Many Americans will engage in collective, faithful prayer, and some will fast, on Thursday, May 4, for the National Day of Prayer, observed annually on the first Thursday in May. Public figures and churches of many backgrounds and church traditions have celebrated this national observance annually since the federal government established it formally in 1952.
Supporters view the occasion as a way to recall the role of prayer as significant to the nation’s founding fathers, who sought the wisdom of God when faced with critical decisions. “It stands as a call for us to humbly come before God, seeking His guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people,” reads the official observance website.
The national theme this year is For Your Great Name’s Sake! Hear Us …Forgive Us …Heal Us! Its biblical inspiration is a verse in the Book of Daniel, 9:19.
There have been a number of government calls for public prayer since the Continental Congress in 1775 issued a proclamation recommending “a day of public humiliation, fasting, and prayer.” Presidents like George Washington, John Adams, and Abraham Lincoln issued or signed similar proclamations over the centuries.
However, the current National Day of Prayer observance was formally enacted by Congress and signed by President Harry Truman in 1952. In almost every year since then, the U.S. President has signed a proclamation, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.
Like Thanksgiving or Christmas, this day has become a national observance placed on all Hallmark calendars and observed annually across the nation and in Washington, D.C. Every year, local, state, and federal observances are held from sunrise in Maine to sunset in Hawaii, uniting Americans from all socio-economic, political and ethnic backgrounds in prayer for our nation.
In a recent year, an estimated two million people attended more than 30,000 observances, organized by approximately 40,000 volunteers. At state capitols, county court houses, on the steps of city halls, and in schools, businesses, churches and homes, people have stopped their activities and gathered for prayer.
The annual National Day of Prayer celebration in Washington DC will change to an evening schedule this year, occurring from 7:30 to 9 PM ET. You can view it by livestream broadcast on the National Day of Prayer website. Click Here.