Despite the annual objections of vocal atheist groups, thousands of citizens across the United States participated in the National Day of Prayer on May 4.
Held each year on the first Thursday of May, the National Day of Prayer invites people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.
Most presidents since then have issued proclamations on the National Day of Prayer. President Trump’s proclamation read in part:
“The right to pray freely and live according to one’s faith is under threat around the world from coercive governments and terrorist organizations. We therefore pray especially for the many people around the world who are persecuted for their beliefs and deprived of their fundamental liberty to live according to their conscience. We pray for the triumph of freedom over oppression, and for God’s love and mercy over evil.”
This year’s theme was: “For Your Great Name’s Sake! Hear Us … Forgive Us … Heal Us!” which is inspired by Daniel 9:19: “O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God” (NIV 1984).
While official reports on this year’s events were still being gathered at press time, Dion Elmore, chief communications officer for the National Day of Prayer Task Force, estimated that some 50,000 events took place across the country. The events drew anywhere from a handful to thousands.
The gathering in Albuquerque drew nearly 2,000 to pray at Civic Plaza, according to New Mexico Prays. In Warren, Mich.—a city in which the Freedom From Religion Foundation has long complained about prayer activities and nativity scenes on city property—a standing-room-only crowd of about 450 prayed at City Hall.
In Washington, D.C., the National Day of Prayer had a significantly higher profile than in recent years. Gary Bauer, president of American Values, recalled the attitude of the past administration: “First, Obama cancelled National Day of Prayer events at the White House,” Bauer said. “Then he blocked Franklin Graham from speaking at the Pentagon.”
By contrast, this year’s events included a meeting between President Trump and a number of religious leaders, during which President Trump signed an executive order promoting free speech and religious liberty.
And for the first time, the national observance of the day was held at the U.S. Capitol building, in the National Statuary Hall.
“This year was historic,” Elmore told Decision. “We were not only able to reach millions with the challenge to pray for America, we were encouraged to have the president acknowledge the National Day of Prayer from the White House, and blessed to have the congressionally sponsored observance moved from Capitol Hill to the very halls of the U.S. Capitol.”
Barry Black, chaplain of the United States Senate, prayed at the event: “Lord, remind us that righteousness is a national security issue, that righteousness exalts a nation but sin is an equal opportunity destroyer.”
Anne Graham Lotz, chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, was the main speaker at the national observance.
“Our nation is in trouble,” Lotz said. “It’s almost mind-blowing that America has to have an executive order to guarantee religious liberty in America, which shows how far we have fallen from our foundation of faith in the living God. And I believe the chaos and the confusion, the anger, the animosity, the division and the polarization is evidence that God is backing away. And He’s warned us again and again, if we forsake Him, He will forsake us.”
She led those gathered in repenting of both personal and national sin (see sidebar), and she spoke of Daniel’s faithful prayer—and God’s answer—after King Darius ordered that no one could pray to anyone except the king.
“God heard Daniel’s prayer,” Lotz said, “because our God is a prayer-hearing, a prayer-answering, a miracle-working God. And when we come to Him according to His Word, when we pray and we seek His face and we humble ourselves and we repent of our sin, then we have the right, in our covenant relationship with Him, to claim the promise that He will hear and He will forgive and He will heal. And I believe tonight is a beginning.”
The Scripture quotation marked NIV 1984 is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.