Be inspired by a powerful prayer attributed to our first president himself.
Posted in , Feb 19, 2016
Though his birthday is officially celebrated (with Abraham Lincoln’s) on Presidents’ Day, the third Monday of February, George Washington’s actual birthday still rolls around every year on February 22.
So what can it hurt to remember him with a prayer and with one that has been attributed to the father of our country himself? Though the authorship and penmanship of the oldest extant copy of the prayer is in dispute, the following words have long been ascribed to our first president:
O eternal and everlasting God, I presume to present myself this morning before thy Divine majesty, beseeching thee to accept of my humble and hearty thanks, that it hath pleased thy great goodness to keep and preserve me the night past from all the dangers poor mortals are subject to, and has given me sweet and pleasant sleep, whereby I find my body refreshed and comforted for performing the duties of this day, in which I beseech thee to defend me from all perils of body and soul.
Direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the lamb, and purge my heart by thy Holy Spirit, from the dross of my natural corruption, that I may with more freedom of mind and liberty of will serve thee, the everlasting God, in righteousness and holiness this day, and all the days of my life.
Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the Gospel. Give me repentance from dead works. Pardon my wanderings, and direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation. Teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments. Make me always watchful over my heart, that neither the terrors of conscience, the loathing of holy duties, the love of sin, nor an unwillingness to depart this life, may cast me into a spiritual slumber. But daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life. Bless my family, friends and kindred unite us all in praising and glorifying thee in all our works begun, continued, and ended, when we shall come to make our last account before thee blessed Saviour, who hath taught us thus to pray, our Father.
Whether you are a president or a peon, that’s a prayer to emulate, especially because it exemplifies the following ways to pray:
1) Pray humbly.
“I presume to present myself,” the prayer says. Jesus once told a story of a Pharisee and a tax collector who went to pray in the temple at the same time. The tax collector bowed his head and humbly begged for mercy while the Pharisee bragged to God that he was kind of a big deal—nothing like the tax collector (see Luke 18:9-14). Guess whose prayer impressed God most, according to Jesus?
2) Pray gratefully.
Anytime you pray—even in the most desperate circumstances—you have multiple reasons to be grateful, if only for the life and breath to present your petitions to God. So, like the prayer above, don’t neglect any opportunity to give “humble and hearty thanks” for God’s great goodness in keeping and preserving you through the previous night, giving you consciousness to perform the duties of the day and more.
4) Pray penitently.
Many churches have excluded confession from public prayer and worship, and that is a great and grievous loss. As a result, many people neglect confession when they pray, and that is a loss as well. Confessing our sins, like the prayer above (“Wash away my sins,” “purge my heart”) is a helpful spiritual practice. It frees us of sin’s burden, gives us a “do-over,” and teaches us to walk in forgiveness and grace toward ourselves and others.
5) Pray specifically.
What rich details the prayer above includes:
Direct my thoughts, words and work… Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the Gospel. Give me repentance from dead works. Pardon my wanderings, and direct my thoughts unto thyself… Teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments. Make me always watchful over my heart… But daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ… Bless my family, friends and kindred [and] unite us all in praising and glorifying thee.
What a helpful example of thought, intention and carefulness of expression in prayer!
6) Pray hopefully.
The prayer vibrates with hope and expectation—in God’s “great goodness,” in the possibility of “righteousness and holiness,” in “the sweet promises of the Gospel” and more.
So pray humbly, gratefully, penitently, specifically and hopefully. That’s a great way to pray, by George!