Why is today the National Day of Prayer?

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Why is today the National Day of Prayer?

May 7, 2015 - Jim Denison, PhD

A young woman with her hands folded in prayer against a muted American flag background (Credit: Evan Burton using works from Chad Madden and Shaun Menary via Lightsock)

In 1775, the Second Continental Congress issued a proclamation recommending a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” to be observed by the Colonies.  John Adams reported that this special day was more widely observed than church attendance on Sunday.  Responding to this success, Congress determined to call for a day of prayer and fasting each spring, and a day of thanksgiving and praise each fall.

Each president after Thomas Jefferson (except for Andrew Jackson) proclaimed a national day of prayer on special occasions or annually during the spring.  In 1952, during the Korean War, Billy Graham stated, “What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer. What a thrill would sweep this country.  What renewed hope and courage would grip the Americans at this hour of peril.”

In response, members of Congress introduced a joint resolution for an annual National Day of Prayer.  On April 17, 1952, President Harry Truman signed the bill, which left the annual date for subsequent presidents to choose.  Fast forward to 1988, when President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill designating the first Thursday in May as the annual observance for the National Day of Prayer.

Today’s prayer is being offered by millions of Christians in America and around the world.  It was written by Dr. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church and my longtime friend.  I am praying it this morning, and invite you to join me:

Heavenly Father,

We come to You in the Name that is above every name—Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Our hearts cry out to You.

Knowing that You are a prayer-answering, faithful God—the One we trust in times like these—we ask that You renew our spirits, revive our churches, and heal our land.

We repent of our sins and ask for Your grace and power to save us. Hear our cry, oh God, and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may walk in obedience to Your Word.

We are desperate for Your tender mercies. We are broken and humbled before You.

Forgive us, and in the power of Your great love, lift us up to live in Your righteousness.

We pray for our beloved nation. May we repent and return to You and be a light to the nations. And we pray for our leaders and ask that You give them wisdom and faith to follow You.

Preserve and protect us, for You are our refuge and only hope.

Deliver us from all fears except to fear You, and may we courageously stand in the Truth that sets us free.

We pray with expectant faith and grateful hearts.

In Jesus’ name, our Savior.


Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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