Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

National Day of Prayer: The Proven Pathway to Freedom

  • Oliver North
  • Published Apr 16, 2004
National Day of Prayer: The Proven Pathway to Freedom

Retired Marine colonel Oliver North is the 2004 Honorary Chairman of the National Day of Prayer and will provide the keynote address at the national event in Washington, D.C. on May 6. In addition to his appearance at the national observance, North has released, True Freedom: The Liberating Power of Prayer, which is this year’s theme book. Read an excerpt below.

By 1978, I had known Lieutenant Colonel John Grinalds for about three years. He was on the fast track through the ranks. Top of his class at West Point and highly decorated from his two tours of duty in Vietnam, he had gone on to become a Rhodes Scholar and White House Fellow and to earn a Harvard MBA.

Oh, and there was one other characteristic that set Grinalds apart from the rest. He was one of those "born-again Christians."

Whatever that meant. Along with all the usual training and administrative manuals on his desk, he kept a Bible. Right there in plain sight. And he read it.

Grinalds was assigned as a battalion commander to the Second Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune, and he honored me by asking me to come along as his operations officer. I was happy to hitch my wagon to his rapidly rising star. In my new role, I was third in command, responsible for the training and preparation of a 2,000-man unit for deployment to the Mediterranean.

One morning, about two weeks before we were due to deploy, our battalion was conducting a training exercise. I had just adjusted the antenna on an armored amphibious vehicle and, spurning the ladder on the side, jumped to the ground. Big mistake.

Instant memories of the 1964 car accident flashed through my pain-racked mind. I had re-injured my back in exactly the same place. Aside from the wish for unconsciousness, my one overriding thought was, I just blew my chance to deploy with these men. I knew from having experienced a similar re-injury in a 1973 parachute accident that I was due for at least two weeks of hospitalization and bed rest.

I lay writhing on the ground. Couldn’t feel my legs. Lost control of my bladder.

Before a medic could arrive, John Grinalds showed up. Next thing I knew, he was putting his hands on my legs and saying, "I’m going to pray for you."

Pray? I thought. I’m lying here in agony, and you want to pray!

But what I said aloud was, "Uh, Colonel, don’t you think we could just do this the usual way? You know, get the helicopter, go to the hospital...?"

But Grinalds ignored me. He called out, "Lord Jesus Christ, You are the Great Physician. Heal this man."

In that very instant the pain disappeared. Soon the feeling returned to my legs. When I was ready, Grinalds helped me to my feet.

Astonished, I came out with one of the most inane utterances of my life. I said, "Thank you, sir."

At that, Grinalds grabbed me by my jacket and pulled me up to his face. "Don’t thank me," he said. "Thank your Lord and Savior. He is the Great Physician. You have to turn to Him."

That incident was the two-by-four God used to break through my thick-skulled resistance. I had it in my head that freedom meant taking care of myself, forging my own path through the jungle of life’s challenges. I knew that God was there to help, but I expected Him to follow my lead. What I came to realize was that He had been leading all along — and that I had not done well at following. I had been placing my faith in myself, yet He had been telling me over and over, "You’ll only be truly free when you know and trust Me."

This realization profoundly humbled me. During the six months of our Mediterranean deployment, I participated in Bible studies with Grinalds and managed to read the Bible cover to cover. I learned that I had known a lot about God, but I had not known Him personally. I had sent a lot of orders in His direction, and He had even deigned to "obey" some of them. But I had been living in servitude to self; now I was discovering true freedom, living as I was designed to live — in relationship with God.

I had grown up believing in the vending machine concept of prayer — you put in your quarter, and you get back your selection, all neatly wrapped and sealed. But now I’ve come to understand that prayer is freely flowing, two-way conversation with a Person. In fact, prayer doesn’t even require words.

When I’m consciously with God, that’s prayer.

When I look to Him with an attitude of dependence, that’s prayer.

Prayer at its best involves intimate, heart-to-heart communion with God, with or without words.
My friend Jarod came to this realization the day he slammed his thumb in his car door. The door was locked, his right thumb was stuck — sending frantic pain signals to his brain — and his car keys were in his right pocket. As he gingerly reached across his body with his left hand, digging for his keys, his whispered plea was simply, "Lord." Both he and God knew exactly what he needed at that moment. More words were superfluous.

John Bunyan, seventeenth-century author of Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote, "The best prayers have often more groans than words."

Excerpted from True Freedom © 2002 by Oliver North and Brian Smith.  Used by permission of Multnomah Publishers, Inc.   Excerpt may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of Multnomah Publishers, Inc.