The Problem With the National Day of Prayer
When last did you pray for your local congressman? (Do you know who he or she is?) When last did you pray for your city council members? (Do you know who they are?) When last did you pray for those in the media and leaders in business?
If we are not doing so daily, don’t we need to make the National Day of Prayer into a Daily Prayer for the Nation?
A National History of Prayer
The Continental Congress issued the first national call to prayer in 1775. General George Washington joined the Congress in supporting such a day in 1779. He issued a similar proclamation as president ten years later. President Adams did the same.
In the depths of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed another national day of prayer and fasting in 1863.
The contemporary version of their declaration goes back to the Rev. Billy Graham’s call for America’s leaders to unite in prayer during the Korean War. On April 17, 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer. Each president has done so since.
Who am I, an evangelical theologian, to question George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Billy Graham in calling the nation to pray?
Actually, my problem is not with them, but with us.
‘Without the Assistance of That Divine Being … I Cannot Succeed’
George Washington noted in his 1789 Farewell Address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. … Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
John Adams likewise warned: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
When Abraham Lincoln left the Springfield railroad station in 1861 to assume the presidency, he told the crowd: “I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested on Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being, who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail.”
I met Billy Graham in October 2001 as part of a team inviting him to conduct an evangelistic mission in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area the next year. He was so dependent on God’s leading and strength that he did not accept our invitation until he became convinced that it was the Lord’s will for him and for us.
None of them could have imagined that declaring a National Day of Prayer would turn prayer into just a day. But is that what has happened?
National Prayer is Not Just for One Day
This week, millions of Americans will intercede for our federal leaders, including the president, vice president, cabinet members, congressional leaders, and Supreme Court justices. We will pray for leaders of our state and local governments. We will then pray for our military and for those in media, business, education, church, and family.
I certainly do not question the value of dedicating a day to such intercession. However, I question confining such intercession to just a day.
Has the coronavirus pandemic shattered the illusion of our self-sufficiency? Has it taught us that we are finite creatures in need of an infinite Creator, mortals in need of an immortal God?
If not, how do we change that?
And, when this pandemic is finally over, will the partisan fractures it deepened remain? Will our nation still be bitterly divided over the sanctity of life, sexual morality, and the right to religious dissent? I think we all know the answer.
Let’s inaugurate a Daily Prayer for the Nation.
“The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. … Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 33:16, 18).
Is the eye of the Lord on us?