Today is the National Day of Prayer. Yet things are not right in the land. We pray, “May God bless America.” But perhaps it should be, “May God have mercy on America.”
As we survey the modern American landscape, we see many examples that things are not right with more than 55 million abortions since 1973, rampant pornography, mass shootings, promotion of ‘gay’ marriage, dissolution of marriage in general, runaway debt that will enslave our children and grandchildren, and further threats to our religious liberty.
And yet our national motto is still “In God We Trust.” I always remember the sign in the ice cream shop (by the cash register) that said: “In God we trust. All others pay cash.”
Prayer is deep in the American tradition — even national prayer. We can see multiple examples of this in Bill Federer’s great book, America’s God & Country. During the days of the American War for Independence, the Continental Congress often put out the word for all the citizens to pray and fast, such as on May 17, 1776 as a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer.
On that day, the Congress prayed, “that we may with united hearts confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by a sincere repentance and amendment of life appease God’s righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ obtain His pardon and forgiveness.”
At Valley Forge, General George Washington gave this order on April 12, 1778 (speaking of himself in the third person): “The General directs that the day [April 22, 1778] shall be most religiously observed in the Army; that no work shall be done thereon, and that the several chaplains do prepare discourses suitable to the occasion.”
Samuel Adams, the lightning rod for American independence, later became the governor of Massachusetts. On October 14, 1795, he declared a day of fasting and prayer, which included this petition: “That God would be pleased to guide and direct the administration of the Federal government, and those of the several states, in union, so that the whole people may continue to be safe and happy in the constitutional enjoyment of their rights, liberties and privileges, and our governments be greatly respected at home and abroad.”
John Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, as the second president of the United States, proclaimed a national day of prayer asking that God “would smile on our colleges, academies, schools, and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of sound science, morals, and religion.”
John Jay, co-author of the Federalist Papers and first Supreme Court Chief Justice, said on June 29, 1826, “The most effectual means of securing the continuance of our civil and religious liberties is, always to remember with reverence and gratitude the Source from which they flow.”
James Madison, our fourth president, who was a major player at the Constitutional Convention, issued a national day of prayer (July 9, 1812) during our second war with Great Britain (the War of 1812).
Madison proclaimed that a day “be set apart for the devout purpose of rendering the Sovereign of the Universe and the Benefactor of mankind the public homage due to His holy attributes; of acknowledging the transgressions which might justly provoke the manifestations of His divine displeasure; of seeking His merciful forgiveness, and His assistance in the great duties of repentance and amendment.”
Since the Truman administration, there has been a National Day of Prayer. Ronald Reagan made it the first Thursday of each May. President Reagan once said about our nation and prayer: “We can’t have it both ways. We can’t expect God to protect us in a crisis and just leave Him over there on the shelf in our day-to-day living.”
Of course, there are many today who scoff at the notion of prayer, corporate or individual. Some view it as accomplishing absolutely nothing.
But prayer can be very hard work. Besides, prayer is not nor should ever be an excuse for doing nothing. It’s not an either/or; it’s a both/and.
Many times in many municipalities we find that at noon on the National Day of Prayer, right outside of City Hall, various people of good will gather to pray. Sometimes the mayor will even join the participants. All are welcome.
Of course, we should pray without ceasing — not just on one day of the year. But it’s nice to have an annual reminder on the National Day of Prayer of our great need for God’s help, all year round.
My wife has a needlepoint she made hanging up in our front hall. It sums it all up: “Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.”
Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., is co-host of Truth that Transforms and a spokesperson for Truth in Action Ministries. He has also written or co-written 23 books, including The Book That Made America: How the Bible Formed Our Nation and (with D. James Kennedy), What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? www.truthinaction.org.