National Day of Prayer Highlights Importance Faith Has Played in America's Story
“Americans in every generation have turned to their Maker in prayer,” then-President Ronald Reagan said in his National Day of Prayer proclamation in 1988.
It was the same year that Reagan signed into law a bill designating the first Thursday in May as the annual National Day of Prayer. This year it fell on May 4.
Previously in 1952, President Harry Truman had signed legislation calling for an annual observance, but had not set aside what time of year it would be.
Reagan’s 1988 proclamation for the Day of Prayer stated, “In adoration and in thanksgiving, in contrition and in supplication, we have acknowledged both our dependence on Almighty God and the help He offers us as individuals and as a Nation.”
“In every circumstance, whether peril or plenty, whether war or peace, whether gladness or mourning, we have searched for and sought God’s presence and His power, His blessings and His protection, His freedom and His peace, for ourselves, for our children, and for our beloved land,” the 40th president added.
Reagan then went through some of the nation’s history noting the Liberty Bell actually has the Bible verse Leviticus 25:10 inscribed on it: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
He cited founding father Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”
Jefferson and the drafters of the Declaration of Independence made four references to God including “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” In other words, they were offering a prayer to God.
In honor of the National Day of Prayer, President Reagan said, “National prayer is deeply rooted in our American heritage. From the earliest days of our Republic, Americans have asked God to hear their prayers in times of sorrow & crisis & in times of bounty.” #prayer #religion pic.twitter.com/YRelPBIAi1
— The Reagan Foundation and Institute (@RonaldReagan) May 4, 2023
The Continental Congress regularly issued calls for prayer and fasting during the Revolutionary War.
In fact, Benjamin Franklin, who was a member of the Continental Congress, recounted to the delegates of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 that prayer had been essential during the Revolutionary War, which had officially ended a few years before in 1783.
“In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room [now Independence Hall in Philadelphia] for the Divine Protection,” Franklin said.
“Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor,” he added.
“And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance. I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men,” Franklin said.
He closed urging the delegates to turn again to prayer so they could find wisdom and agreement over what should be in the Constitution.
Abraham Lincoln during the throes of the Civil War in 1863 issued a proclamation appointing a day for prayer and fasting.
“Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord,” Lincoln said.
“But we have forgotten God,” the 16th president added. “We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
“Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness,” Lincoln said.
During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt — the evening following the D-Day landings in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944 — asked the millions of Americans listening to his radio broadcast to join him in prayer for the troops.
“Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity,” Roosevelt began.
At that time Nazi Germany had conquered much of Europe.
“Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith,” FDR continued. “Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.”
The president concluded, “Thy will be done, Almighty God.”
Prayer has played a central role in American life and success in the past, and if we wish to continue to live in a free and prosperous land, it must continue to hold a place of primacy going forward.