Perhaps it was his Scottish accent. Perhaps his playful smile. Perhaps the simplicity of his preaching, or maybe it was his prayers with their pungent twists of boldness. For whatever reason, Peter Marshall is remembered as one of the most beloved Senate Chaplains in American history.
Marshall immigrated to the United States, arriving at Ellis Island in 1927, only 19 years before being named Senate Chaplain. He pastored in Georgia, then at Washington’s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. On January 5, 1947 he was named Senate Chaplain, and his prayers immediately touched the nation.
Here is his “Bifocals of Faith” prayer, offered before the United States Senate on November 24, 1947:
God of our fathers and our God, give us the faith to believe in the ultimate triumph of righteousness, no matter how dark and uncertain are the skies of today.
We pray for the bifocals of faith—that see the despair and the need of the hour but also see, further on, the patience of our God working out his plan in the world he has made.
So help thy servants to interpret for our time the meaning of the motto inscribed on our coins. Make our faith honest by helping us this day to do one thing because thou hast said, “Do it,” or to abstain because thou hast said, “Thou shalt not.”
How can we say we believe in thee, or even want to believe in thee, when we do not anything thou dost tell us? May our faith be seen in our works. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
Just over a year later Peter Marshall, 46 years old, was rushed to the hospital with severe pain in his chest and arms. A massive heart attack took his life, and the entire nation mourned his death. But his prayers, sermons, and life have been immortalized in Christian literature through the efforts of his wife and biographer, Catherine Marshall.
When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. Don’t be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask. You should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, help us to honor your name. (Matthew 6:7–9)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Nov. 24.