WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – The 64th National Day of Prayer is expected to be the largest ever with a reported 43,000 groups gathering coast to coast to pray in unison Thursday.
The goal is to have a "wave of prayer" across the nation May 7 at noon Eastern Daylight Time.
Former Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, was chosen as the honorary chairman for the 2015 event and has penned a prayer to emphasize the theme "Lord, Hear our Cry" based on 1 Kings 8:28, "Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day."
But it was another Graham, and Southern Baptist, who is credited with having catalyzed the national prayer effort more than six decades ago.
According to Joy Allmond, Billy Graham conducted a revival in the nation's capital in 1952 with thousands being part of the services from Jan. 13 to Feb. 7. The impact on the region was so profound that House Speaker Sam Rayburn invited the evangelist to lead a worship service on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, saying "This country needs a revival, and I believe Billy Graham is bringing it to us."
During that message, Graham remarked, "What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer.
"What a thrill would sweep this country. What renewed hope and courage would grip the Americans at this hour of peril," he said.
With that inspiration, Rep. Percy Priest of Tennessee, who taught a Sunday school class at Park Avenue Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Convention congregation, in Nashville, introduced the bill which established the National Day of Prayer.
Since 1952, it has been held the first Thursday of May, and often amid great issues gripping the country:
-- In 1960, the event took place the day before President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1960, enforcing the 15th Amendment mandate "that every individual regardless of his race, religion, or national origin is entitled to the equal protection of the laws."
-- A decade later, prayers were lifted up nationally just three days after the National Guard shootings at Kent State University that killed four unarmed students during protests against the Cambodian Campaign announced by President Nixon.
-- The Iranian hostage crisis (Nov. 1979 – Jan. 1981) had taken the nation captive when national prayers were lifted up in 1980.
-- During May 1990 Americans celebrated the release of American Frank Reed held in Lebanon by the previously unknown Islamic Dawn terrorist group, now a coalition of Islamic militias which controls Tripoli and the western portion of Libya. Reed's release left six Americans and 10 other Westerners still held hostage.
-- The first week in May 2000, Americans were captivated by the international intrigue and the personal story of young Elián Gonzalez who was caught in a diplomatic and family struggle -- between Cuba and the U.S., and, his deceased mother's relatives in Miami and his father in Cuba.
-- Ten years later, the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform created an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that still is impacting the ecology and the economies of Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.
Now, the National day of Prayer comes in the middle of Supreme Court deliberations which will decide whether voter approved state measures protecting marriage as between a man and a woman remain in place or are voided to expand marriage to include gay couples and other variations. Jack Graham, no relation to evangelist Billy Graham, does not directly address this issue for the 2015 event, but, is emphasizing the broader message of "our nation's spiritual brokenness," saying Christians should cry out to God "in this desperate hour."
"Kingdoms and nations throughout all history have risen and fallen on prayer," he said. "God's one and only kingdom that rules over all others—and, amazingly, prayer connects us—gives us a welcome audience with almighty God the one true God who reigns over every ruler authority and nation."
Graham's prayer to be read simultaneously across the nation:
We come to You in the Name that is above every name — Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Our hearts cry out to You. Knowing that You are a prayer-answering, faithful God — the One we trust in times like these — we ask that You renew our spirits, revive our churches, and heal our land.
We repent of our sins and ask for Your grace and power to save us. Hear our cry, oh God, and pour out Your Spirit upon us that we may walk in obedience to Your Word. We are desperate for Your tender mercies. We are broken and humbled before You.
Forgive us, and in the power of Your great love, lift us up to live in Your righteousness.
We pray for our beloved nation. May we repent and return to You and be a light to the nations. And we pray for our leaders and ask that You give them wisdom and faith to follow You. Preserve and protect us, for You are our refuge and only hope. Deliver us from all fears except to fear You, and may we courageously stand in the Truth that sets us free.
We pray with expectant faith and grateful hearts.
In Jesus' name, our Savior. Amen.