In June 1775, the Continental Congress found itself in the middle of a disaster. Their worst fears about the deteriorating relationship with Britain had come true.
British troops had decided to open the can of worms by confronting a rebel ammunition stash in Concord, Massachusetts. Rebels took a stand, quite literally, in the middle of the road to stop them. A gunfight ensued.
Paul Revere had known the can would open that night, so he rode through the woods of the northern colonies with the news.
The British got their job done in Concord, but at too great a price: as they turned to march back to the safety of their home in Boston, some 15,000 minutemen showed up, vowing to make them rue the day.
The return to Boston was the longest 20 miles of their life. By dawn they stood safely in the city, but the rebels did not go away. A siege was laid around the city limits. British troops were told to either starve or take a boat and leave.
King George was not amused. While a ragtag group of amateur rebels held the impromptu siege together, the empire staged a plan to strike back.
What should Congress do? They were not particularly impressed by the siege on Boston, knowing it was like trying to scare a grizzly bear by poking him with a stick. But they also understood the reasons why it happened, the desperation, the anger, the need for the pressure to come out somewhere.
If Congress condoned the siege and sent supplies to the minutemen, any pretense of them being above the fray was gone. But if they did nothing, 15,000 guys would surely be destroyed by Britain’s looming revenge.
Congress searched for advice on how to handle a coming disaster to an entire people. They remembered the story of Purim in the Old Testament, how the nation of Israel, living under Persia’s control, faced a similar threat of massacre. Queen Esther called for a three-day event where every Israeli house joined in fasting and prayer. God responded with a miracle.
June 12, 1775, Congress released a statement calling for every home in the colonies, from Massachusetts to the Carolinas, to join as one people and fast before God.
And God showed up with a miracle.
Congress decided to support the rebels and get this game over with. They chose George Washington as the best guy to go to Boston and make something happen. Washington found a way to force the British to leave Boston in March 1776.
Four months later, the British army returned in a show of force like something right out of Star Wars. Washington was forced to confront them in New York. This time, he lost. And then he lost again. And then he lost some more.
By August 29 he had lost all of New York and faced certain defeat with his back to the East River. He needed an escape. He planned an overnight crossing of the river and on to temporary safety in New Jersey. Crossing a river in the middle of the night? Armies just didn’t do those things back then.
But they went for it. Crossing was slow and tedious in the dark. Morning came too soon. Washington began to panic that dawn would bring light over his men, sitting in the middle of the river like fish in a barrel.
And then out of nowhere, help came. A thick, dense fog crept over the water, so bad that you couldn’t see five feet in front of you. British troops knew, just knew, that the Americans were somewhere in the river, but they couldn’t see a thing. By the time the fog lifted, Washington was gone.
Four months later, on Christmas Day in 1776, Washington plotted another midnight run across a river. This time he crossed the Delaware and surprised some valuable Hessians in New Jersey.
Against all odds, those prayers began to work. Washington was doing the impossible.
President Abraham Lincoln revived this tradition in 1863 when he called for a national fast to guide America through the Civil War.
In 1952, President Harry Truman established a national day of prayer to occur every year.
And then in 1983, Ronald Reagan found himself leading a nation that struggled to keep an economy and feared an evil empire. National Day of Prayer was set as the first Thursday in May.
Today, I encourage you to consider that the best thing you can do for your family is to pray. Having a stockpile of food is a good idea. Investing in physical assets is a good idea. Supporting our troops is a good idea.
But if you want a miracle to keep your family safe – if you want a Red-Sea-splitting, Spanish-armada-stalling, fog-over-New-York, battle-of-Midway-changing, moon-landing, Olympic-hockey-winning, Berlin-wall-destroying kind of response… you need to pray and fast.
Even if you can only pray for 10 minutes. Even if you can only “fast” by swearing off your favorite thing for 24 hours. Do something to show God you are reaching out to Him.
And He will show up.