May 3, 2023
Ever since our Regional Pastor, Rev. Dale Edwards, visited us last October, we have looked for opportunities to encourage the development and practice of classic Christian disciplines. When the period of Lent began last February, we elected to focus on prayer in those days leading up to Easter and beyond, to wha,t we in the United States, now call the National Day of Prayer. Over that time, in a variety of venues, be it the Women's group, the Men's group, these DeacoNotes, a number of sermons, or in our worship prayer time, we have explored various aspects of prayer and its practice as a Christian discipline. I think of it as a discipline, because it is not something you study and say, "now I have got it," and put it up on a shelf. Rather, it is something that is to be learned, like a skill, and practiced regularly. As we now sit on the eve of the National Day of Prayer, it is a good time to remember, that we ought to include praying regularly for our communities and the various elements of the society in which we live. This idea is as old as Christianity itself. James, the half-brother of Jesus, (sometimes called James the Just) and later leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem, was reported to have spent whole days at a time in prayer for the people and citizens of the city, in which he lived and preached. In fact, it is said that he spent so much time on his knees in prayer, his closest associates called him, "Camel's Knees!" And he would write in the epistle that bears his name,
James 5: 16 The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective
Such days of prayer are also not new in our own country. From our earliest settlers to modern times, our citizens have declared days of prayer during times of peril. Colonists prayed during droughts and other natural disasters, as well as military attacks from other nations. Edward Winslow's record of the Pilgrim's experiences stated:
"Drought and the like considerations moved not only every good man privately to enter into an examination with his own estate between God and his conscience, and so to humiliation before Him, but also to humble ourselves together before the Lord by fasting and prayer."
In colonial Connecticut, settlers regularly proclaimed a day in early spring for fasting and prayer. The governor often selected Good Friday as the annual spring fast. And in 1668, the House of Burgesses in Jamestown, Virginia, passed an ordinance stating,
"The 27th of August appointed for a Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer, to implore God's mercy."
In 1746 the French Admiral d'Anville sailed for New England in command of the most powerful fleet of ships of its time - 70 ships with 13,000 troops. Their stated purpose was to recapture Louisburg, Nova Scotia, and then move down the coast toward Boston and New York, and then on down to Georgia, destroying everything in their wake. The then governor of Massachusetts, William Shirley, declared a Day of Prayer and Fasting for October 16, 1746, to pray for deliverance. In Boston's Old South Meeting house, Rev. Thomas Prince prayed,
"Send Thy tempest, Lord, upon the water . . . scatter the ships of our tormenters!"
Historian, Catherine Drinker Bowen, related that, as he finished praying, the sky darkened, winds shrieked, and church bells rang. A hurricane subsequently sank and scattered the entire French fleet. The poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, memorialized their calamity in his poem,
"Admiral d'Anville has sworn by cross and crown, to ravage with fire and steel our helpless Boston town. From mouth to mouth spread tidings of dismay I stood in the Old South saying humbly, 'Let us pray' Like a potter's vessel broke, the great ships of the line, were carried away as smoke, or sank in the brine."
On October 3, 1789, our then president, George Washington, declared,
"It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will . . . and humbly to implore His protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint committee requested me, to recommend to the people of the United States a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God."
Similar proclamations were issued whenever events seemed to overtake our nation. For example, on April 13, 1841, when ninth President William Harrison died, the new President John Tyler issued a Day of Prayer and Fasting,
"When Christian people feel themselves to be overtaken by a great public calamity, it becomes them to humble themselves under the dispensation of Divine Providence."
President Harry Truman issued his first Day of Prayer proclamation in 1945 at the end of our war with Japan. But, in 1952, he went further by making a National Day of Prayer an annual observance, stating,
"In times of national crises when we are striving to strengthen the foundations of peace . . . we stand in special need of Divine support."
And finally, on May 5, 1988, then President Ronald Reagan made the National Day of Prayer the first Thursday in May, saying,
"Americans in every generation have turned to their Maker in prayer . . . We have acknowledged our dependence on Almighty God."
As we meet tomorrow to participate in the National Day of Prayer for 2023, whether at home, at work, or in our church, let us pray for God's blessing on all with whom we are connected in this life.
'"Dear Lord. We come with fervent hearts to praise You. With broken, humbled hearts we repent of our sins. Forgive us for our doubt, our prideful and quarrelsome words; cleanse us and renew a right spirit within us, we pray. "With grateful hearts we thank You fervently for the blessings in our life and throughout our nation; they are more than we can count. As the church, we commit to pray and love our neighbor, 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 commanded us to live. "With hopeful hearts we pray that all would choose to receive Your love and follow You. We pray that we would 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. "We pray fervently in righteousness, that avails much, in Jesus' name, Amen!"
Your Brother in Christ, Warren Please feel free to share a related thought of your own in the Comments section below. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester