In 1952 President Harry S. Truman signed into law the recently passed bill to establish a National Day of Prayer. While the National Day of Prayer dates back to the Continental Congress hosting the first day of prayer while establishing a new nation in 1775, it was not until 1952 the day of prayer across the nation became a day observed on the first Thursday of May.
Today men and women will gather at prayer breakfasts, work, schools, homes, and a host of other venues to call upon the name of the Lord to intercede for our nation. While to some the mere thought of prayer is lost due to things happening in our culture and national landscape that were not even thought of in 1775, let alone 1952, God calls His people to seek Him in prayer. Prayer indicates a dependence upon the Lord and as His people we must be the ones to not only seek Him in prayer, but to live in obedience in accordance with His Word.
An event in the Book of Nehemiah could arguably be called the first National Day of Prayer. As a nation, Israel had been scattered – what we refer to today as the Exile. Nehemiah led the people to rebuild the wall around the City of Jerusalem, it was “broken down and its gates [were] burned with fire” (Nehemiah 1:3). The people who were left in the city who “survived the captivity [were] in great distress and reproach” (1:3). These were God’s people in God’s city and, yet, they were in great distress.
After all the families in the City participated in the rebuilding of the wall (4:6, 11-14), the priest, Ezra, began to read the “law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel” (8:1). All the men and women gathered in front of the West Gate of the wall and from early morning until midday, they listened attentively to the book of the law (8:3). For some, they were hearing the precepts read for the very first time in their lives. The result was the people bowing low to the ground to worship the Lord (8:6) and weeping when they heard the words of the law (8:9). The people of God were grieved because they had not carried out the words of the Father.
This grief led to immediate obedience and a time of prayer and fasting. The sons of Israel realized they were in the time when the Feast of Booths should take place, so they constructed the tabernacles and rejoiced (8:13-18). But, just 16 days later, the people assembled with sackcloth and ashes while fasting.
“The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God” (9:2-3). The idea of confession and repentance was deep with the sons of Israel as they spent six hours reading from God’s Word and another six hours in confession.
Furthermore, Nehemiah 10 says “Now the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the law of God, their wives, their sons and their daughters, all those who had knowledge and understanding, are joining with their kinsmen, their nobles, and are taking on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, which was given through Moses, God’s servant, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of God our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes; and that we will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons. As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego the crops the seventh year and the exaction of every debt” (10:28-31).
The people of God were genuine in their confession and desire to be obedient to God. This can all be traced to reading of the Word of God and prayer. Their actions were not haughty or off-putting to people around them or the culture in which they lived, but rather came from a heart that desired to follow the Lord.
On this National Day of Prayer, as believers across the land gather to seek the face of the One True God, my prayer is we don’t just cry out to the Lord collectively for our nation, leaders, educators, businessmen and women, but we as the Body of Christ who are set apart by the blood of Jesus, come to our Father and cry out in confession and repentance as a Church. Furthermore, as a Church may we follow our Lord in obedience to what He has shown us in His Word. Much like the response of the sons of Israel marked the days of the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, may today be marked with God’s people calling upon Him in confession and repentance.
In honor of the relaunch of Worthy of the Calling, we are giving away two gift baskets this week! The contest starts Monday, May 2 at 8 a.m. (EST) and ends Thursday, May 5 at 4 p.m. (EST). We will announce the winner Friday, May 6. You can enter to win in one way or all seven that are offered. Here are your options:
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