The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. So, as presidents have formally done every year since 1952, President Obama on today, Thursday, May 7, will issue a proclamation urging our country to “turn to God in prayer and meditation.”
No one can seriously question whether our country – our world – needs prayer. We are troubled and in trouble. Just read the headlines or watch a little television as I did earlier today. Within an hour I heard stories about teens committing suicide because of cyber bullying, women swindling money from unsuspecting men by purchasing fake pregnancy tests, celebrities posing in the nude, men scamming hundreds of thousands of dollars from senior women desperate for love, Syria continuing to use chemical weaponry and families searching for lost loved ones in Nepal.
But I have mixed feelings about this day. I am not sure we need a National Day of Prayer any more than we need a Black History Month or a Veteran’s Day. Some things, some people, some history as well as some practices, like praying, need to be a part of every day. They need to be habit. I am also skeptical in 2015 of the government’s involvement in prayer. Yes, the day is part of our country’s heritage born from the first call to prayer in 1775, when the Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a nation to the call to prayer by President Lincoln when he proclaimed of a day of “humiliation, fasting and prayer” in 1863. Those days, those times and those prayers seemed different to me. It seems there was a time when our country was led by those who truly believed in God, who consistently sought His guidance and faithfully asked Him for wisdom and direction. Such was the case not just for our national leaders but also the leaders of our cities, towns, communities, schools and churches. These days? Not so much.
But according to the National Day of Prayer website, this day “has great significance for us as a nation as 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 for us to humbly come before God, seeking His guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people.” This statement is how I have made peace with the day. And the spirit of this statement is what I pray everyone will embrace – but not just for a day, for always and every day.
The web has been inundated with “model” and “sample” prayers shared for this special day. These actually might be the first misstep. Rather than recite a prayer scripted by someone else, I encourage you to embrace the theme of this year’s National Day of Prayer – “Lord, Hear Our Cry.” Cry out before the Lord sharing what is in your heart. Don’t worry about the “right” words, embrace the right attitudes – humility and gratitude. Don’t fret about the “right” posture, pray as the Holy Spirit leads you – standing, sitting, opened eyes, closed eyes, prostrate on the floor. The theme is not, ‘Lord, Look at Me,’ but rather, “Lord, Hear Our Cry.”
Matthew 6:7 (ESV) reminds us, ““And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” On this National Day of Prayer, pray freely. Pray openly. Pray passionately. Pray from the heart, and know that “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17, ESV).