Undoubtedly, many celebrated the recent passing of this year’s Independence Day with the patriotic anthem, “God Bless America”. But, do people really think about the words that they are singing? I confess that I had not really given much thought to the lyrics until I read a little book, which really caused me to question the overall theme of the beloved song.
In the spirit of Independence Day, I recently began reading a book by Pastor John MacArthur entitled “Can God Bless America?”. The title caught my eye immediately as I browsed my husband’s book collection at home, but it was ultimately the dynamic content that kept me reading.
MacArthur begins the book by posing a series of questions that few have dared to ask:
“Will God bless America? Can God bless America? Should God bless America? Or is our society on the brink of judgment rather than blessing? Are the recent catastrophes merely harbingers of something worse yet to come?
Given the moral bankruptcy of modern society, it seems fair to ask such questions. Are we fit for blessing, or has our nation forfeited any claim to divine blessing? If God did bless America, what would He be saying about His holiness? What would He be saying about our morality? What would He be saying about our spiritual condition?
Can God bless America without compromising His reputation as a holy God? This is a vital question.
Of course, God can always do whatever He wants, whenever He wants. But when it comes to blessing, he has clearly and repeatedly set down conditions.
Listen carefully to the song, ‘God Bless America,’ and you will see that there is no verse that identifies the conditions for divine blessing. Nor do Americans seem to be opening their Bibles to try to find out what the conditions are. I don’t hear anyone asking, ‘God, what do we need to do to be blessed?’
In fact, to raise that question might be seen by many as serious intrusion. Do the American people really want to know what the conditions are that precede God’s blessing? The sentiment sometimes seems to be, ‘Don’t tell us what to do; just bless us,’ as if God were not suppose to ask anything of us. Many would prefer blessing without any conditions being imposed. Give us protection. Give us safety. Give us freedom. Give us prosperity. Just don’t meddle with our morality… The reproofs, rebukes, and exhortations of God’s Word are simply not what most people today want to hear. They won’t tolerate it (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3).”
Then, MacArthur, in his usual direct approach, answers the question dead-on:
“Frankly, our nation is in no position at the moment to be blessed. We’re actually more likely to be cursed by God.
So is our prayer for blessing futile? I don’t believe it is futile. But we need to understand that a prayer for divine blessing presupposes a willingness to cultivate the conditions under which divine blessing can come.”
He goes on to provide a clear, systematic outline of the biblical conditions for blessing from the Scriptures. The following is a brief summary of his main points, which are drawn from the imperatives of the text, in James 4:7-10:
“7 Submit therefore to God and He will draw near to you.”
- Submitting one’s life to the Lord through saving faith in Him is the first and primary condition of the Lord’s blessing
“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
- Before we can expect to be blessed by God, we must turn away from the evil that hinders His blessing.
“8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
- The greatest blessing a believer can know is that which comes from intimate fellowship with the Lord.
“Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.“
- The more we repent of our sins, the more intimate our fellowship can be with the Lord and the more we will be blessed.
“9 Be miserable and mourn and weep;”
- As we grow more intimate in our relationship with the Lord, the more we ought to be grievfed over our sins. Lamentation over sins is a necessary condition for true blessing because the more we are grieved over our sins, the less likely we are to pursue them. The less sin we pursue, the more intimate we can fellowship with the Lord
“let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.”
- As we contemplate our sin, it ought to make us sorrowful, sober, and serious-minded. Those who realize their sin and mourn will be comforted (Matthew 5:4), but the mourning is the necessary prelude to the blessing of divine comfort.
“10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
- This point summarizes all of the previous… we must humble ourselves before the Lord and be broken over our sin if we are really to receive the Lord’s blessing.
To conclude, MacArthur states, “Can God bless America? Yes, but if we are to be the recipients of His blessing, we must be humble and repentant over our own sin.” Are we?