Today, the United States will celebrate our “Independence Day.” Two hundred forty-six years ago, fifty-six men pledged their lives and fortunes by signing a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain and the rule of its king, George III.
We talk a lot about freedom and independence on this day. For many, it is a bittersweet reminder that not all Americans were “free” during the first decades of our existence as a nation. For others, it serves as a rallying point to urge for further movement toward freedom from tradition and restraint. We talk of freedom and independence as though the terms are interchangeable…as if the only way to understand freedom is in the context of independence from someone or something else. We want to be free from the constraints of tyrants, oppressive bosses, or prudish parents. But freedom from something implies freedom to do or become something else.
In the case of our fledgling nation, freedom from the British Empire meant the freedom to create a new nation– not just to modify an old national identity, but to create a new identity; to have a new “birth” of freedom. Freedom from oppressive rule does not eliminate the need for restraint and responsibility. Indeed, it creates a great need to define limits and practice self-discipline. Total freedom– without boundaries, rules, or responsibilities– leads to its own destruction.
A few years after the Declaration of Independence, once “freedom” had been won by long years of war and the sacrifice of many soldiers and their families, some of the same men were joined by others to draft a national Constitution. Almost immediately, the Constitution was amended to include a Bill of Rights, outlining certain Freedoms which had been implicit, but were now spelled out for all to uphold. The very first of these rights covered the freedom of expression– both in speech, and in worship.
Americans have the freedom to speak. We can speak publicly about our thoughts, our feelings, our beliefs– without the fear of imprisonment or government retaliation. We can write or post blogs, regardless of whether others agree with us, or like what we have to say. This is an incredible freedom– I can create novels or poetry; I can recite speeches or create persuasive advertising; I can talk for hours about nothing at all! But it also comes with responsibility– I could write falsehoods about my competitors, or speak out disparagingly about a neighbor. I could do great damage with my words. My neighbor or competitor might take me to court and sue me for libel or defamation, but the damage would already be done.
Americans also have the right to religious expression. Our Supreme Court recently upheld the right of a high school football coach to say a prayer on the football field after a game. Americans can assemble for worship, whether in a church, a mosque, a synagogue, or an open field. We can pray– aloud, in a group, over a loudspeaker, even–and the Government cannot legislate that only “approved” prayers are allowed. This might make a few people squirm– Wiccans, Baptists, Scientologists, Hassidic Jews, Shi’ites, Druids, and Satanists ALL have this right. But each of us has the responsibility to respect the rights of all to pray.
But that brings me to this point– we have the freedom to pray under the Constitution, but that freedom means nothing to the Christian without the greater Freedom to Pray granted by God Himself. Anyone can offer a prayer to empty air, to a created idol, to a metaphysical “being”–but governments cannot give us the freedom to be HEARD, to be WELCOMED into the presence of the Almighty. Only God gives that freedom– and He gives it to ALL who seek His face! I don’t have to be an American to pray. I don’t have to be given the legal right to pour out my heart to my Heavenly Father– HE invites me to pray. All I need is the belief that God hears and responds to my prayer– even a silent one delivered in peril of Government retaliation. God’s invitation is more powerful than any oppression that seeks to stop me from calling on His Name!
God took great pains to illustrate this in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. God took a “nation” of slaves out of Egypt, and led them through the wilderness and into their own inheritance in the Promised Land. They had the freedom to pray, and to worship this Great God. But over the years, they lost that freedom, and ended up going into exile, slaves to the pagan nations around them. Yet God remained faithful, hearing their prayers even from the nations where they enslaved. God’s promises and His invitations remain, regardless of the rise and fall of Empires or religious movements.
So today, especially in light of my right as an American to pray freely and publicly, I want to challenge myself, and anyone reading this to spend time today in earnest prayer and thanksgiving. What a privilege to be “Free” to pray!