The National Day of Prayer in America

A Rich History and a Great Need

What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer. What a thrill would sweep this country. What renewed hope and courage would grip the Americans at this hour of peril.
Billy Graham in Washington, DC in 1952, making a declaration that eventually would bear the fruit of an annual National Day of Prayer in the United States—

We are postponing the next installment in our series on absolute truth for one week so we can focus this week on the National Day of Prayer (NDP). We won’t abandon the theme of truth totally, however. As we will see, this theme is a part of the fabric of the NDP and the Christian heritage of our nation.

On Thursday, May 4, the 66th annual observance of the National Day of Prayer will be held in the United States. Prayer is deeply rooted in America’s history and heritage. Watch this report from several years ago, given by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. Perkins tells us about the first prayer in the Continental Congress, which was offered on September 7, 1774 in Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia. For an even more detailed account, go here.

On numerous occasions throughout America’s history, the leaders of the nation have urged the people to pray (also see this and this from WallBuilders). In 1952, a bill passed Congress that called on the president each year to set aside a special day other than Sunday for observing a National Day of Prayer (NDP). President Harry S. Truman signed the bill into law and issued a proclamation on June 17, 1952. The first annual NDP took place on Friday, July 4th of that same year. You can read President Truman’s presidential proclamation here. You can read presidential proclamations for the National Day of Prayer for subsequent years, at the links on this page.

The 2017 NDP proclamation by President Trump says, in part,

The religious liberty guaranteed by the Constitution is not a favor from the government, but a natural right bestowed by God.  Our Constitution and our laws that protect religious freedom merely recognize the right that all people have by virtue of their humanity.  As Thomas Jefferson wisely questioned:  “can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?”

In prayer, let us ask that God’s light may illuminate the minds and hearts of our people and our leaders, so that we may meet the challenges that lie before us with courage and wisdom and justice. In prayer let us recall with confidence the promise of old that if we humble ourselves before God and pray and seek His face, He will surely hear and forgive and heal and bless our land.
—President Ronald Reagan, in his National Day of Prayer Proclamation for 1986—

In 1988, 36 years after the 1952 statute was passed, an amendment to the law established the first Thursday in May as the nation’s annual NDP. What a rich history this special day has!

Of course, the many NDP events held nationwide, as well as those in Washington, DC, have to be planned and coordinated. Founded in 1983, the National Day of Prayer Task Force is a non-profit organization that oversees these events. It doesn’t plan every event nationwide but provides administrative guidance to ensure continuity and unity of purpose. The NDP website states, “The mission of the National Day of Prayer Task Force is to mobilize prayer in America and to encourage personal repentance and righteousness in the culture.”

The theme for the 2017 National Day of Prayer is

For Your Great Name’s Sake, Hear us…Forgive us…Heal us!

These ideals are taken from Daniel 9:19 and 2 Chronicles 7:14.

O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name” (Dan. 9:19). You can read Daniel’s entire prayer from Daniel 9 here.

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chron. 7:14).

In this video, National Day of Prayer Chairperson Anne Graham Lots explains the background of the 2017 theme.

Mrs. Lotz has written a prayer for the 2017 NDP observance. She understands the precarious and dangerous place to which we as a nation have drifted. She realizes that we as a people have abandoned the truth and the God of truth. She sees our desperate need for God and points to the hope that only He offers. Her prayer exposes the ugliness of our national sins and challenges us to repent. The prayer says, in part,

We confess national addiction to sex. To money. To pleasure. To entertainment. To pornography.  To technology. To drugs. To alcohol. To food. To television. To popularity. To ourselves.…We confess our foolishness of denying You as the one, true, living God, our Creator to whom we are accountable, living as though our lives are a cosmic accident with no eternal significance, purpose or meaning.…We confess that we have marginalized truth and mainstreamed lies.…

Therefore, we turn to You with tears of shame and a heart of fear for the judgment we are provoking. We repent of our sin. Please, God of Our Fathers, do not back away from us. Do not remove Your hand of blessing on us. As we return to You with humility…With sincerity…Out of necessity…With a desperate sense of urgency.  Please! Return to us! Hear our prayer. Forgive our sin. Heal our land.

We Americans “have marginalized truth and mainstreamed lies.”
—Anne Graham Lotz, in her National Prayer, written for the National Day of Prayer, 2017—

Read the prayer Anne Graham Lotz has written! Pray it with sincerity and share it with others! Go to the NDP website, find a prayer event in your local area, and participate in it.

It is difficult to think of a time when prayer was more urgently needed for the United States of America than it is today—the many problems and challenges our country has faced during its 241-year history not withstanding. We need a moral and spiritual awakening! We need to rediscover the principles upon which our Founders built this country! We need God! We will find Him, however, only when we pray, seek His face, and repent of our sins. As a means to these ends, we observe the National Day of Prayer on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

Won’t you plead with God for America on that day and beyond?


Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.