Yesterday was the 61st Annual Observance of the National Day of Prayer. In 1952, a joint resolution by Congress, signed by President Truman, declared an annual, national day of prayer. In 1988, the law was amended and signed by President Reagan, permanently setting the day as the first Thursday of every May. Each year, the president signs a proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day. Last year, all 50 state governors plus the governors of several U.S. territories signed similar proclamations. But the National Day of Prayer is not just a modern invention.
The National Day of Prayer is a vital part of our heritage. Since the first call to prayer in 1775, when the Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a nation, the call to prayer has continued through our history, including President Lincoln’s proclamation of a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” in 1863. Prior to the nation’s founding, the Continental Congress issued a proclamation recommending “a day of publick [sic] humiliation, fasting, and prayer” be observed on July 20, 1775″ In March 30, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation expressing the idea “that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins”, and designated 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”. He went on to say, “…it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.”
The National Day of Prayer has great significance for us as a nation. It enables us to recall and to teach the way in which our founding fathers sought the wisdom of God when faced with critical decisions. It stands as a call to us to humbly come before God, seeking His guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people. The unanimous passage of the bill establishing the National Day of Prayer as an annual event signifies that prayer is as important to our nation today as it was in the beginning. Like Thanksgiving or Christmas, this day has become a national observance placed on all Hallmark calendars and observed annually across the nation and in Washington, D.C. Last year, local, state and federal observances were held from sunrise in Maine to sunset in Hawaii, uniting Americans from all socio-economic, political and ethnic backgrounds in prayer for our nation. It is estimated that over two million people attended more than 30,000 observances organized by approximately 40,000 volunteers. At state capitols, county court houses, on the steps of city halls, and in schools, businesses, churches and homes, people stopped their activities and gathered for prayer.
Part of the commemoration of our nation’s day of prayer is the National Prayer Breakfast. The event—which is actually a series of meetings, luncheons, and dinners—has taken place since 1953. The National Prayer Breakfast is hosted by members of the United States Congress and is organized on their behalf by The Fellowship Foundation, a conservative Christian organization more widely known as “The Family”. It is designed to be a forum for political, social, and business leaders of the world to assemble together and build relationships which might not otherwise be possible. (“[T]he breakfast is regarded by the Family as merely a tool in a larger purpose: to recruit the powerful attendees into smaller, more frequent prayer meetings, where they can ‘meet Jesus man to man.’”) Each year several guest speakers visit the various events connected with the National Prayer Breakfast. However, the main event, the Thursday morning breakfast, typically has two special guest speakers: the President of the United States and a guest whose identity is kept confidential until that morning. Every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has participated in the breakfast.
In 2006, the special guest speaker was lead singer, Bono (Paul Hewson) of U2. He addressed specifically the need for us to take care of the poor in our country and across the world. He talked about how our nation’s people through her churches mobilized to combat what Bono calls “the leprosy of this age”, HIV with God’s love. People with HIV, even little children are stigmatized and shunned and not often helped in this world, treated just like lepers where when Christ was walking this earth, even among Christians, especially among Christians. He toured America speaking to churches and Christians about ‘putting their money where there mouth is” in a manner of speaking. He realized that American Christians were missing the mark by just paying lip service to things and not taking action. “Somewhere in the back of the religious mind,” he said, “was this idea [that people with AIDS] reaped what they sowed—missing the entire New Testament, the New Covenant, and the concept of grace. Evangelicals in a poll, only 6 percent thought they should be doing something about the AIDS emergency. … I’m sure that made you, as it made me, wince.” Bono believes addressing AIDS is at the core of the church’s purpose and at the core of how outsiders see the church. “I think our whole idea of who we are is at stake. I think Judeo-Christian culture is at stake,” he said. “If the church doesn’t respond to this, the church will be made irrelevant. It will look like the way you heard stories about people watching Jews being put on the trains. We will be that generation that watched our African brothers and sisters being put on trains.”
He was in awe of what happened when God used him to open American hearts. He discovered that the Holy Spirit was causing a great movement among our nation’s citizens and the rest of the world. He made the following observations in his remarks at that prayer breakfast President George W. Bush invited him to speak at,
“Love was on the move.
Mercy was on the move.
God was on the move.
Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet… Conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS… Soccer moms and quarterbacks… hip-hop stars and country stars… This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!
Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!
Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!
Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.
It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.
When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened—and acted. When churches starting organizing, petitioning, and even—that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying… on AIDS and global health, governments listened—and acted.
I’m here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.”
That love in action is what happened during our country’s birth. The churches in the colonies, more specifically the pastors prior to the Revolutionary War saw that with God they could move mountains so they called for the colonists to get on their knees and also act. Faith motivated the colonists to leave their families and homes and risk their lives for a cause that most would have considered hopeless at the time. Preachers actively participated in our War for Independence and not just from the pulpit by inspiring their parishioners to take action.
The ministers of the Revolution were, like their Puritan predecessors, bold and fearless in the cause of their country. No class of men contributed more to carry forward the Revolution and to achieve our independence than did the ministers. . . . By their prayers, patriotic sermons, and services [they] rendered the highest assistance to the civil government, the army, and the country. – B. F. Morris, HISTORIAN, 1864
The America that our founding fathers and countless millions have fought and died for is under attack. Not by some foreign aggressor but from an ideological mindset and post modern worldview. We have lost our moral compass and are in danger of losing our liberties and freedoms. The sermons Americans frequently hear today deal with prosperity theology and entertainment evangelism. This milquetoast preaching makes it hard to find Christian men who even have control of their children, much less the courage and resolve to stand against the onslaught of socialism, and, yes, fascism that is swallowing America whole.
We have an opportunity like our forefathers did. We can choose to sit by and say how terrible it is that America is ‘going to hell in a hand basket’, change the television channel, and continue on with our own lives or we can choose to pray and act to save our nation. If we choose the Scarlett O’Hara approach of “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow” and one day wake up to a country and a people we no longer recognize. In order to restore America we must choose the other option. We must get on our knees and pray for our leaders, for our nation, and for her people. And then we need to act by getting involved in where our republic is headed, by bringing God’s love to each town, and yes, even by exercising our American right to vote.
It is important for us to recognize how prayer has shaped our national identity throughout America’s history, but its also important to remember that we should be praying and acting on a daily basis, not just once a year because our calendar says its the National Day of Prayer. Prayer is America’s hope. All of us, from all walks of American life need to be part of interceding for our nation, leaders, communities and families. One prayer, one heart at a time, we can change our nation. Bono felt so strongly about Americans taking action that he also wrote about it in a song; Breathe years after his 2006 National Prayer Breakfast remarks:
Every day I die again, and again I’m reborn
Every day I have to find the courage
To walk out into the street
With arms out
Got a love you can’t defeat
Neither down nor out
There’s nothing you have that I need
I can breathe
Walk out into the street
Sing your heart out
The people we meet
Will not be drowned out
There’s nothing you have that I need
I can breathe
We are people borne of sound
The songs are in our eyes
Gonna wear them like a crown
Walk out, into the sunburst street
Sing your heart out, sing my heart out
I’ve found grace inside a sound
I found grace, it’s all that I found
And I can breathe
My prayer for America is that we seize the opportunity to be Christ’s hands and feet in our nation every day. I pray that we continue to help the poor, tend the sick, comfort the grieving, and rebuild the fabric of this great nation God has seen fit to bless us with. I pray that we all take the moment each day to pray and then walk out into those streets with clear eyes, full hearts, arms open wide and freedom and love in our mouths and in our hearts.