FORT LEE, Va. – After acknowledging the many troubles of this nation over the past year, the featured speaker of the National Prayer Breakfast observance here Feb. 11 said a “time of healing” is upon us, and it will require seeking spiritual help through prayer.
Chaplain (Col) Thomas E. Allen’s message was the centerpiece of a roughly half-hour program that was livestreamed this year as a COVID-19 safety precaution. Chaplain (Lt. Col) Jonathan Fowler, garrison chaplain, was the narrator, and Shawn Lehman, acting deputy to the garrison commander, gave welcome remarks. Chaplain (Maj.) Bruce Wagner sang “God Bless America” leading into prayers for the nation and its military forces and families.
Allen, the senior command chaplain at Fort Lee, summed up 2020 as “the most challenging year for our nation” in a very long time. “We have seen the impact of injustice and racial and social division,” he said. “We have endured political strife unlike any of us have witnessed in our lifetime, and our people are hurting from unemployment, business closures and a pandemic that has touched most of us personally and continues to do so into 2021.”
Emphasizing that he was speaking as a chaplain and minister, not as a politician, Allen said the sole intent of his remarks was to “offer spiritual encouragement to help weather the storms” that lie ahead.
“I realize everyone in this country doesn’t believe there is a spiritual answer to our problems. Nonetheless, I believe there is,” he said. “In First Thessalonians, chapter 5, Apostle Paul gives us a plan on how to live in an unfair and uncertain world. It doesn’t depend on economy, which political party is in office nor the condition of the world in which we live. It’s a plan that involves perspective, focus and what we choose to value and to live for. It involves three simple commands: rejoice always, pray without ceasing and in everything give thanks.
“Happiness comes from circumstance,” Allen continued, relating the thought to a good job, a good family and good health. “Joyfulness is much deeper. It’s a sense of satisfaction and delight not found in our circumstance. It comes from a deeper sense of peace and wellbeing; that you are right with God and that you are part of his plan. Even in the worst of circumstances, we can find joy in God. Joy is not found in what happens to you.”
The chaplain opined thankfulness and gratitude are becoming an increasingly rare thing in American culture, partly because individuals try to find value and worth in the things they accumulate rather than the God who made them. True thankfulness, he said, comes from the heart of the person who knows who they are before the Almighty and who he really is.
“Pray unceasingly means commune with Him. Call upon Him. Recognize Him in the middle of life’s journey no matter how difficult. Develop a spirit of dependence on God,” Allen said. “(Even at times when we are not) praying with our lips, our hearts and minds are dependent on the presence of God each and every day. It’s an attitude more than an outward action.”
Many in the nation have given up on faith, he further insisted. Instead of praying without ceasing, they have ceased to pray. Some view it as an ancient and superstitious practice, or something grandparents did long ago. Some see it as taboo in a scientific age.
“We have not because we ask not,” he said, citing a reference from James, chapter 4, verse 2. “Many of the gifts God desires to give us never come our way, and it’s because we’re too proud, too stubborn, too busy or too arrogant to just bow our head and ask for his blessing. (People) never ask for God’s help, but often blame Him when things don’t go their way.