A good day to pray

May 2024 · Forward in Hope

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Today our country observes the National Day of Prayer. Established by a joint resolution of Congress and signed into law by President Truman in 1952, the National Day of Prayer exists to call all the people of the United States to a day of thankfulness for the freedoms and blessings we enjoy and to seek God’s mercy, guidance, and protection. Annually, the first Thursday of May is designated the National Day of Prayer by an official proclamation of the President. This year is the 73rd National Day of Prayer so proclaimed, but it also stands in line with calls for national days of “prayer, humiliation, fasting, and thanksgiving,” going back to the founding of the nation.

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely familiar with the National Day of Prayer before being asked to compose this blog post for today. I was aware that there are occasional calls, particularly in times of national tragedy, for prayer issued by the President. In reading up on the National Day of Prayer I was interested to learn that there was a custom in the early years of the United States for the President to call for a day of prayer and fasting in the spring and then a day of prayer and thanksgiving in the fall. The tradition of the spring day of prayer faded after the presidency of James Madison, though the days of thanksgiving in the fall continued especially in New England, ultimately giving rise to the establishment of Thanksgiving Day as a federal holiday.

Except for a brief revival by President Lincoln in 1863, a national day for prayer in the spring went unobserved until the 20th century. During the Korean War, and in response to calls for such a day by Reverend Billy Graham, Congress established that the President would annually proclaim a National Day of Prayer; and since 1988, that day has been designated for the first Thursday in May. Every president since Truman has done so, and a number have called for additional days of prayer at other times. Having learned about the history of the National Day of Prayer, especially it’s link to Thanksgiving Day, I am glad that we have a day set aside for people of all faiths and traditions to come together in ways appropriate to their practice to uphold our nation in prayer.

As a Christian, I am thankful for the call to enter into deeper union with God, in prayer, on behalf of all the people of our country. I am also professionally obligated to note that not only is the first Thursday in May a good day to pray but so is any day! In fact, every day is a good day to pray. The power of prayer, of course, isn’t limited to any particular day on the calendar. When we pray, we bring our selves, soul and body, into conversation with God. We can pray for all sorts of things and for every possible reason. Sometimes our prayer is in joyful thanksgiving and other times in sad desperation. We can pray for both monumental things and seemingly trivial reasons. We can pray in the formal language of a prayer book or in the personal language of the heart. Our prayers can take place in public worship or private devotion. The Scriptures might inspire our prayer or the awe of a perfect sunset. There is a prayer for nearly every occasion, some ancient and others new. Sometimes our most authentic prayers are sighs too deep for words. The opportunities for prayer are truly inexhaustible!

At Saint Francis Ministries we take to heart the practice of our founder, Fr. Bob Mize, to begin and end the day with God. His desire for SFM to be a ministry rooted in the awareness of God’s goodness and loving care was lived out in his own practice of prayer. Throughout our history, prayer has been a crucial component of our work. In particular, the Prayer of St. Francis has been a touchstone for many in our organization. Today, I continue the practice of daily praying for all in the care of SFM, clients and staff alike, in my own personal prayer and through such initiatives as the Daily Devotional. Moreover, our SFM website has a special page where anyone can submit a prayer request—which I receive in my inbox! Nearly every day I will receive at least a few prayer requests, from all over the world, and it is an honor to be able to hold those intentions in my prayer.

Truly, prayer is at the heart of who we are and what we seek to accomplish at SFM. Our mission of providing healing and hope for children and families to achieve our vision of transforming lives and systems would not be possible without it. I am inspired by this quote from President Biden’s proclamation of the National Day of Prayer for today:

Scripture tells us to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and be constant in prayer.  This year, my prayer for our Nation is that we keep faith that our best days are ahead of us and continue to believe in honesty, decency, dignity, and respect.  May we see each other not as enemies but as fellow human beings, each made in the image of God and each precious in His sight.  May we leave no one behind, give everyone a fair shot, and give hate no safe harbor.  May we remember that nothing is beyond our capacity if we act together.

Today, and every day, is a great day to pray—and then to act! Have a great day!

The Reverend Andrew O’Connor is Saint Francis Ministries’ Executive Officer for Mission and Ministry.