From General Washington’s struggle at Valley Forge to the present, this Nation has fervently sought and received divine guidance as it pursued the course of history. This occasion provides our Nation with an opportunity to further recognize the source of our blessings, and to seek His help for the challenges we face today and in the future. -Ronald Reagan
The Second Continental Congress (as in the guys that signed the Declaration of Independence) first asked colonists to pray in 1775, recommending “a day of public humiliation, prayer and fasting.” Only in 1952 did President Harry Truman sign a bill stating that each successive president must designate a national day of prayer each year on a date of his choosing. A National Prayer Committee was formed in 1982 to establish a fixed day annually. Since 1988 the National Day of Prayer has been the first Thursday of May. George W. Bush is the only president in recent history to host an annual event in the nation’s capital in observance of the Day of Prayer (Reagan and H.W. Bush each had one).
It should come as no surprise that the Freedom From Religion Foundation tried to sue the government in federal court citing the proclamation of a National Day of Prayer as unconstitutional. Freedom of religion and expression are rights secured by the First Amendment, therefore freedom of religion has historically been taken as our Constitutional right. It seems to me personally that freedom from religion is unconstitutional. The initial decision in their favor was unanimously overturn by the Seventh Court of Appeals in 2011. The court cited Lincoln’s second inaugural speech which made seven references to God and three to prayer.
For the time being the National Day of Prayer is the law of the land but it may not always be so. The political and cultural tide seem to be shifting. Also if studying history teaches us anything is that military prowess and economic prosperity are not sustainable. Every world empire had a rising and falling period; being the most powerful nation in the world contributes to our arrogance (and ignorance) but does little to impress God. Without getting into it too deeply, America has no special favor in God’s eyes. Besides, Christianity seems to thrive during times its followers are persecuted. China and the former Soviet Union are recent examples, the Roman Empire is perhaps the most dramatic. Before Christianity was adopted by the emperor Christians were subject to horrific public execution yet their numbers swelled from only a few to over a million in a period of 300 years.
We should be excited about and thankful for a national observance of prayer. More importantly is the realization that we are subject to a higher power, namely the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who establishes kings and kingdoms. On May 1st Americans are encouraged to pray for our national interests, communities, churches and schools. Let us also pray for all Christians everywhere, the persecuted church and for the spread of the Gospel. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:13-14