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Yesterday Was the National Day of Prayer: Do Americans Still Believe God Will Answer?


“We need God to help us — now more than ever. The question we have to ask ourselves is: Will we ask Him? Do we believe He can still change men’s hearts, and will He turn a nation back from its wickedness?”

–Nathan Skates

The day was June 12,1775, less than two months after the Shot Heard ‘Round the World at Lexington and Concord when a group of colonists with little to no military training had first engaged one of the largest and most powerful empires the world had ever seen.

In response, the Second Continental Congress, declared a “Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer” throughout the colonies,

“…that we may with united hearts and voices, unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins and offer up our joint supplications to the All-wise, Omnipotent and merciful Disposer of all Events, humbly beseeching Him to forgive our iniquities…It is recommended to Christians of all denominations to assemble for public worship and to abstain from servile labor and recreations of said day.”

The Continental Congress continued these declarations throughout the War for American Independence. Those ragtag colonists who risked their safety, their fortunes, their sacred honor, and their lives won their independence and, after being delivered through dark times, forged a new nation.

On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a national day of prayer, calling on all Americans to give thanks to God for granting the nation its freedom.

Washington said it was the “duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor” and recommended “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

He asked for prayers “to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws,” as well as “to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us — and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.”

Yesterday was the National Day of Prayer and religious leaders across the country reminded us of the power and efficacy of prayer and called on Americans to make petition for our nation. Present in many of their calls was the refrain that America is, once again, facing dark days.

Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family, stated,

“In these tenuous and trying times, the very best thing we can do is to bring our cares and concerns to God in prayer. No matter how noisy the news, He is listening. He understands. Prayer is a lightning rod, a live wire. It allows us to communicate and connect with the one Person who has the power to soothe every sorrow, heal every wound, dry every tear, and restore every loss. Prayer is not passive. It’s the best action we can take.”

There are some people in this country who think prayer doesn’t accomplish anything. Maybe others think that the problems we face are too small for God to care about. Others may think the problems are too big: crime, violence and murder, homelessness, economic decline, depravity, the rampant struggles with mental health problems, depression, and anxiety.

Some may simply believe that God does not answer prayers, or at least not on behalf of a nation. They would say that America defeated Great Britain because of natural reasons.

That isn’t what Washington or his contemporaries thought. They recognized God’s providence at work when they saw it. Washington was an experienced but not always successful soldier. His men were inexperienced. He couldn’t get enough funds from a struggling Congress to even pay his soldiers so he watched many of them walk away. He watched others die from combat and disease. Washington nonetheless chose to stay with his men through a harsh winter at Valley Forge, seeing his ill-equipped fighting force of everyday Americans suffering frostbite and trying to keep from succumbing to the cold.

Washington knew better than anyone the seemingly hopeless state of America’s cause, but he also saw how many miraculous events took place when his Army, despite everything working against it, defeated Great Britain, the greatest military in the world. He was convinced that Almighty God had won the victory and called in his later proclamation for Americans to thank Him for it.

He wrote:

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nationfor the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

It wasn’t the first time God had delivered a nation from a mighty military; the Bible has numerous examples of His feats.

Now, though, America faces something different — not a foreign power visible to all, but a spiritual one that is invisible and farther beyond our natural ability to overcome than the British were for the colonists. We face Satan and his demons and the power of sin which is in the hearts of men. We need God to help us — now more than ever. The question we have to ask ourselves is, will we ask Him? Do we believe He can still change men’s hearts and will He turn a nation back from its wickedness?

Ephesians 3:20-21 says,

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

There is nothing too big for God. He has been changing hearts for all of history. The man who God used to write Ephesians was the same man who held the coats of those who stoned Stephen. God can change the heart of any person in our country. We have read of His works in His Word. Many of us have seen His work in our lives and have experienced the change He can bring in even the most wicked of sinners.

Let us ask Him to do those mighty deeds again. Let us praise Him for who He is, confess our sins, thank Him for what He has done, and ask Him to do a work in our children, our spouses, our teachers, our political leaders, our members of the entertainment industry, our churches. Pray for that work in our own hearts.

He can do it. We just have to ask Him.

Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.

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