Should Christians participate in the National Day of Prayer? What kind of question is that? A lot of Christian theologians are rather ambivalent about Christians participating in or getting worked up over the National Day of Prayer. That's partly the case because they realize that America does not stand in the same covenant relationship with God that national Israel did under the Old Covenant. Old Covenant calls to national prayer don't apply to Americans the same way they did to Israelites. By way of illustration, God's promise to heal the land if His people who are called by His name humble themselves does not apply to America but to His covenant people Israel (2 Chron. 7:14). America is not God's people.
Of course, 2 Chron. 7:14 does apply to the church because the church is God's people. God promises to heal the church where it needs healing if His people will humble themselves and pray.
Another reason certain theologians are not completely committed to the National Day of Prayer is its ecumenical nature. Non-Christians will be praying to idols along side Christians who will be praying to God. There will be many gatherings where Christians and pagans are praying side by side to no one in particular so as not to offend. And yes, there will be gatherings that are exclusively Christian and there will be Christians praying in the privacy of their own homes; hence the mixed feelings.
So, in the minds of some, there is a real question on the table. It's not illegitimate. Accordingly, let's affirm that a congressional call to the nation to pray is civil religion and not Christian. In other words, I'm ambivalent as well about the U.S. Congress' National Day of Prayer. Congress is not the people of God. Let's also affirm that we can't stand side by side with non-Christians and pray to a benign deity.
But, the Bible also tells Christians to pray for the nation. Paul said, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence" (1 Tim. 1:1-2). The question that struck me as I was thinking about all the talk surrounding the National Day of Prayer, with the Pentegon banning certain Christian leaders and other related issues, as well as the considerations I've mentioned, was quite simple: am I praying for our leaders and the nation as God commands? Would not today be a good day to pray for the nation as any day would? Would it not be appropriate to gather with fellow believers and pray for the nation because God's people are called to pray and because God hears the prayers of His people?
If I miss a prayer gathering today I'm not unspiritual because Congress has declared it a National Day of Prayer. But, it would be a wonderful thing to pray for the nation today. In fact, it would be the best thing we could do today for a nation filled with lost people. God doesn't promise to change hearts through political action but He does promise to change hearts through prayer. Paul says He desires even kings to be saved. God is the only one who can save any and all of our national leaders who are not saved. He wants us to pray for Him to work in their hearts. That's why Paul says in vv. 3-4 that prayer for our nation's leaders is "good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."
At the same time, God wants us to pray for our national leaders that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives (v. 2). Prayer is God's weapon to keep the state from overreaching into our lives.
Of course, such notions highlight the fact that God doesn't promise to honor His kingdom advance through public policy decisions but He does promise to advance His kingdom through prayer. And that reality combined with what we've said to this point highlights the fact that God is more concerned with His kingdom than He is with man's kingdom (America). They are not the same thing.
So, pray today, and think about what you're praying for when you do. Pray for the nation that things would get better. Pray for our leaders that the government might not intrude further into our lives. Pray for their salvation. And pray for God's kingdom to advance on this National Day of Prayer because God's kingdom is ultimate, not this earthly kingdom; and God's promises are to His people, the church, not a nation not in covenant with Him.
Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about yourself, God, and others . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Receive a FREE commentary and learn more at http://www.trueworldview.com