*This is an excerpt from an article featured in Truth and Triumph magazine.
The receptionist for Focus on the Family had just come back from lunch when she heard the disturbance at the glass doors in front of her. She looked up into the very intense face of a man demanding to talk immediately with Dr. James Dobson, head of the ministry.
Graciously, the receptionist began explaining that Dr. Dobson was with his wife, Shirley, in Washington, D.C. that
afternoon for National Day of Prayer observances …but she quickly became distracted.
The man, she realized, was holding a gun. And tied around his waist were what appeared to be some kind of explosives.
The Dobsons had just returned to their hotel room when the phone rang with word that the receptionist and three others were being held hostage at the ministry in Colorado Springs. The couple immediately paused to pray for the Focus staff and the gunman, and began asking others around them to pray, too.
“Since I was a small girl,” Mrs. Dobson says, “I have always had a heart for prayer. I grew up in a dysfunctional family, with a father who had a drinking problem.” Her mother took Mrs. Dobson and her brother to a local church, where young Shirley, just six, heard from her Sunday school teacher about a God “Who knew me by name, heard all my prayers, and saw all my tears.”
She gave her heart to Christ, and it was then, she says, “that I started kneeling by my bed at night, praying for my father, that he would go God’s way. Whenever my heart was breaking, I would cry out to my Heavenly Father, confident that He loved and cared about me and my situation.”
Events such as the hostage incident at Focus only served to reinforce that confidence.
“As He’s done over and over through the years,” she says, “the Lord used that situation to impress on me that He hears our cries and responds according to His loving, sovereign purposes. We can’t anticipate what the future will hold, but we serve a great God.”
One of the things that Mrs. Dobson herself didn’t anticipate was a request in 1990 from Vonette Bright (co-founder, with her husband, Bill, of Campus Crusade for Christ) that she consider taking over the reins of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.
Her first answer was “no.” Being Mrs. James Dobson and, at the time, a board member of Focus on the Family, were — at the time — “a very full cup.”
Mrs. Bright’s response was appropriate enough: she urged Mrs. Dobson to pray about it.
“The more I prayed, the more I felt that the Lord had His thumb in my back,” Mrs. Dobson says. She looked to her husband for confirmation, confident that he, of all people, would appreciate her predicament. “He was in his office when I approached him,” she remembers, “and I’ll never forget his response. He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, ‘Shirley, what more important ministry could you be involved in than leading he nation in prayer?’ I gulped and said I would continue to pray about it.”
Ultimately, the tag-teaming between the Lord, her husband, and Mrs. Bright proved persuasive. “When Vonette asked me a second time,” Mrs. Dobson says, “I realized the only answer I could give and be obedient was ‘yes.’
“I expected to serve as the chairman for two or three years. Now, 19 years later, I am in awe of how God has grown and blessed this ministry.
“Each May, thousands of events are held,” she says. “They take place in churches, parks, stadiums and prisons, on the steps of state capitol buildings, on military bases around the world … even on buses, trains, and private planes. The creativity never ceases to amaze us.” During the eight years of the Bush administration, the Dobsons were invited to special prayer services at the White House.
For the past two years, the observance held at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., has been aired over the Internet on GodTV, “and this has allowed us to add millions of new participants here and in countries around the globe.”
An event that involves millions of people inevitably requires a massive amount of planning and cooperation. “Because we are often working with well-known musicians, as well as highly visible religious and government leaders who have busy schedules, selecting individuals for the program and making things work smoothly takes much effort and prayer,” Mrs. Dobson says.
But she takes her greatest encouragement, she says, from ordinary citizens who plan and participate in local and state events across the country.
“We have an ongoing outreach to our volunteer coordinators throughout the year,” she says, “the wonderful men and women who plan local and state events across the country.
“Knowing there are so many believers who come before God regularly for the sake of our nation is a great source of strength and inspiration to me,” she says. “It’s easy to become distressed by the circumstances facing us as a country, but I’m hopeful when I see there is a strong and faithful remnant of God’s people who remain devoted to Him and His Word. The overwhelming response of our countrymen to the Task Force’s call to prayer has been humbling, yet incredibly encouraging.”
*The National Day of Prayer was signed into law as a national observance in 1952 by President Harry Truman. Since then, Americans from multiple backgrounds have been overcoming differences to join together and pray for our nation.