Last Sunday the president of the United States came to visit my 91-year-old father, Billy Graham, and me at my father’s home in North Carolina. If either of us wanted to visit the president at his home or even just to speak with him on the phone, we would have to navigate one or more telephone operators, receptionists or executive assistants–and still might not be successful in reaching him.
This morning, and numerous times throughout the day, I spoke directly to the God of this universe–no switchboard, secretaries, call screeners or voicemail. What an amazing thing! Even more amazing, God was waiting on my call and anxious to hear from me and talk to me, no matter how many times I called.
Prayer–talking to God–is a vibrant and vital personal practice; but it is also a very real part of our national history. In 1775 George Washington and the Continental Congress requested the colonies to pray for wisdom in a war for independence. Nearly 100 years later, President Abraham Lincoln offered a proclamation of a day of “humiliation, fasting and prayer.”
Almost a century later, in 1952, President Harry Truman signed a joint resolution of Congress declaring an annual, national day of prayer. President Ronald Reagan, in 1988 amended the law, permanently establishing the first Thursday of May as the National Day of Prayer, a tradition every president, Republican and Democrat alike, has honored by signing a proclamation encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.
President Barack Obama will recognize this special day despite a legal challenge to its constitutionality by a U.S. Circuit Court Judge in Wisconsin. Last week, I wrote to thank the president for his decision to appeal this ruling and his plans to recognize this 59th annual observance of a national day of prayer.
The Bible, which I believe to be God’s written Word to mankind, has much to say about prayer. It instructs us to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). It tells us to pray for one another (James 5:16), to pray for the sick (James 5:14) and to pray to avoid temptation (Matthew 26:41). Scripture even instructs us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). But the greatest prayer anyone can ever pray is the one the Apostle Paul talks about, the prayer to be saved: “whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).
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Prayer is something in which no one has any advantage over another. The rich man’s prayer carries no more clout than the beggar’s; the king or president’s line to God is not any more open than the average citizen’s. As many of us gather in Washington, D.C., next Thursday to pray for our nation, no senator or White House official will wield any more prayer power than the cab driver or the doorman.
At least on May 6, let’s put aside our political labels, corporate titles, skin color and philosophical differences and reach out directly to almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of Life. Let’s pray for our president and his family; for those in authority, for those like my son wearing the uniform of our armed services, for those hurting financially and emotionally, and for God’s will to be done above our own. And while I pray that God would bless America, I also pray Americans would turn their hearts once more to the God of our fathers.