Confessions of a Theist
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Today is the National Day of Prayer. As a Christian I am thankful for the freedom to pray in Jesus’ name in the nation’s capitol. I will join millions in praying for our nation. In our opinion, it is not only a matter of personal liberty; it is a privilege to pray for the peace, protection, and prosperity of our nation.
I do not see any conflict with my faith and the constitution. I also see no conflict with other faiths, which are free to pray on this day as well. My views are contrary to last month's ruling of Judge Barbara Crabb of Wisconsin. She, and a growing number of atheists, secularists, and others, are somehow threatened by both prayer and the folks they call the "religious right." To call the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional is as absurd as saying that if the president throws the first ball at a baseball game that he is abusing his powers as our national leader.
So why the controversy? America is a majority Christian nation with a strong belief in religious liberty for all faiths. If this were a nation in Africa, South America, or another continent, there would be no question that the majority faith would conduct prayers and religious observances.
Last week I addressed this question based on a political worldview - left versus right. Today I want to think about the question of why people chafe at the idea of a National Day of Prayer from a spiritual point of view. Yesterday, at a men's prayer gathering in which I had the privilege of preaching along side of Franklin Graham, James Dobson, and Tony Perkins, I had a very simple epiphany. I realized that the nation has to choose whether it will make room for God or not. I realized that we are at a unique generational crossroads. This generation must decide if America will continue as a Christian Nation or not. A Christian nation in practice - not just in lip service.
Perhaps there is a bigger, divine game plan involved in the controversy around prayer this year. As a Christian I believe that God has a game plan for the nation, but the activation of that plan requires the prayers of the people of faith. Shirley and James Dobson have simply given unity and focus to the much-needed prayer for our nation.
Let's look at some history. The National Day of Prayer was established by Congress in 1952. Over the years it has seemed like an innocent and innocuous ceremony. Who could argue the right of believing citizens to pray, especially when their money, constitution, and many public buildings made mention of the name of their God. Fifty-eight years later the celebration, "has become a flashpoint in the national culture wars, pitting evangelical Christians against secularists of various stripes and religious minorities" according to Yonat Shimron of Newsobserver.com. The writer's title was even more revealing - "Not All Say Amen to National Day of Prayer."
As I did a little research on how the 1952 decision evolved to create a singular day of prayer, I discovered that congress actually responded to an appeal by Rev. Billy Graham. It seems that during a Washington, D.C. crusade, he made a bold, almost prophetic declaration that caught fire. He said, "What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before almighty God in prayer."
Ultimately, President Truman signed the measure, which mandated that presidents would "set aside and proclaim a suitable day each year, other than a Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."
How ironic it is that Rev. Billy Graham's son, Franklin, is now the Chairman of the National Day of Prayer Committee. It is almost as though God is providentially reminding us during the worst financial crisis in our nation (since the Great Depression) that we need Him to lead us and to intervene in our affairs. The God of heaven may be reminding us that the 1952 decision to begin a National Day of Prayer was more than a good idea, but rather it may be part of a divine strategy to give Him the opportunity to protect and nurture this great nation.
The words of Rev. Graham on another day of prayer called the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance (just three days after the 9/11 tragedy) are important to remember at this time. Graham declared, "One of the things we desperately need is a spiritual renewal in this country. We need a spiritual revival in America. And God has told us in His Word, time after time, that we are to repent of our sins and we're to turn to Him and He will bless us in a new way."
His words are certainly more true today than they were 9 years ago. At age 89, Graham has often been called "America's pastor." The famed evangelist has not only held over 400 crusades in 185 countries, he has also advised nine U.S. presidents.
In light of these words, let us act and pray for our nation on this important day, but our prayers cannot stop here. Faithful Christians of all political parties and of all denominations should heed the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14-15 and Rev. Billy Graham. If our people pray and repent of their sin, and turn to God, the Lord will bless America in every realm of influence: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion. And who can argue against it