From election politics to the economy, from healthcare to social issues, this year has given us so many opportunities to talk about the serious issues our nation faces. And, frankly, it seems that talk about quickly devolves into complain about. But pray about them? Well, I’m not sure there has been a lot of that going on. This week offers a great chance for Christians to recommit themselves to praying for the nation. The National Day of Prayer is set aside to encourage citizens to pray for the nation. It began in 1775 when the Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a nation. President Lincoln proclaimed a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” in 1863. In 1988, President Reagan permanently set the National Day of Prayer as the first Thursday of every May.
Here are four ways to pray, not only on one day but also faithfully throughout the year.
1. Pray for your neighborhood. The people in the apartment next to you, the elderly woman taking her daily walk, the little kids on the playground. Pray as you drop your child off at school. As a church, pray for your neighbors well before you start inviting them to church. Ask God to open their hearts to his message; ask him to help you love them and welcome them no matter what stage of life they are in.
2. Pray for your city. As you drive around, pray for small businesses, employees, first responders, the people on the sidewalk. Pray for social workers, journalists, and groups that help the homeless and abused. Pray for food pantries, mayors, and city treasurers.
About 20 years ago, Elizabeth Cornelio took this to a whole new level. She was so concerned about the high rate of crime in her city Goiania, Brazil, that she and four other women began meeting and praying for the city. Then they would walk around and pray for the people they met. In 1993, she invited more and more Christians to pray for the city and 850 people showed up. She started a radio broadcast to connect all the prayers. The result was astonishing. More people started joining churches and crime rates fell. The radio broadcast was cancelled due to businessmen’s objections. The crime rate rose 40 percent—and just three months later, the mayor and chief of police asked them to start praying again.
3. Pray for your state. “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1,2).
Your state handles weighty matters. The governor, leaders, troopers, and guard members could use your prayers for wisdom and protection. Pray for the economy, businesses, and the arts.
4. Pray for your country. Ask God to be with all those in the three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. This is often easy for those whose political party is in power and humbling for those whose political beliefs don’t align with the party in power. Yet, when the Israelites were exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah gave them what seems to be a hard command: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). God doesn’t put conditions on which leaders you pray for.
Pray also for the members of the military, all of whom have taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And don’t forget to pray for their families too.
While it is great for you to schedule specific times to pray on your own, I think we could follow the example of the early believers who were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.
Sometimes we are so devoted to worship and fellowship (good things!), but we forget the devotion to prayer. The next time you and your fellow believers have dinner together, include a prayer for the nation. Invite a few people to coffee and join hands to ask God to protect the people of your town. Take a walk with a friend and pray for the people in the homes you pass. So much of our cities, states, and country are filled with hurts and problems.
“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). Our God can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. But it’s time we ask.
Linda Buxa is a writer, Bible study leader, and retreat speaker. She’s added these four prayer items to her prayer chart.