Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

The National Day of Prayer: A call back to our knees

  • Jeremy Reynalds ANS Correspondent
  • Published Apr 25, 2002
The National Day of Prayer: A call back to our knees
The tragedy of 9/11 catapulted many people into an instantaneous realization of the brevity of life and the immanence of death. After losing loved ones and colleagues with no warning, and jobs almost as quickly, formerly self-sufficient people who hadn't spent much time thinking about God or the meaning of life suddenly found themselves pondering both. Complacency went out the window and a realization of a need for God took its place.

Sadly, researchers say it appears that felt need for God didn't last very long and prayer has dropped back to where it was a few weeks before the attack. In other words, we've returned to our normal habit of only praying when we need to get out of a crisis. You know the sort of prayers. They range from, "Oh God, you get me out of this I'll go to church every week," to "God, if you heal my wife I'll serve you forever."

If you think that doesn't even come remotely close to describing you, are you sure? Sometimes even as Christian believers we tend to tend to forget our need for a moment-by-moment dependence on God. We fail to ask God what plans He has for us. We just run to Him when we need His help in getting out of a mess that we've caused by not listening to God in the first place. Many times we consider prayer an activity of last resort. We plan, scheme and strategize ad nauseam and it's only when things totally fall apart that we say, "I guess I'd better pray."

So with that in mind, and perhaps to help us turn over that proverbial new leaf, the National Day of Prayer (NDP) is just around the corner – on Thursday May 2.

If you're wondering exactly what the National Day of Prayer is all about, the NDP was signed into law as an annual event by President Truman in 1952. Former President Ronald Reagan signed an amendment to that law in 1988 that established the first Thursday of May each year as being a National Day of Prayer. However, days of prayer have been called for since 1775 when the Continental Congress mandated some time to be set aside for prayer for the forming of a new nation.

According to material on the NDP web site, the NDP Task Force "is an annual event established by an act of Congress which encourages Americans to pray for our nation, its people and its leaders. The NDP Task Force concentrates on the need to pray for those in leadership on all levels of national, church, and educational areas of influence."

Now I suspect that there may be a few of you out there who are beginning to fret. You're concerned that this is governmental support of the religious right. Don't worry. The National Day of Prayer is not a political event.

As the NDP Task Force says in its promotional material, "The NDP as mandated by our government belongs to all Americans. It is not sponsored or owned by any one group. Every American can observe the NDP in his or her own way. Each year, the President issues a proclamation in support of this significant day."

Despite this fact, as well known attorney Jay Sekulow writes on the NDP web site, don't be surprised if some of the critics claim that the NDP amounts to nothing short of a constitutional crisis and violates the separation of church and state.

But as Sekulow points out, "Those critics should understand what most Americans already know - that there is nothing illegal or unconstitutional about such an observance. In fact, prayer has been an integral part of this country since the beginning ... The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment simply states, 'Congress shall make no law respecting an Establishment of Religion. …' Nothing about the National Day of Prayer accomplishes such an establishment of religion. And, there is no legal precedent to suggest that such an observance violates the constitution."

This year it should be more apparent than ever that we need the National Day of Prayer. As a nation we're in trouble and moral relativism, self-help philosophies, multiculturalism, advanced learning and academia in general aren't doing much to help us sort things out. There's a verse in the Bible that reads, "Ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth." To me, that sounds like someone was describing the culture in which we live today.

It's important for us to remember that God is waiting to be invited in to help us solve the dilemmas that we face as a city, state and nation. He's just waiting to be asked. NDP Organizers have provided a very timely theme to help us do just that. It's taken from Psalm 46:1 and reads, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble."

To help expand on that theme, Lloyd Ogilvie, the Chaplain of the United States Senate, has written a prayer that NDP organizers are asking people to read nationally on Thursday May 2 at 12:00 midday. Titled "Prayer for America, it reads:

"Gracious God, all that we have and are is a result of Your amazing generosity. Since September 11th, in the battle against terrorism, we have discovered again that You truly are our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. We rededicate ourselves to be one nation under You. In You we trust. We reaffirm our accountability to You, to the absolutes of Your Commandments, and to justice in our society. Bless our President, Congress, and all our leaders with supernatural power. We commit ourselves to be faithful to You as Sovereign of our land and as our personal Lord and Savior. Amen."

NDP officials say that as people come together to read this prayer, "A huge wave of prayer will flow across our nation, expressing the unity of God's people and acknowledging His sovereignty. Thus, we will highlight this year's theme, 'America United Under God.'"

If we are to every successfully combat not only international and national problems but local issues as well, all of us need to take the words of Ogilvie's prayer to heart. While we're doing that, let's remember to pray for the civil libertarians as well. They also need God's blessings as well, even though they might not realize it.



Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, www.joyjunction.org. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico and is pursuing his PhD in intercultural education at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He may be contacted by e-mail at reynalds@joyjunction.org.