Last year, the annual National Day of Prayer was marked by the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Across the country, many turned to prayer out of fear, others out of habit. Some prayed as a last resort. Amid panic, prayer brought peace to many of our friends and neighbors. As our nation emerges on the other side of the pandemic, we have much to be grateful for. However, deep political divisions, threats around the world, and persistent threats to religious freedom remind us that the urgent need for prayer remains.
The legacy of America's National Day of Prayer reminds us of the importance of the freedom to practice our faith in the public square. This year's theme asks that the Lord would pour out "life, love, and liberty" on our nation. As we come together to pray for these and other blessings, let us pray specifically for a culture that values and respects religious freedom at home and across the globe.
Calls for the nation to come together in prayer has deep roots in American history. Informally practiced by the majority of our nation's leaders, the National Day of Prayer was officially established as an annual event on the first Thursday of May in 1952 after evangelist Billy Graham urged Congress to pass legislation that formalized it. Since then, every president has recognized the day.
President Ronald Reagan said of the National Day of Prayer, "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."
For believers, prayer offers an opportunity to bring our needs directly to God, the Creator, Savior, and Sustainer of the world. The discipline of prayer is rooted in the belief that God hears our prayers and desires for us to bring to Him our cares and concerns. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and omnipresent, and yet, He still wants to talk with us through prayer.
As our nation grapples with division and navigates various challenges, the National Day of Prayer is an opportunity to pursue unity. President Abraham Lincoln -- who oversaw the nation in its most divided and turbulent state -- believed that despite challenging circumstances Americans should remember God and our shared values.
Lincoln reminded Americans, "We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven... But we have forgotten God. 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."
As we express gratitude for our blessings and pray for our nation, we ought also to pray for those around the world longing for the freedoms we have, especially religious freedom. Scripture exhorts us to remember and pray for those being persecuted for their faith in Christ. For example, the Apostle Paul asked for prayer while confined in prison himself (Eph. 6:18-20). Similarly, the writer of Hebrews encouraged his readers to "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body" (Heb. 13:3). United by our common faith in Christ, our brothers and sisters suffering persecution around the world ought to be regularly in our prayers.
Those facing persecution abroad have often found hope in the knowledge that they are being lifted up in prayer. When Pastor Andrew Brunson was held captive in a Turkish prison for his faith, he found deep encouragement knowing people were praying for him. In his darkest moments, Brunson valued the prayers of those around the world.
Remembering and praying for the persecuted church is an important way to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31).
In today's challenging times, there is much that warrants prayer. This National Day of Prayer, the following are worth remembering in our prayers:
- Pray for God's blessing on the United States. Specifically, pray that our society, culture, and politics would honor God.
- Pray for revival and the spread of the gospel. Pray Americans would unite around our shared values and reject the voices sowing division and discord.
- Pray for perseverance and protection for Christians around the world. Unfortunately, religious freedom is not the norm around the world. Pray that governments and those in authority see the value in protecting religious freedom and conscience rights.
- Pray for wisdom and discernment for those in authority, including government and church leaders (1 Tim. 2:2).
Much of the recent political discourse has been focused on unity. Yet, true unity is not found in politics. Unity is found in Christ. By joining together to pray for our nation and our neighbors at home and abroad, we can find hope, peace, and unity.
This piece was originally published in the Western Journal.