ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (BP)–During our nation’s first war, the American patriot Thomas Paine wrote an essay that began with the memorable words, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
Two and a quarter centuries after the birth of our nation, the unique freedom we enjoy in this magnificent country has been dealt a devastating blow — one that has driven us to our knees but has only strengthened our resolve to do whatever it takes to preserve the liberties we hold near and dear.
Our nation has been wounded; we’re all in shock and hurting. But the pain for many of us is nothing like that of thousands of our fellow citizens whose hearts have been torn apart by the unexpected deaths of their loved ones. Many of us know how awful grief can be when it is expected; I can only imagine the incredible pain these poor people are experiencing right now — a pain that will take years for them to work through, if they’re able to work through it at all. They need our prayers and, as the Lord gives us opportunity, our every expression of love and support.
We have already seen this well-coordinated attack drive people to prayer. Of course, not everyone is calling on the name of Jehovah God, who has most fully revealed himself in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And some are calling on a God on whom they’ve never called — or, at least, they haven’t called on for a long, long time. We can pray that as they seek, they will find the one true God, the only God who can answer them and meet their need (see 1 Kings 18:16-39) and the God whom we have found to be “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” and who alone can cause us to say with confidence, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalms 46:1-2 NIV).
In the hours and days after what the Albuquerque Journal called “A New Day of Infamy,” I witnessed with admiration our New Mexico Baptist pastors and other church leaders scramble for ways to lead their churches to respond appropriately. And I have not seen any inappropriate responses as they have led their churches in a variety of ways.
Some called prayer meetings within only a matter of minutes and hours after the attacks on New York City and Washington, and multitudes took advantage of those opportunities. Some encouraged their people to set aside denominational differences and join with other believers in community-wide and interdenominational prayer gatherings, and they were reminded that we Baptists aren’t the only ones who love Jesus. Some encouraged their people during that first awful day as the situation was unfolding minute by minute to take in all the information they could and seek the Lord individually and with their families and then fill their churches the next night during regularly scheduled activities, almost all of which turned into prayer meetings. I attended one of our churches on Tuesday evening and another on Wednesday evening and appreciated the prophetic words shared from the pulpits to people hungry to know how God would have them respond.
I can only imagine that there are some who would have preferred their church leaders had done something other than what they did. Let me remind you that we as Baptists have always treasured the principle of the autonomy of each of our local churches and the responsibility of each of our leaders to seek God — not denominational leaders or “what every other church is doing” — for the way he would have them lead their churches to respond to times like these. These are times not to criticize but to pray for and support and follow the undershepherds God has given us, as they do their best to lead us in the direction they believe God is leading them. Believe me, they are feeling an incredible weight of responsibility to speak a prophetic word and to mobilize their flocks to respond the way God would have them respond.
And these are days we each must focus on how God would have us respond as individuals — and not to be concerned with what others are or are not doing. We should be too busy seeking God and following his leadership to observe what others are doing and to be critical of them. When Peter asked Jesus about his plan for John’s life, Jesus replied, “… what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22 NIV).
And these are days we must all pray for our president and other national leaders, who must make decisions that will have global implications. Our nation cannot do nothing, or the attacks will continue until we are utterly destroyed. Our president is entrusted with the monumental responsibility of protecting our nation from any further loss of life. He needs our prayers and support as never before.
I join people around the world who are praying that simple but profound prayer, “God, bless America during our time of great need.”
Loudat is editor of the Baptist New Mexican newsjournal.