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.

The Urgent Call to Prayer—and Repentance

We are a people and nation in imminent danger. We mock God, ridicule His Word and His ways, and flaunt gross immorality.
—Franklin Graham1

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways, and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Isaiah 55:6-7

This is a special week marked by prayer. In Tennessee, two events are underscoring prayer’s importance and urging people to cry out to God on behalf of America.

The first of these took place on May 3. In the Decision America Tour, Franklin Graham, son of well-known evangelist Billy Graham, is traveling to the capitals of each of the 50 states and holding prayer rallies for the nation. While Graham has boldly proclaimed that America’s only hope in is God, he also is encouraging Christians to participate in the political process and to stand firm for biblical truth and godly principles, regardless of their political party. Last year he announced the tour.

As you can see, Graham is heavily burdened for our country. In the May issue of Decision magazine, which is published 11 times a year by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, he writes,

There is no doubt that the tens of thousands who have attended [Decision America Tour rallies thus far] know that America is in deep trouble and on the verge of moral collapse—unless God intervenes.…

Never before have I seen such a sharp rift in the moral and spiritual fabric of our country. The Cross of Christ has become the deep divide between a growing segment of our population that no longer fears God and those who follow Christ as Lord and Savior.

In this secular age, the influence of Biblical principles and values has diminishing impact upon education, government and politics. More young people than ever before claim no religious affiliation at all. We Christians are not just simply tolerated—we are under constant, unrelenting assault for our beliefs and practices.…

I wonder if the handwriting is now on the wall for America. Has God decided that our idolatry, immorality and godlessness has become such a stench in His nostrils that we as a people will experience a harsh form of divine judgment? Have our iniquities grown so foul and vast that we will reap the bitter harvest of our wickedness and rebellion against Almighty God?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do believe that God is able to restore and heal us if we repent of our sins—personal and corporate—and turn to Him in humility and reverence. The Bible tells us that the Lord is patient toward us, “not willing that nay should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (ESV).2

On Tuesday, May 3, 2016, the Decision America Tour came to Nashville, Tennessee. The vast crowd, which is estimated to have been more than 8,600, is pictured at the top of this post.

Franklin Graham led the group in a series of prayers for the United States of America that included a prayer of repentance. What are some of our nation’s sins? Graham mentioned abortion, same-sex marriage, and gender confusion as reflective of a nation that has departed from God’s divine laws and plan. Homosexuality, he lamented, is celebrated and flaunted in our streets. He’s right. Even the federal government is participating in this defiance of God’s law, not only by commemorating and celebrating homosexuality and gay rights, but also by seeking to punish North Carolina for trying to keep men out of women’s restrooms! How low can we descend? I use the pronoun we because this isn’t a responsibility shouldered by the Obama administration alone. It’s a national problem. When Christians are silent about issues like this, we become complicit. We cannot shake our fist in God’s face and then expect Him to bless us as a nation.

Graham further lamented that prayer no longer is allowed in public schools and that the Ten Commandments no longer can be posted in classrooms. Essentially he said we’ve kicked God out of public life, so it’s no wonder we’re facing the challenges we are facing. Our only hope is to return to Almighty God!

He also said,

I’ve had people tell me, “Franklin, America’s gone too far.”

Oh, really? Not if the church comes together and begins to pray! God uses prayer! God gave favor to Nehemiah [as he led a contingent of God’s people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem], and God will give us favor here today! You see, the moral and political walls of our nation are crumbling. Walls are meant for protection, to keep bad people out. Gates can be open, and when threats come, gates can be closed. Our moral walls are down. Any type of wicked thought and activity and teaching can come and go. And our educators, our politicians, and many of our churches, sad to say, are more concerned about political correctness than God’s truth and His righteousness.…3

Christians need to pray, but they need to do more.

You may have come today, and you look at the state of our nation, and you say, “What can we do? What can I do? Be willing, in this next election, to vote! OK? Vote! And vote for candidates that stand for biblical truth and biblical principles, and that are willing to live them.

Some may ask, “Franklin, what would your father have done? Well, I can tell you right now, if my father were my age, and had the strength, he’d be doing exactly the same thing I’m doing. My father said in 1952, “I think it’s the duty of every individual Christian at election time to study the issues and the candidates and then go to the polls and vote.” Listen up, church! He said, “If I were a pastor of a church, I believe I would explain to my people where each candidate stood morally, spiritually, and in relationship to the church.” He said, “I feel that we’re going to have to meet our political obligations as Christians and make our voice known if America is to be preserved with the type of Christian heritage which has given us the liberties and the freedom we now enjoy. For unless America turns back to God, repents of its sin, and experiences spiritual revival, we will fail as a nation.”

I believe God honors leaders in high places who honor Him. Ladies and gentlemen, we need leaders today in high places, we need leaders in public office who’re not afraid or scared to honor Almighty God.4

Here are some highlights of the event from a News 2, WKRN-TV, report (edited slightly for clarity).

“I have zero hope in the Republican Party. I have zero hope in the Democratic Party. The only hope for the United States of America is Almighty God,” Rev. Franklin Graham said.

While not making any endorsements or naming politicians that he might uphold the Christian principles he spoke of, Graham said, [You] “might have to hold your nose on the presidential race,” but “pray to God, then go vote. He will tell you.”

Graham emphasized as well the importance of positions held in local governments such as those of mayor, county commissioners, and city council members. Contests for these offices are vital to changing the tenor and moral climate in America, and they must not be ignored. They need to be filled by godly men and women! The good news is that with God’s mercy and grace as well as the cooperation of His people to uphold his truth in their spheres of influence, there is hope for this nation.

The second of this week’s events is a nationwide observance. Thursday, May 5, is the 65th annual National Day of Prayer. Even though America had observed National Days of Prayer on various occasions before (also see this from WallBuilders), a bill passed Congress in 1952 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. Thirty-six years later, in 1988, an amendment to the law established the first Thursday in May as the nation’s annual NDP.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force, a non-profit organization promoting the NDP, chose the theme for this year’s event. It couldn’t be more appropriate. The theme calls out, “Wake Up, America!”

The theme is based on Isaiah 58:1: “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet.” This verse is printed on a variety of NDP 2016 promotional materials, including t-shirts, flyers, and posters.

Yet we need to know that these materials carry only part of Isaiah 58:1. The entire verse reads,

Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.

The prophet goes on to write specifically about those sins. You can read his God-breathed words here. As echoed throughout the rest of Scripture as well as in this passage, repentance is necessary for a rebellious people. While the word repent does not appear in the passage, the idea of repentance is prominent (see vv. 9-10).

God’s people were going through the motions of seeking Him without really doing so. No wonder God also inspired Isaiah to write,

These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me” (Isa. 29:13).

As we have affirmed, the theme for NDP 2016 could not be more appropriate. The challenge for Christians is twofold. First, we need to confess our own sins and get right with God, and second, we need to faithfully challenge others to repent, as they will never find real solutions to their problems without turning away from their sins and turning to the Lord for forgiveness and eternal life.

As believers, especially in light of Isaiah 58:1, let us first heed the call to make sure we are genuinely living out our faith and seeking and serving God authentically. This includes confessing our overt disobedience to God—but it also involves asking God for forgiveness of subtle sins, including the sin of allowing our relationship with Him to drift and/or to cool. It is all too easy to “go through the motions” of Christianity without really encountering God. Christian singer and songwriter Don Francisco addresses the need for an authentic and practical faith in “Steeple Song.”

Along these same lines, in a sermon that includes an exposition of Isaiah 58, pastor Ray Steadman (1917-1992) quotes James 1:27:  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Then he says,

Someone has written of this,

Pure religion prompts you
To give Dad a more welcome greeting
when he comes home than the dog.
To know if the postman’s wife is sick.
To put the hymnals back in the rack
to save the janitor work.
To speak kindly to your younger brother.
To iron the dress for your sister.
To listen to the troubles of another.
To give away not the unwanted dress
but the one you might wear again.
To remind the Sunday school superintendent
that Mrs. Smith might like to teach.
To help paint your neighbor’s basement.
To make benches for the beginners’ department.
To call the elevator man by his name.
To be on time for meals.

The acid test is not, “What does my religion do for me?” but, “What does it make me do for others?”

In this day of animosity toward God and righteousness, we as believers never have more desperately needed to practice an authentic faith, which includes loving and serving others and boldly declaring God’s truth. Put another way, it isn’t just with our voices that we must call on America to wake up, but also with transformed lives.

In our prayers on this, the 65th annual National Day of Prayer, let us ask the Lord to enable us to faithfully witness in all of these ways.


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.


1Franklin Graham, “Is the Handwriting on the Wall for America?” in Decision magazine, a publication of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, (Charlotte, NC, May, 2016), 15.


3,4For several hours following the Decision America, Nashville Tennessee Prayer Rally, a video of the proceedings was posted here. Quotations were transcribed from that video.

Image credit: Decision America Tour, Nashville, Tennessee

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Bible quotation marked ESV is from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV® Text Edition: 2011. The ESV® text has been reproduced in cooperation with and by permission of Good News Publishers. Unauthorized reproduction of this publication is prohibited. All rights reserved.