Today is the National Day of Prayer. You can read here about many of the official activities associated with the day, or to find lists of public officials to pray for.
The important thing, of course, is to actually pray — together with other Christians or alone in your private place of communion with God. Give special time and energy to calling on God in prayer today.
Although the official declaration calling for a day of prayer was not enacted by the United States Congress until 1952, pastors and parents and Presidents have always called for special seasons of prayer throughout the history of our nation.
In the midst of the Civil War, Senator James Harlan of Iowa introduced a resolution in the Senate, asking President Lincoln to proclaim a national day of prayer and fasting. Lincoln agreed and signed the resolution (see below).
In so many ways, the language of “God and Country” has changed since 1863. Church, state and home have all experienced one revolution after another. It is often said that Abraham Lincoln would have more cultural common ground with Abraham the patriarch than he would with a person born today.
And yet, Christians still worship the only living God, and we still hold our earthly citizenship in this country. Though much has changed, much remains the same. We are forever dependent on God. We hold no “plan B” in our minds, just in case the “trust in God” strategy for our life and soul doesn’t pan out.
Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day
March 30, 1863
By the President of the United States of America.
Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.
And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.
And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. 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. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.
All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.