Today marks the 59th annual National Day of Prayer in the United States.
All across the country, Americans will gather in order to pray for this nation.
John Adams, the second U.S. president, declared May 9, 1798 as “a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer,” during which citizens of all faiths were asked to pray “that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it.”
Abraham Lincoln, our venerated sixteenth president echoed this request, designating the day of April 30, 1863 as a day of “national humiliation, fasting and prayer” in the hope that God would respond by restoring “our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.”
In 1952, following a six-week prayer campaign in Washington D.C. led by Billy Graham, members of the House and Senate introduced a joint resolution for a yearly National Day of Prayer, “on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.”
Later that same year, president Harry S. Truman signed a bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer that would be declared by each following president, at an appropriate date of his choosing.
The law was later amended so that it would be held on the first Thursday of May, and so it has become just such a tradition in recent years.
But what is prayer?
Is it an act of asking, in faith, for something to occur; seeking fulfillment of a deep desire or longing in one’s soul? Is it an offering, a humble entreaty to stand in the infinite throne room of our divine King and lift up our praises before Him? Is it a reflection of the heart of our Lord, a God who says that He delights in stirring man’s thoughts towards Him?
In the Scriptures, our Lord invites, commands, and teaches His people to pray.
However, we of this blessed land might be tempted to put our faith in the might of our military strength or to rest solely in our great material abundance.
To stop amidst the din and reflect in a day of national prayer reminds us that we are thus, only by the divine providence of a gracious and merciful God above.
It is not fealty to flag or patriotism to a principality that sustains us but the tender care of our Creator.
As King David wrote: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They will collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” (Psalm 20:7-8)
The United States is indeed a proud and strong nation but this can blind us to our need for divine protection.
So it goes that in this time, with the nation facing new and unprecedented challenges, we must know that the one thing most urgent is that we pray for and with each other… not only when season and occasion call for it but ceaselessly (I Thessalonians 5:17) and with every breath of our being.
Let us remember that we do not serve an unknowable God, who hides His face from us and will not heed our prayers, but that He who gave humanity hearts and minds, delights when they are turned towards Him.
Prayer is not only for this nation and not only for this day, but as He told Isaiah: “…and My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
For all peoples, and for all time.