By Sherye S. Green
My Prayer for America
The United States of America celebrates her 242nd birthday on July 4th. What a milestone! What a legacy our Founding Fathers prepared for us through the writing of two historic documents—the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The signers of the first of these two national credos, the Declaration of Independence, pledged their “… Lives, … Fortunes, and … sacred Honor.” The signers of the second, the U.S. Constitution, made a similar pledge, to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” You and I are that posterity, members of the many generations that have come in the centuries since.
While the moving lyrics and beautiful strains of our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” still move me to tears, Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” stirs my heart in a different way. Its haunting lyrics are a prayer to my God and the God of millions of others of my fellow citizens. Never before in the history of this nation has such a petition been so desperately needed.
Irving Berlin, while a child, immigrated with his family to the United States from his native Russia. From an early age, he displayed great creative talent and a strong work ethic. Berlin’s songs and musicals, many of which were immortalized through film, captured America’s bright dreams and sky’s-the-limit thinking which dominated the middle part of the twentieth century.
“God Bless America” was originally written one hundred years ago in 1918 while Berlin was serving with the U.S. Army during World War I, two years after he had become a naturalized U.S. citizen. It wasn’t until twenty years later, just before the outbreak of another world war, that the song was introduced and won the nation’s collective heart. Radio host and singer Kate Smith sang the song on her radio program, the Kate Smith Hour, broadcast on November 11, 1938, to commemorate Armistice Day, the end of World War I.
“God bless America
Land that I love
Stand beside her
And guide her
Through the night with the light from above.
From the mountains
To the prairies
To the oceans
White with foam
God bless America
My home sweet home.”
Unlike many Americans today, I’m old enough to remember a world in which there were only two colors for television programming—black and white. Before the age of Google, I learned to carefully search through a library’s card catalog, using a pen and piece of paper to record data gleaned from books located on the center’s shelves. I well remember making sure before leaving home for an appointment that I had enough change in my purse in case I had to place a phone call from a phone booth in the hallway of a public building or on a street corner. I remember a time when grown adults conversed civilly, especially on televised news programs, regardless of their political or ideological differences. I remember when America was a kinder, gentler place.
As an American who also is a believer in Jesus Christ, I likewise have an allegiance to my Lord and Savior. God’s Word reminds me, “So we must listen very carefully to the truths we have heard, or we may drift away from them” (Hebrews 2:1 TLB). Freedom is a birthright of both my wonderful homeland, America, and my spiritual home, Heaven. But freedom has two edges to its blade—opportunity and responsibility. If not used correctly, the sword of freedom can become a weapon that causes damage intended by neither our Creator nor our Founding Fathers.
The late Peter Marshall, himself an emigrant to this country and a former Chaplain to the U.S. Senate, said, “May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” I know I don’t possess that ability to choose the right way. The Spirit of the Living God, however, which resides within my heart, can direct my thoughts and guide my steps so that I may walk in such a way that my life will make a positive difference as a citizen of this great nation.
Happy Birthday, America! My prayer for you is that God will continue to keep His mighty hand upon you and your people. May He bless you and keep you. May His face always shine upon you. May His grace and favor be always with you. May He grant you peace. May “God bless America, my home sweet home.”
Sherye S. Green is a Jacksonian, a teacher at Madison-Ridgeland Academy, and a wife, mother, and grandmother. Sherye and her husband, Mark, are members of First Baptist Church Jackson. She is also the author of Abandon Not My Soul.