On the National Day of Prayer: Let us pray that our nation is on God’s side

Today is the National Day of Prayer. As a Christian, and a priest at that, every day is a day of prayer for me. But I am still grateful our nation sets aside a day for prayer.

Prayer changes people. Every time I pray, I know that it changes me and my life. Sometimes, I am even blessed to see change in others as I pray for them. For people of faith, prayer is an indispensable part of our relationship with God. All relationships require conversation, and prayer is our chance to talk with God. In prayer we share our hopes with God, and we listen for God’s hope for us.

The Second Continental Congress established days of prayer and fasting going back to the earliest years of our nation. Various other national days, including Thanksgiving, were set aside in the 1800s. It was 1952 when the National Day of Prayer as we know it was enacted.

Over these many years, our attitude toward national prayer has changed. Originally, there was a great deal of humility in the prayer. Sometimes people fasted, going without food as a gesture of humility before God. The point was to conform our nation to God’s will.

If you read political speeches from the 1800s, you’ll notice that when presidents invoked God, they expressed hope that our nation was on God’s side. They prayed with humility. This is a far cry from the common assumption today that our nation is always in the right, and that we must thereby speak with assurance that God is on our side. Too often, we tell God what to do, instead of asking God what we must do.

The National Day of Prayer, at its best, offers all of us in this wonderful nation the gift of praying that we might be blessed by God’s wisdom and courage.

The National Day of Prayer, at its best, offers all of us in this wonderful nation the gift of praying that we might be blessed by God’s wisdom and courage. We pray that we would always know and do those things God wills. This is not a day for using prayer to achieve whatever political aims we might want. It is rather a day for inviting God to guide our politics.

My prayer as a Christian, is always to have the wisdom, strength, and courage to be on God’s side. I’ll pray for justice, peace, and mercy for all. I’ll pray for freedom for all people to thrive as the people God made them to be. I’ll pray for our nation to use those things God has given us for the common good.

I am a priest in the Episcopal Church, and The Book of Common Prayer is one of the treasures of my church. Today, I invite you to join me in saying these words, from our prayer book, for our country.

“Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.

“Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Scott Gunn is an Episcopal priest and serves as executive director of Forward Movement. He is co-author of Faithful Questions: Exploring the Way with Jesus. You can follow him on Twitter @scottagunn or read his blog at www.sevenwholedays.org.