National Day of Prayer Talking Points

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. - James 5:16-18 NKJV
The National Day of Prayer is when believers all across America gather to pray for our nation.
Calls for prayer are a vital part of America’s rich Christian heritage, dating back to colonial governors. During the War for Independence, the Second Continental Congress proclaimed the first trans-colonial call to prayer on June 12, 1775,[1] and that was replicated over and over again, almost twice a year during the eight-year war with Great Britain. In addition to congressional calls to prayer, there have been over 1,500 civil government proclamations since 1775.[2] 
 The corporate call to pray has continued throughout our history, beginning with the first federal Congress calling for and President George Washington proclaiming a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer on to be held on November 26, 1789.[3] Since then, there have been over 150 national calls to prayer, humiliation, fasting, and/or thanksgiving by the various U.S. presidents. One of those was President Abraham Lincoln’s eloquent proclamation of a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” in 1863, during the dark days of the Civil War.
 However, 1952 marked the first time that Congress made a joint resolution calling for an annual National Day of Prayer; it was signed by President Harry Truman.[4] Then in 1988, that measure was amended and signed by President Ronald Reagan, permanently setting the day as the first Thursday of every May.[5] Each year since, the president has signed a proclamation encouraging all Americans to pray on this day. President Joe Biden signed such a proclamation for 2023.[6] 
 Specially called Days of Prayer have tremendous significance for us as a nation. They help us to recall how our Founding Fathers pleaded for God’s providential aid and His divine wisdom when faced with critical decisions and overwhelming odds. They urge us to acknowledge God as the source of our strength, success, security, and hope.
 Indeed, specially called Days of Prayer for the nation have a biblical basis. For example, 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 tells us that a nation in crisis, struggling, or overwhelmed should humble themselves and ask God to heal their land. That is the need of the hour for America.
 The theme of this year’s National Day of Prayer, “Pray Fervently in Righteousness and Avail Much,” was inspired by James 5:16b: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Here are a couple of major points from this passage: First, there is the explanation of powerful prayer. Second, there is the example of powerful prayer in the person of Elijah.
 A. Integrity: Notice first the integrity of prayer. It is the prayer of a righteous man. It is true that we are all sinners saved by grace, and we are declared righteous because of the finished work of the cross. Paul said: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). But in this particular case, James is not talking about positional righteousness; he’s talking about practical righteousness. He’s saying that in order for a person to pray powerfully, he or she must be a person of integrity.
 And the Scriptures bear witness:
But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
And your sins have hidden His face from you,
So that He will not hear.
- Isaiah 59:2
If I regard iniquity in my heart,
The Lord will not hear.
- Psalm 66:18
 God did not bring Joshua and the Israelites victory over Ai because there was sin in the camp (Joshua 7). So we need to keep short accounts, confess our sins, and walk in integrity.
 B. Intensity: Then notice secondly the intensity of prayer. James says it is the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man that avails much. The Greek word that describes prayer is the word we get energy from. So like the “energizer bunny,” we must keep praying and praying and praying! Isaiah 62:6 says: “You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest” (NCB). Paul put it this way: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). So we’re not talking about embalmed prayer; we’re talking about energetic prayer. We’re not talking about flat prayer but fervent prayer. There’s a difference. Ditch the archaic language and worn-out formulas and talk to God. We’re talking about prayer that is marked by both integrity and intensity.
 C. Immensity: James describes the immensity of powerful prayer: it avails much. That means it does a lot of good. It is effective. It makes a big difference. It brings an answer from God that is miraculous and amazing. And that is evident in the living example he gives us in the next two verses: Elijah.
 Of all the great examples in the Old Testament, James uses Elijah to teach us the lesson of powerful prayer. Certainly, God used Elijah in a mighty way: he multiplied food, raised the dead, confronted the king of Israel, called down fire from heaven, and defeated 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah. At the close of his ministry, he was carried to heaven in a whirlwind, escorted by a chariot of fire. There was greatness in this man Elijah. But there was also weakness.
 A. Weakness: Notice in verse 17: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.” This means Elijah experienced the same kinds of weaknesses and failures that we do. He was made out of the same dust and clay as us. A literal translation of the Greek is: “Elijah, man was he.” He was just a man. Yet, the great Bible biographer Alexander White says that this man Elijah outstrips us because he put his passion in his prayers. So notice not only Elijah’s weakness but secondly his:
 B. Earnestness: It says, “And he prayed earnestly that it would not rain.” Elijah went before King Ahab and said, “Ahab, there won't be any rain unless I call for it.” For three and a half years, there was no rain. Elijah had such power with God in prayer; he prayed with such intensity, he could say to heaven, “No rain.” And for three and a half years, not a drop of rain fell.
 It says in verse 18, “And he prayed again.” Literally, the text there says, “He prayed in his prayers.” This is prayer piled on prayer. It’s a Greek idiom that carried the idea of praying with great intensity. And the result? We see his weakness, we see his earnestness, but then we see his effectiveness.
 C. Effectiveness: He prayed in his prayers, and it says, “and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” His prayer was effective. I love the story from 1 Kings 18. Elijah has called down fire on Mt. Carmel, the fire has consumed the sacrifice, and the people have proclaimed Jehovah as God, and the false prophets have been put to the sword. After all of that, Elijah then tells King Ahab: “Get ready for rain!” even though there was not a cloud in the clear blue sky (verse 41).
 And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, and said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” So he went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” And seven times he said, “Go again.” Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!” So he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.’” Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. - 1 Kings 18:42b-45a
 We read that Elijah went up to the top of Carmel and bowed down on the ground and put his face between his knees. There are times when the situation is so serious and the burden is so heavy it not only drives us to our knees but it also puts us on our faces before God. Elijah prayed with such earnestness, intensity, and effectiveness that God answered his prayer and opened the heavens.
 What an amazing and encouraging story! But what James is trying to teach us is that this kind of powerful prayer does not belong only to biblical heroes or “super saints.” Despite our own shortcomings, frailties, and weaknesses, God wants us to pray with purity and passion, and He waits to answer in power.
 Let me share an example from American history that I trust will encourage you. In 1682, King Charles II of England made some demands of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Among them were that they had to repeal their restrictions on who could vote and they had to allow Church of England clergy to form taxpayer-supported churches in Puritan New England. Question: Why had the Puritans come to America in the first place? To get out of the state-controlled Church of England and from under the thumb of the king. But here was King Charles ordering them to accept Episcopal bishops or lose their charter, which basically gave them the right to self-governance. They had been electing their own governor and other officials for years, but that freedom was now being threatened.
 In this crisis, Pastor Increase Mather stepped forward. Mather was the pastor of the North Church in Boston (the church whose steeple would be used to signal the arrival of British troops, commencing Paul Revere’s legendary ride nearly a century later in 1775). Mather argued that to submit to these changes would be “inconsistent with the main end of their fathers coming to New England.”[7] Although resistance would produce “great sufferings,” better to suffer than sin. “Let us put our trust in the God of our fathers, which is better than to trust in Princes,” Mather declared.[8] Well, the colony leadership was persuaded and refused to adhere to the king’s demands. Upon that word, the king’s lackeys began demanding the Massachusetts Bay Charter in 1683.
 In January 1684, Pastor Mather joined a town hall meeting in Boston’s South Meeting House, where the Tea Party would be instigated years later. Mather mounted the pulpit and spoke to the voters in favor of resisting the king’s edict, citing the biblical example of Naboth, who said “no” to King Ahab when he demanded Naboth’s vineyard. And the example of David, who wisely “chose to fall into the hands of God rather than the hands of men.” “If we refuse to submit,” argued Mather, “we keep ourselves in God’s hands, and who knows what He may do for us?” And he added: “If we submit now, our children will live to curse us.” Mather concluded that none would “dare to be guilty of so great a sin.”[9]
The people were persuaded and voted unanimously to reject the king’s demand. Then they held their collective breaths. When word reached King Charles II, he flew into a towering rage and laid plans to send Colonel Percy Kirke at the head of a fleet of warships and 5,000 British troops to force the colony into submission. “Bloody” Kirke was the ruthless governor of Tangier, and it would take some time to dispatch Kirke and his force to America, so by the time word leaked to the colony, it was February 1685.
The moment Pastor Mather heard that the full weight of Britain’s military might was about to be deployed against them, he went into his study to fast and pray and seek the Lord. But during the afternoon, his burden was strangely lifted, and the Lord gave him assurance that the colony would be spared. In the meantime, the colony was filled with dread and despair. But nothing happened.
In fact, two months later, word arrived that Charles II had died of an apoplectic seizure, that James II had succeeded him to the throne, and that Bloody Kirke and his army were not coming after all. Joy replaced all the dread. And Pastor Mather got caught up in it as well, but he noticed something very interesting. When he worked back the date of the king’s death, he found that it was the same day that he had shut himself up to fast and pray for deliverance. Do you realize that the God we pray to “removes kings and raises up kings” (Dan. 2:21)!
Do you realize that we serve the God who created heaven and earth? He weighs the mountains in a scale and the hills in a balance; He holds the seven seas in the palms of His hands; He is the God who divided the sea for Moses. He is the God who brought down the walls for Joshua. He is the God who delivered Goliath into the hands of David and Daniel from the lion’s den! He is the God who came in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, who commanded the winds and the waves, who cast out demons, healed the sick, and who raised the dead. He is a God of might and majesty. He is a God of power and great glory. He is the living God, and there is no other besides Him! Glory to His name!
Listen, if prayer changed the outcome of a desperate situation in colonial America, then prayer can change the outcome of the desperate situation we face today in America. So let’s pray like the future of this nation depends on it—because it does. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much.
Here is the prayer that the National Day of Prayer Task Force provided:
We come with fervent hearts to praise You Lord. You are The Word, the Way, Truth and Life. The Alpha and Omega, Lion of Judah, Almighty God who was, and is, and is to come. You clothed Yourself in flesh and dwelt among us, to remove our sin and clothe us in Your righteousness that we might dwell with You forever and ever. With broken, humbled hearts we repent of our sins. Confessing to You our faithlessness, prayerlessness, and disobedience. Forgive us for our doubt, our prideful and quarrelsome words that reveal our unclean hearts. Cleanse us and renew a right and steadfast spirit within us we pray.
With grateful hearts we thank You fervently for the blessings in our life and throughout America; they are more than we are able to count. We will remember Your grace and testify to Your goodness in all generations. Help us to refrain from complaining, but instead be prompted to pray faithfully in every circumstance. Teach us to have a content heart knowing You are always enough for our every need.
As the Church we commit to pray and love our neighbor and nation as You loved us, that our reputation in this world would be rooted in Your love. Holy Spirit work and overflow through us in every prayer, thought, word, and deed. May our character, conversations, and conduct reflect the righteousness in which You clothed us and command us to live.
With an obedient heart we put on the full armor of God; Your breastplate of righteousness guards our heart from which flows the springs of life. We pray fervently for our communities and country; the people who are in the Church, Family, Education, Business and Workplace, Military, Government, Arts, Entertainment and Media. Every person is Your workmanship, fearfully and wonderfully created and loved.
With hopeful hearts we pray that all would choose to receive Your love and follow You.
We pray that America would confess, “Jesus is Lord” and reflect Your righteousness in every sphere of influence, and every aspect of our lives. We ask that heavenly hope would flood our hearts, silence hate, and that You will heal our land.
Believing You; all You are, all You said, and all You have promised, we pray fervently in righteousness and avail much.
In Jesus Name we pray, Amen!
[2] See
[3] Jared Sparks, ed., The Writings of George Washington; being His
Correspondence, Addresses, Messages, and Other Papers, Official and Private, Selected and
Published from the Original Manuscripts, 12 vols. (Boston: American Stationer’s Company,
1837), 12:119.
[7] Increase Mather, “Arguments against Relinquishing the Charter,” Hutchinson Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 3rd series, I (1825), 74-81.
[8] Ibid.
[9] M.G. Hall, ed., The Autobiography of Increase Mather: Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, (Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 1961), 308.