Why a National Day of
Annually, by law, our nation observes a
National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of May. So, once again, millions
of Americans will honor that law by uniting in prayer this Thursday, May 7. As
usual, there will not be a single observance somewhere but hundreds of
gatherings at different times of the day in every state of the union.
It would not be unreasonable to ask why such a day is fixed on our calendars.
Should we not pray every day for our country? Why did congress pass such a law?
Is not prayer more a personal matter that something to be legislated?
A bit of research reveals that even before the colonies declared
their independence from England, leaders of the colonists in several states
proclaimed a day for prayer and thanksgiving, in the fall, and a day for prayer
and fasting in the spring or summer.
With some exceptions, the presidents of our nation have always
called upon our citizens to turn to God in prayer, and to do so on certain days
of the year. Thomas Jefferson was one of those exceptions. Jefferson did not
follow the example of George Washington and John Adams by proclaiming a day of
prayer; he felt prayer was a personal matter and that the state should not be
S. Truman in 1952 signed the bill establishing a National Day of Prayer and
requiring each subsequent president to proclaim a National Day of
Prayer at a date of his choice. Then, in 1988, Ronald Reagan signed an
amendment to the law specifying that the National Day of Prayer would be held
on the first Thursday of May each year.
Reagan helped clarify the purpose of the day when he declared,
"From General Washington's struggle at Valley Forge to the present, this
Nation has fervently sought and received divine guidance as it pursued the
course of history. This occasion provides our Nation with an opportunity to
further recognize the source of our blessings, and to seek His help for the
challenges we face today and in the future.”
I first participated in a National Day of Prayer observance as a
pastor while serving in Pensacola, Florida, in 1989. About a hundred people
gathered at noon on the courthouse steps as several pastors and civic leaders
offered prayers and invited the people to pray together. I felt inspired by the
unusual nature of the occasion; it was first time I had gathered to pray with
people of many different religions, different races, rich and poor, influential
and ordinary citizens – all fellow Americans.
While Easter and Christmas are Christian observances, the
National Day of Prayer is more inclusive, a day designed for “adherents of all
great religions” to unite in prayer. When congressional leaders established
this event, they expressed the hope that the observance might “one day bring renewed respect for God to all
the peoples of the world.”
I have fond memories of gathering in front of the courthouse
with fellow citizens in Opelika during National Day of Prayer observances. It
always felt good to put aside our political, ethnic and religious differences
and come together as fellow citizens calling upon God to continue guarding,
guiding and blessing America. The feeling is reminiscent of the way the
soul is stirred when one sings “God Bless America” with fellow citizens at
The theme of this year’s National Day of Prayer is “Pray God’s
Glory Across the Earth.” The phrase is taken from an oft-quoted verse in the
Book of Habakkuk – “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of
the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
Because of the need to stay at home a while longer, many of us
will not be able to gather publicly with other citizens on this first Thursday
in May. But we can participate by watching one or more observances online or on
television. If I were speaking or praying in such a gathering Thursday, I would
call attention to the words, “will be filled” in the prophetic words of the
prophet. There is no hesitancy, no doubt but absolute confidence that “the
earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the
Lord.” Habakkuk is saying the Lord’s goals for the world will happen; his
purposes will be fulfilled. God’s will shall not be thwarted!
Then I would go to Jesus, by way of Saint Paul. In his Second
Letter to the Corinthians, 2:6, Paul uses Habakkuk’s phrase when he
writes, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’
made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Christ.”
Here Paul gives us the answer as to how Habakkuk’s prophecy will
be fulfilled. It will happen as God’s people help all the people of the earth
to become aware that the fullness of God’s glory is found “in the face of
Christ.” Christians have a mission – to help people “see” God the Father in the
face of our Lord Jesus! In Christ’s own words, “Anyone who has seen me has seen
How may Christians persuade people to
believe this? By loving people, all people, those near and far away. People
cannot be driven into the Kingdom; they can be loved into it.
How is love expressed? Not so much by words as by actions.
Actions to defend the defenseless and provide justice for the poor. Actions
that provide food, clothes, shelter and jobs for the poor. Actions that demand
equal rights for all citizens regardless of their race. Actions that reveal
genuine love and respect for “the least of our brothers and sisters.” Actions
by leaders whose laws reflect their agreement with the Prophet Amos that
justice needs to “roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing
The observance of the 2020 National Day of Prayer Thursday will
be a good time for Christians to pray that God will hear our prayers, heal our
nation and help us make known to all the earth’s people that the awareness of
the glory of God has been revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.
God bless America! + + +