NORMAN — A new analysis of government data revealed that during WW II, as combat became heavier or “more frightening,” 72 percent of the soldiers turned to prayer instead of thoughts of their loved ones for their primary source of motivation (US News & World Report May 28, 2013, Article By Jason Koebler). In fact, the study discovered that as the battle turned deadlier the soldiers trust in national ideals decreased. Prayer increased. Perhaps there is some truth to the old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”
These findings should not be a surprise. I think many of us know instinctively why these soldiers turned to prayer. When we are faced with a moment of dire crisis, when we stand at the edge of life and death, when we are faced with the most difficult troubles, when we are on the verge of helplessness and hopelessness, when the gravest of all tragedies are befalling upon us, or when confronted with unimagined misery, we are similarly bonded with these soldiers who had come to that critical moment where all that mattered in life was their dearest connection with God.
“Hear, O Lord, and answer me. For I am suffering and in need.” (Psalm 86:1) Such is the cry that has echoed in the hearts of humanity for ages. We are still crying out.
Think of the recent tornados in Shawnee and Moore. The devastation, the victims and the loss of tender lives. Yet, during this natural disaster there was the heartfelt instinctive need to pray. One teacher from Plaza Towers Elementary School would later admit, “I did something teachers aren’t supposed to do… I prayed, I prayed out loud. I said, ‘God, please don’t take these kids today.’
Think of our great President Abraham Lincoln who prayed mightily in his second inauguration for a war-torn country to an almighty God whose purposes were beyond human understanding. Lincoln would say, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.”
I remember the day my daughter was born. Overjoyed beyond imagination my wife and I were soon burdened with crushing concern as the doctor confirmed that our baby girl had contracted a bacteria and a fever. Our cry and prayers to God was great indeed.
I think of King Hezekiah in Isaiah 38. In the middle of a tough war with Assyria, he became sick and was at the point of death. God sent a prophet to confirm the truth that death was just around the corner. Think of that for a moment. Hezekiah is sick and dying so God sends a message to say, “Yup. It’s over. You will die. Set your house in order.” Death plays no favorites. Terrible news is often delivered. What should be done? How will we react? Hezekiah tearfully prayed to the Lord.
I considered the Apostle Paul who in 2 Corinthians 1 admitted that at one point during his missionary trip to Asia that, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” Who did they turn to at this critical moment? The answer was, “To make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” Prayer.
From King David to the WW II soldiers, from President Lincoln to the Plaza Towers Elementary teacher, from King Hezekiah to the Apostle Paul, even to the day of my daughter’s troubled birth, prayer was the primary source of motivation. In prayer there is an acute awareness, a willful reliance upon God and no other. This suggests an unquestioned belief that God is listening, that He will act accordingly, and He did.
He still answers prayers even if we don’t see immediate results.
In another surprising finding hidden in this WW II government data was this — 50 years later those veterans who had a bad experience, who faced heavy combat, who had turned to prayer were 21 percent more likely to attend church on a regular basis. Think of this. Prayer led many of them and will lead us to an even greater commitment. We can find strength in our church-family much in the same way the soldiers found strength in their Band of Brothers.
What is your primary source of motivation? But, more importantly, where has that motivation led you?