David Closson is FRC's Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview. This article appeared in the National Review on May 7, 2020.
For 68 years, on the first Thursday in May, Americans have observed the National Day of Prayer. As the country continues to grapple with the fallout of the coronavirus and faces an uncertain road to recovery, it has never been more appropriate to pray for the health and well-being of our nation.
The National Day of Prayer is intentionally nonsectarian and nonpolitical. Its only goal is to mobilize public prayer for God’s blessing on America. In recent years, Americans have observed the day with local prayer breakfasts, prayer vigils, and flagpole gatherings. Although public commemorations have been canceled or moved online this year, Americans still have much to pray about.
The road to normalcy will be long, and there are lingering questions on how to balance health concerns with getting the country back to work. On this National Day of Prayer, here are five segments of the American population to pray for particularly:
First, we should pray for our government leaders. Over the last two months, local, state, and federal officials have had to make difficult decisions related to public health and safety. President Trump and state and local officials need wisdom as they work to reopen the country’s economy without expediting the spread of the virus.
Second, we should pray for healthcare workers. Doctors, nurses, and EMTs have worked long shifts and braved dangerous environments to care for those suffering from the virus. We should pray for their safety and the safety of their families. Also, pray for those working to develop cures and vaccines.
Third, we should pray for our church leaders. As churches begin reopening, pastors will need wisdom to ensure that their churches are safe and ready for public gatherings. Pray that churches use best-practices in terms of sanitation and make appropriate adjustments as they reopen.
Fourth, the unprecedented nature of the pandemic has garnered nonstop media coverage. While some journalists have exploited the crisis to score political points and relay a politically motivated narrative, many do seek to convey the latest information and news accurately. Pray for journalists, that they report with honesty and integrity, as the nation reopens.
Fifth, pray that those who have become infected in the course of fighting the virus will be healed and that the country will be safe to reopen soon. In early March, as the coronavirus forced businesses, schools, sports leagues, restaurants, and churches to close, President Trump specifically asked Americans to pray for God to place His healing hand on the nation. The loss of human life, employment, and personal savings has been tragic. Thankfully, though, the worst-case scenarios envisioned by many public-health officials have not been realized. Of course, many Americans still face significant challenges, but the worst of the pandemic might be behind us, and as some states ease restrictions we should pray for the nation’s health and a speedy economic recovery.
National days of prayer are not new. Americans have called for national prayer in times of crisis since 1775, when the Continental Congress designated a day to pray for the new nation. George Washington observed a day of “fasting, humiliation, and prayer” in 1779, and in the formative years of the nation, Presidents John Adams, James Madison, and Abraham Lincoln all called their fellow citizens to prayer.
The modern iteration of the National Day of Prayer was first observed in 1952. Evangelist Billy Graham sensed a widespread desire for prayer as America found itself involved in another war. Congress heeded his recommendation, and President Harry Truman signed the resolution into law. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed an amendment that designated the first Thursday in May as a national day of prayer.
Christians believe that one of the greatest acts of faith is prayer (Eph. 6:18). In fact, the Bible encourages us to pray and teaches that God delights in the prayers of the faithful (Proverbs 15:8b). For Christians, this is even more reason to pray during the current pandemic. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
It is always appropriate to call on God in prayer. This is especially true in these challenging times, and on a day designated by our national leaders for public prayer. So let us spend this National Day of Prayer asking God for the things our country desperately needs: wisdom, leadership, healing, safety, and unity.