What Is the National Day of Prayer?

Contributing Writer
Updated May 03, 2024
What Is the National Day of Prayer?

God Bless America! How many times have you heard that phrase? Historically speaking, God has blessed America, but has America been a blessing to God? You don’t have to look around very far to see that our nation requires prayer. Anger, striving, and division fill the headlines.

As Christians, we are commanded to pray for our leaders and neighbors, but how do we accomplish such a task?

One place to start is the National Day of Prayer.

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What Came Before the National Day of Prayer?

The first call for a National Day of Prayer and Fasting was made at the First Continental Congress in 1775. Abraham Lincoln called for a National Day of Prayer in 1863 amidst the turmoil of civil divisions. However, it was not signed into law until 1952 by President Harry S. Truman.

According to the National Day of Prayer website, on April 17, 1952, Public Law 82-324, Section 119 was passed, stating that: 

The President shall 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.”

In 1979, the official National Prayer Committee (NPC) was formed, and the first observance organized by the NPC was held at Constitution Hall in Washington, D. C. in 1983. However, there was no exact day given for yearly observance.

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When Was the National Day of Prayer Enacted?

In 1986, Bill and Vonette Bright pushed to amend Public Law 82-324 to set an exact day for the observance. Senator Strom Thurmond worked the bill through the Senate, while Congressman Tony Hall championed it in the House of Representatives. On May 5, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 100-307. The new law stated:

The President shall set aside and proclaim the First Thursday in May in each year, 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.” 

The annual National Day of Prayer Broadcast features speakers and musicians from around the world who gather together for a televised event. Beyond that, the National Day of Prayer website also lists ideas for community, church, and small-group events. Ideas include prayer walks, candle-lit vigils, or neighborhood block parties.

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How to Pray for America on the National Day of Prayer

First, if you want to know more about what prayer is and why we pray, check out the Christianity.com article “What Is Prayer? Why Do We Pray?” by Leigh Ann Thomas as a starting point.

For practical tips, read the BibleStudyTools.com article “How Do I Get Started Praying?” by Allie Boman.

For more specific prayers, try the Crosswalk.com article “Suggested Prayer Topics for National Day of Prayer.”

If you are looking for a more detailed plan for events, the NPC website offers several guidelines and prayer strategies. Praying for our nation seems like an overwhelming task, but the committee created the concept of praying into Seven Centers of Influence: government, military, media, business, education, church, and family. One suggested event is to set up seven stations for each area so that people can take time to pray for each area.

If you want to pray as a family, there is a guide, Pray for Our Nation, that gives a 7-day plan for praying for each of the seven centers of influence, including scripture and prayer points specific to each area. 

1 Timothy 2:1-2 tells us to pray for all men but specifically for those in authority: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”

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What Else Can We Pray for on the National Day of Prayer?

It isn’t just praying for our government. The National Day of Prayer covers all seven centers of influence in their prayer guide. It starts with praying for family, using Luke 11:1-13 as a basis for discussion. Since family is one of the smallest units in our society, it makes sense to start there. Ask yourself how families can be a center of influence or how we can pray for each other as a family.

The next center is the church. We should pray for the leaders in our church just as we should for leaders of our government. Prayers could also include specific issues that your local church might be facing and issues on a national or global level.

Business is the next center of influence, as economics affects everyone somehow. How can we pray for local businesses? What are the greatest needs of our business communities? Philippians 4:19 tells us that God supplies all our needs, so we need to intercede for those around us by asking for God’s provision.

Our education system is one of the greatest centers of influence in our nation. We need to pray for our teachers, for the provision of necessary equipment and supplies, and most of all, for protecting our children and all who work with them.

The arts, entertainment, and media greatly influence our nation. We can pray for their God-given gifts to be used for His glory and to uplift their audiences. 

Of course, we should also always pray for our military, who stand in harm’s way to protect us. We should look for ways to pray for active duty and veterans who need prayers regarding injuries and the mental stress accompanying such difficult professions.

For government, pray for wisdom and integrity for our leaders. At the federal level, pray for our President, Vice-President, Cabinet members, congressional leaders, and Supreme Court Justices. At the state level, pray for your governor, executive, legislative, and judicial leaders. In your local government, pray for your mayor, city counsel, police chief, fire chief, judges, and county officials.

National Day of Prayer is more than just praying regarding what is happening in the political realm and our national leaders. While that is important, these other areas also need to be brought before the throne of God if we are going to be a godly nation.

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Why Stop with a National Day of Prayer?

These points are all good things to pray for at this important holiday, but shouldn’t we pray for these things all year?

National Day of Prayer is a great jumping-off point, but what about making this practice a part of your daily prayer life? For instance, you can designate a different day of the week to pray for each center of influence so that you can focus on one area in more detail. Imagine what could happen if Christians joined together in prayer for not just one day but every day to pray for our nation and even our world. If you have never been a part of the National Day of Prayer, think about how you can participate in it in the future. If we want God to bless America, we must be serious about praying for America.

Further Reading:

5 Prayers for Our Country to Heal the Nation

A Prayer for Our Country and Our Leadership

10 Prayers for Guidance from God’s Wisdom and Help

Prayer for Our Nation: 25 Verses of Hope

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Linda Lyle is a writer, teacher, knitter, and unintentional collector of cats. She has written articles for the Alabama Baptist, Open Windows, Refresh, as well as multiple novels and novellas. Her newest book, 5-Minute Prayer Plan for When Life Is Overwhelming, is set to release in October. She spins yarns on her blog The End of My Yarn at lindalyle.com

This article is part of our prayer resources meant to inspire and encourage your prayer life when you face uncertain times. Remember, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and God knows your heart even if you can't find the words to pray.

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