Benjamin Franklin once said, “Work as if you were to live a hundred years, pray as if you were to die tomorrow.” Americans certainly have the first part of Mr. Franklin’s sage advice down pat. We are one of the hardest working nations on the planet. But do we understand and take advantage of the second? That is, do we, as a people, earnestly use our privilege to come to God in prayer?
According to the Pew Research Center, 55% of Americans say “they pray every day” with women taking the lead. While 46% of men say daily prayer is part of their lives, a whopping 64% of women say they pray each day. Prayer is such a vital part of America that in 1952 President Truman established a National Day of Prayer. In 1988 President Reagan turned Truman’s resolution into law, making the first Thursday in May a designated National Day of Prayer.
Prayer in the public square remains a bit of a sticky wicket today in the U.S. because of various judicial rulings. In 1962 the U.S. Supreme court, in Engel v Vitale, abolished established prayer in public schools. Thus, prayer receded in many large and small ways in public life with multiple challenges continuing to this very day regarding students and faculty who wish to pray before athletic contests.
But perhaps the pendulum is beginning to swing back toward public prayer. In the case, Town of Greece v Galloway in 2014, the High Court ruled that the U.S. Legislature and administrative bodies are permitted to begin their sessions in prayer. Baby steps, perhaps, but steps nonetheless.
Still, America’s various laws and rulings have made public prayer a clandestine affair. But private prayer – and much of prayer is an intimate affair – is another matter altogether. In fact, 45% of Americans say they rely on prayer when making significant life decisions.
Pray as if it Matters
Just beyond the border of The Swamp lies Fourth Presbyterian Church. Established more than 200 years ago, Fourth Church has a rich and resonant history. Presidents and vice-presidents have sat in its pews, a former Pastor became Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, and cabinet members are among those listed in its membership directory.
But politics are not the focus of life at Fourth Presbyterian Church. “Prayer,” according to the church website, “is the driving force of our church and our lives.” Thus, prayer is part and parcel of worship and faith in most mainstream churches across America today.
Those organizing the National Day of Prayer are promoting unity as a theme for 2018. Based on the verse, “Making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace, (Eph 4:3)” they challenge prayer warriors today to pray in such a manner as to bring our nation together:
Our hope is that individuals, churches, and spiritual leaders in America, will humble ourselves and unify in prevailing prayer for the next great move of God in America. We can come together in clear agreement that this is our greatest need. We can become a visible union, standing together in prayer. We can pray more than ever before, and practice extraordinary prayer for the next great move of God in America that will catapult the message of the gospel nationally and internationally.
So, for one day at least, let’s put partisan politics aside and build bridges with our prayers. The clarion call of the late, great Billy Graham regarding prayer comes to mind, “To get nations back on their feet, we must first get down on our knees.”