our nation is to always be a praying people, praying on behalf of our generation.
So as we celebrate our country’s independence, may we also commemorate our nations’s dependence on prayer. Let us honor the first printing on American soil by making sure the words of scripture are imprinted on our hearts and minds. Let’s make sure we serve our country first and foremost through prayer.
I don’t know if the Library of Congress will accept my book. My hope is that they will. With that hope I autographed the copy I submitted to them with these words.
Thank you for the privilege of submitting this book to your magnificent library. I feel so blessed to live in a nation that values not only free speech, but also freedom of religious expression, individual creativity and the dignity of the human spirit. May God lead and guide you along a straight path, as you seek him for the future. And may you never forget that, although you were founded with a miraculous form of government, you were founded first and foremost on the prayers of praying people. America, never forget you were founded on prayer.
The 23 Psalm as written in The Bay Psalm Book of 1640
The Lord to me a shepherd is,
Want therefore shall not I,
He in the folds of tender grasses
Doth make me down to lie
To waters calm he gently leads
Restore my soul doth he.
He doth in paths of righteousness
for his names sake lead me.
Yea though in valley of death’s shade
I walk no ill I’ll fear,
Because thou art with me, thy rod,
and staff my comfort are.
For me a table thou hast spread
In presence of my foes;
Thou dost anoint my head with oil
My cup it over–flows.
Goodness and mercy surely shall
All my days follow me;
And in the Lord’s house I shall dwell
So long as days shall be.
To get a reprint of the entire Bay Psalm Book, just click below.
Me at the Library of Congress before donating my book.