Origin of Our National Day of Prayer
It was in the middle of the Korean War in 1952, when World War III seemed imminent, that the first Thursday of May was set aside by Congressional Resolution, as the National Day of Prayer. This Act of Congress, petitioning the God of Heaven to come to the aid of our nation in time of crisis, has a long and noble history in America.
On April 19, 1775, near an obscure town named Lexington, a small rag-tag band of militia met a vastly superior force of 700 British Redcoats, who were on their way to Concord, Massachusetts, to confiscate the ammunition that the colonies were stockpiling. In what became a running battle between Lexington and Concord, this spirited band of Patriots exchanged fire with the military of the world’s greatest empire at that time.
Their next thought was probably, What on earth were we thinking?
In respond to this bold and perhaps rash deed, the Second Continental Congress met 7 weeks later on June 12, 1775 and issued the very first Proclamation for a National Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer.
The Continental Congress selected a Thursday, July 20, 1775 for the 13 colonies to pray. This the precedent for selecting a Thursday for a National Day of Prayer. The Continental Congress recommended that all denominations assemble for public worship, and petition the God of Heaven to intervene on their behalf against the tyranny of Great Britain.
The rest, as we say, is history. Against all Odds, but with Firm Reliance on Divine Providence, a Nation was born, declaring to all the world the reasons for separation from Great Britain: That All men are Created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights among which are Life, Liberty and the right to hold and enjoy their property.
This was the form in which our fundamental rights were described, thanks to the English Jurist, Blackstone, whose influence was paramount in the Colonies. I believe either Jefferson himself or the Committee on style later changed the use of the term property for the pursuit of happiness. That was a mistake for the centrality of private property would be America’s bulwark against the Socialism that would rise up during the convulsions of French Revolution 13 years later, in 1789.
Not long afterwards, the representatives of this new nation met at Philadelphia, to fashion a Constitution in order to create a – “more perfect Union” – to facilitate the growth of “justice, prosperity and the blessings of liberty” they had so dearly won.
But Forgetting the Divine Hand that had given them victory, the delegates fell to provincial bickering. State’s Representation, then the most controversial issue, alone, could have aborted the Constitutional Convention. Tempers flared and local interests clashed, as the delegates pushed the agendas of their individual states.
It was during this quagmire of divisiveness that the elder statesman, Ben Franklin, made his famous Appeal – reminding, rather than urging – the delegates, to ask the God of Heaven to guide their deliberations.
Now imagine the scene: The house is in pandemonium. Benjamin Franklin is sitting in his usual place in the corner. He is 90 years old. He is suffering from Gout. He has one leg propped up on a chair to ease the pain. He will not stand. He raises his crutch indicating he wishes to speak. And instantly a wave of silence rolls through the room. Franklin is so revered that no one dare interrupt him. A giant among those noble patriots. He has been fighting for America’s independence of over four decades.
Addressing George Washington, who chaired the Convention, as Sir, Ben Franklin said:
“In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this [very] room for the divine protection.
”Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. . . .
“ And have we Now Forgotten that Powerful Friend?
“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.
And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, Is it Probable that an Empire can Rise Without His Aid?”
Franklin did not think so, and he asked the delegates to appoint a Chaplin to the Convention to say daily prayers before their deliberations.
Well, they did not have the money to hire a Chaplin, but the request was seconded by a majority of delegates and was duly submitted to the First United States Congress. And that is how and why we have daily prayers in the United States Senate and House each morning, to this very day.
Today we are trying to sustain that Empire, state by state, county by county and town by town. But I am not sure that the Founding Fathers would, in many cases, be proud of the job we are doing. Being largely a devout group of statesmen, I am sure the Founding Fathers would recommend that we take to heart, the injunction of Benjamin Franklin, and before him, of King Solomon, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 7: 14:
“If My people, who are Called by My Name, will Humble themselves and Pray, and Seek my face and Turn from their Wicked ways, then I will Hear from Heaven, and will Forgive their sin and Heal their land.”
By the way, this prayer may be the best solution to the water crisis in California; And while we are praying, we should consider building more dams, for God helps those who help themselves. But that is a different story.