Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. — 1 Timothy 2:2
Growing up in Minnesota in the 1950s, February always meant two days off from school because of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th and the celebration of George Washington’s birthday on February 22nd. But sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s dates shifted—and what I had experienced as two “for-sure” days off became one “iffy” day off on a Monday—to celebrate “Presidents’ Day.”
Back then I guessed that the purpose was to create a three-day weekend, which we enjoy, and to merge two celebrations of presidential birthdays into one grand holiday (especially for retailers to use in marketing). I have only recently found that there is much confusion over the origin of this “federal holiday” and that it is actually more closely linked to Washington’s birthday than Lincoln’s. Just reading about the history of this day left me confused, and our states seem to be equally confused. So whether it is Presidents’ Day, or President’s Day, or Presidents Day . . . . and whether or not schools in your area will be out that day . . . . and whether or not it is a holiday for you . . . . the fact remains that Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were two of our greatest presidents!
Perhaps you like to read biographies as I do. Years ago, when Elisabeth Elliott’s radio program “Gateway to Joy” was still on the air, I remember her encouraging mothers to make sure that their children read biographies of missionaries! Her own study of Amy Carmichael led her to write such a biography, and I have often reflected on her emphasis of this opportunity to draw on lessons learned from the lives of saints. John Piper is another great teacher who challenges us to look into the lives of those in the past and states in his sermon, “Brothers, Read Christian Biography”: “Biographies have served as much as any other human force in my life to overcome the inertia of mediocrity.” (DesiringGod.org)
So, because I enjoy reading biographies, on this Presidents’ Day it should not surprise you that I would want to look a bit at Abraham Lincoln and George Washington—and especially at the role of their marriages in their presidencies. They stand at sharp contrast to one another in terms of the personalities of their wives and the harmony in their households.
Gary Thomas has chosen to write about Lincoln’s marriage in the chapter “Sacred Struggle” from his great book, Sacred Marriage. This should be a hint that domestic tranquility was not the norm in the Lincoln household, for many reasons. But Thomas sees a divine purpose amidst this struggle, and writes, “The connection one can make between Lincoln’s marriage and his mission is not difficult. It is easy to see how a man who might quit on a difficult marriage would not have the character to hold together a crumbling nation. Lincoln was virtually obsessed with saving the Union; what better training ground than the difficult marriage that required such tenacity from him? It’s important to see that not only did Lincoln’s difficult marriage not deter him from achieving greatness, one might argue that it actually helped prepare him for greatness. Lincoln’s character was tested and refined on a daily basis so that when the true test came, he was able to stand strong. Had Lincoln been obsessed with happiness, he wouldn’t have mustered the strength to put up with Mary or to hold the nation together. He sensed a call to destiny, something that would in his mind supersede personal comfort, and his obedience to that destiny made world history.” (Sacred Marriage, p. 136-37).
In contrast, George Washington found in Martha an affable and complementary mate, one in whom he could write on June 23, 1775, “I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time or distance can change.” (MountVernon.org) The feeling was mutual, and one of his generals once described Martha as, “a modest and respectable person, who loves her husband madly.” (Battlefields & Blessings, p. 140) Martha burned most of the letters which she and George wrote to each other, so there is little to study about their close relationship. But her willingness to share in the demands of his life both during the Revolutionary War and during the responsibilities of his political office speak to her devotion to her husband, to their marriage, and to the national cause.
So what does any of this have to say to us during deployments? I might be stretching things a bit, but I see two connections that we can make by pausing to look at these presidents and their marriages. One is that some things just don’t change—countries at war call on the best from leaders. Washington and Lincoln gave us their all during pivotal times in our nation’s history. What their marriages allowed them to learn or enjoy was providentially used by God to prepare them for the necessary tasks at hand. If you have visited Washington, D.C. you have seen monuments to these two amazing presidents with their words etched in stone . . . . words which were lived out in the founding and growth of this great nation—not without cost.
But secondly, in terms of practical application, how do you view your present leadership—perhaps in your unit, your post, your squadron, your ship? Do you pray for these leaders—for their marriages? Can you understand that their personal lives will perhaps affect their ability to lead during stressful times in this war? And taking it to a broader perspective, what about the leadership in your church, or in our nation? How can you encourage your pastor or chaplain to keep a good balance between the demands of the church or chapel and the priorities of the home? Reading the challenge given by Paul to young Timothy, we are reminded of the priority of his instruction: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1Timothy 2:2) Notice the link between our prayers for leadership and the effect on our lives. And if you know the context of this writing, you know that Paul wrote during a time of great suffering and persecution.
I have heard it said that it’s very difficult to complain about someone for whom you are praying. Pray for your leaders . . . . whether they be military leaders, corporate leaders, church leaders, or political leaders. They are in authority because God has placed them there. Washington and Lincoln were men of integrity, raised up by God to serve us in our time of need. They were real men, with real lives and real struggles. And so it is today, and so we must pray. Some things just don’t change . . . . and so we must pray.
Good leadership is a channel of water controlled by God; he directs it to whatever ends he chooses. — Proverbs 21:1 The Message
Questions to Share:
1. What are two challenges which Washington and Lincoln both faced during their presidencies?
2. How can you pray with your spouse for leaders today?
Cook, Jane Hampton, Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from The Revolutionary War (Chattanooga: Living Ink Books, 2007)
Thomas, Gary, Sacred Marriage (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).