Irving Berlin (born Israel Baline) left Siberia for America when he was five years old. He received only two years of formal schooling and never learned to read or write music. Nonetheless, he composed more than 900 songs, 19 musicals, and the scores of 18 movies. His classics include “White Christmas” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” But his all-time favorite was composed and then forgotten for 20 years before becoming a national sensation.
In 1918, during World War I, Berlin wrote a song called “God Bless America,” but could not find a use for it and set it aside. In 1938, with the rise of Hitler, Berlin (who was Jewish) introduced the song on Armistice Day (today known as Veterans’ Day), as Kate Smith sang it on her radio show. In 1943, the song was included in the patriotic musical “This Is The Army” along with other Berlin songs and became a national favorite.
On the evening of September 11, 2001, members of the United States Congress broke into a spontaneous verse of “God Bless America” while standing on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. In the years since the 9-11 attacks, the song has often been played at baseball games during the seventh-inning stretch, at the Indianapolis 500, and at NHL games as well.
The lyrics are familiar to us all: “While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free, let us all be grateful for a land so fair, as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer: God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her through the night with a light from above. From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home, God bless America, my home sweet home.” How might God answer this prayer today?
In Matthew 9, Jesus instructed his disciples to “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field” (v. 38). In the next verse we discover that these men have become the answer to their prayer: “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness” (Matthew 10:1).
When we sing “God Bless America,” we pray that our Lord would “guide her through the night with a light from above.” There is no question that our nation is morally more in the “night” than ever before. But the “light from above” still shines. Jesus called himself “the light of the world” (John 9:5), then transferred this responsibility to us: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).
I’m convinced that God wants to answer our prayer to bless America. But we are the means to that end. The most patriotic thing Christians can do for America is to reflect God’s character and relay his word to everyone we meet. How will God bless America today because of you?