Gracious God, as we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day, we approach you with hearts that are simultaneously brimming with gratitude and weighted with concern.

We are grateful for the privilege of living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” We are thankful for specific liberties that allow us to freely choose our vocation, our community of worship, our place of service and our venues of recreation. And we are indebted to generations of veteran servants who risked life and limb in the pursuit and protection of these liberties. From the “mountains to the prairies” we are inspired by some of the most diverse and beautiful terrain on our planet. From “sea to shining sea” we are privileged to access a mother lode of the world’s natural resources. We have access to prime healthcare, comfortable housing, diverse modes of transportation, more than adequate clothing and an abundant selection of food. We are blessed far beyond our deserving.

But during this season of celebration our grateful hearts are heavy with concern. From our many different perspectives and ideologies we are concerned about things like the threats of terrorism, the brutalities of war, the abuse of political power, the divisiveness of harsh and misleading political rhetoric, a lack of civil discourse, a growing sense of moral anarchy and the possibility of an approaching storm or natural disaster. These concerns lead to heightened anxiety about the stability of the market, the costs of insurance and the tenure of our employment. And these anxieties often divert us from our mission to “minister to the least of these” and to “love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly” with you.

These concerns and anxieties also remind us of our need to confess our sins, personally and corporately. We confess that we have too often taken our freedom for granted and we have too frequently been slack in our citizenship. We confess that at times we are too quick to criticize naively and too slow to intercede prayerfully. We confess that our self-interests have too often taken priority over the best interest you have in mind for our nation and for our world. We confess that we have been irresponsible in our stewardship of “our space and our stuff,” often consuming and storing compulsively without conscious regard for sharing. We confess that we have too often trusted in our own initiatives and ingenuity more than we have trusted in you.

You tell us in time-tested Scripture that, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)

As we approach this Independence Day, we ask you to forgive our sin and to heal our land.

On this day, we pray for the leaders of our nation, our state, and our community that they will lead with wisdom and discernment.

We pray for the men and women who serve in our nation’s military that they will fulfill their mission with courage and return home safely and soon.

We pray for our enemies that their swords will also be “turned into plowshares.”

We pray for the churches, cathedrals, and temples of our nation and our community that we will be lighthouses of grace and mercy, ever pressing toward the mark of our high calling.

Because you are the freedom-loving God, lead us to exercise our freedom responsibly and to pursue “liberty and justice for all” of your children around the globe.

We pray in the strong name of the one who came to set us free. Amen.

Barry Howard is senior minister of the First Baptist Church of Pensacola, Fla.

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