This Thursday May 2 has been designated as the National Day of Prayer. Every year the people of Gallia County gather in front of the Courthouse at noon in solidarity with millions of other Americans, who will be gathering at the same time in front of their county court houses across the United States. Americans of all faiths are asked to pause for a moment at noon to pray for our country. God knows how much our country needs prayer.
The University of Rio Grande has observed the National Day of Prayer every year since 1997 under the direction of its Chaplaincy Board. A number of different faiths are represented on the board. The observance includes prayers for our national and state leaders, for the community, for the University, for the troops, for youth, and for peace interspersed with some excellent music. This is a legacy of the late Dean Brown who initiated this tradition.
Historically, prayer has had a prominent part in the American culture. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention prayed for guidance. At first they could not reach a consensus and the outlook was bleak. Finally they declared a recess for prayer and fasting. Upon their return everything fell into place with Solomonic solutions in 1787. Since 1789, each house of Congress has its own chaplain who opens each session with a prayer and is available for spiritual guidance. Congress even has a joint prayer room in the Capitol.
The Continental Congress issued a proclamation recommending "a day of public humiliation, fasting, and prayer" be observed on July 20, 1775 during the thick of the Revolutionary War. Abraham Lincoln declared a day of "national humiliation, fasting and prayer" on April 30, 1863 in the midst of the Civil War. Both times the outcome was very much in doubt. In 1952 the National Day of Prayer became an annual event by a joint resolution of the United States Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman to encourage participation. Since 1988 it is held every year on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. Each year since, the President of the United States is supposed to issue a proclamation to reiterate this tradition and the Governor of Ohio does the same.
George Washington, a man of prayer who is considered to be the father of our country, laid the groundwork for a tradition that led every president to invoke God while in office. He observed: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports……I am sure that never was a people, who had more reason to acknowledge a Divine interposition in their affairs, than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency, which was so often manifested during our Revolution, or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them.”
In his first inaugural address, our first president stated: "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of Providential Agency..."
Abraham Lincoln carried on that tradition of prayer. As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, let us consider his own words: “Without the assistance of the Divine Being...I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him……I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for that day…….”.
In 1954 the Knights of Columbus successfully lobbied Congress and President Eisenhower to insert “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Now over half a century later it is fighting secular groups to keep it in the Pledge.
Often quoted in National Day of Prayer gatherings are two passages from the Bible. One is from the Old Testament 2 Chronicles 7:14 “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 I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
This quote reflects a pattern that kept repeating in the Old Testament. When the Jews were faithful, Israel would prosper and be powerful because God was with them. However, when they drifted away from God and fell into sin as a people even to the point of dabbling into pagan worship, the nation would become weak and corrupt, becoming the prey of their hostile neighbors despite the warnings of the prophets……the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, etc. God didn’t have to punish them; He just left them on their own to the consequences of their sins. Eleven of the twelve tribes disappeared because of intermarriage and absorption by their conquerors. They were taken to Babylon (present day Iraq) and enslaved for 300 years. After repenting and coming back to God, King Cyrus of Persia (Iran) conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return to the promised land and they prospered. Is America on a similar cycle, now headed to its decline and ruin?
A common New Testament passage quote is 1Timothy 2:1-4 “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”
May there be an enthusiastic response in our area at the Gallia, Meigs, and Mason County courthouses as the respective ministerial organizations keep the tradition going. Meigs has an extensive program and the Gallia gathering, chaired by the Rev. Scott Baker of New Life Lutheran, will be more informal with opportunities for the people present to offer prayers.