Once again, with the coming of spring, we in the USA have what many consider a strange custom known as the National Day of Prayer.
Since 1952, by an act of the Congress, the nation has observed the day. It is worth noting that then-President Harry Truman proclaimed July 4 of that year as a national day for petitioning the Almighty. The 1952 act of the Congress was later affirmed by the enactment of Public Law 100-307. The measure, which set the first Thursday in May as an annual National Day of Prayer, was signed by President Ronald Reagan on May 8, 1988. The custom, altogether voluntary, still stands.
While the annual observance of what we call the National Day of Prayer has a fairly recent origin, the idea is not new. In fact, it was quite common — indeed, essential — in early American history. At this time 246 years ago, the fate of the American Colonies was hanging in the balance, when the Continental Congress proclaimed Friday, May 17, 1776, as “a day of humiliation, fasting and prayer” for the success and well-being of the young nation in its struggle against Great Britain.
The patriots assembled in Philadelphia went so far as to appeal for “God’s superintending providence … and His aid and direction.” The Continental Congress also called upon some introspection as its delegates carried out their duties of charting a course for what would become the greatest nation in the history of the world.
The solemn day was to be a time to “confess … our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease God’s righteous displeasure, and through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain this pardon and forgiveness.”
Just a few weeks later, the Continental Congress declared the American Colonies to be “free and independent states” with no allegiance to the British Crown. The Declaration of Independence itself ended with an appeal “to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.”
As we look at our nation and the world around us now, it is worth asking if a time of prayer, along with individual and collective self-examination, is fitting. When we see a world that is fraught with war and rumors of war, the prospect of spreading food shortages, spiraling debt that can and will destroy nations, rising crime, and political divisions marked by raw hatred, it would be well to ask if we can solve our problems apart from Help from On High.
At this time, we the people should ask if we are in our 1776 moment. Or are we in our 476 moment? For those who may not know, 476 (Common Era) was the date of the fall of the Roman Empire.
Will we have national renewal and rededication to the principles that made us great? Or will we, like Rome, fall upon the trash heap of history?
The decision is ours.