There are countless “national days” on the calendar, perhaps none more emblematic to the Church–outside of certain holidays–than the National Day of Prayer.

Billy Graham on the east steps of the U.S. Capitol declaring for a national day of prayer in 1952.
Rev. Billy Graham held a peace rally on the east steps of the U.S. Capitol that set the path for the National Day of Prayer, Feb. 3, 1952. (Source: Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)

This year marks the 73rd celebrated (and the 36th official) annual recognition since President Ronald Reagan set the permanent date and signed it into law on May 5, 1988. It took decades of committees and people inspired by God to bring this day to reality.

Regarded in the 1950s for creating prayer rallies across the country was Vonette Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, along with her husband, Bill. For one of those rallies, she targeted Congress and invited a young man known for declaring the Word of the Lord.

That event would welcome tens of thousands of people, the U.S. media, and the seed that would reap the prayerful bounty harvest we are asked to embrace and enjoy on May 2.

Lift Up the Word

In 1952, Rev. Billy Graham challenged Congress on the east steps of the U.S. Capitol to bring the nation together before the Lord. “This is the hour of decision,” he said in front of an estimated 40,000 people gathered in Washington D.C. “Surely a crowd of many thousands gathering beneath the great dome of the Capitol of the United States to pledge their allegiance to Almighty God and petition Him for divine help at this crucial hour, is a most significant event.”

Two months later, Sen. Frank Carlson (R-Kansas, 1950-1969) and Conrad Hilton, founder of Hilton Hotels, established a bill petitioning Congress for a National Day of Prayer.

The President shall set aside and proclaim a suitable day each year, other than a Sunday, as a National Day of Prayer, on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.

Although the idea years ago was for a public demonstration of corporate prayer, the purpose is a private moment for individual prayer. Today, on the first Thursday in May, the National Day of Prayer Task Force asks us to find a safe place in God and let our light shine.

For you are my lamp, O Lord, and my God lightens my darkness. For by You I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.

2 Samuel 22:29-31 ESV

Light Up the World

2024 National Day of Prayer promotional flyer
Promotional flyer courtesy of National Day of Prayer Task Force

Each year, the National Day of Prayer carries a theme that challenges Christians to reach high to God and reach out to others across the country. This 2024 theme is “Lift Up The Word—Light Up The World.”

“Some may say the world is getting darker,” said National Day of Prayer Task Force president, Kathy Branzell, via their official news release. “But as long as God’s people are reading and relying on the Word, believing and living His Word, praying and practicing His Word, the world is full of light that exposes and dispels the darkness.”

Branzell and the National Day of Prayer Task Force believe the darkness is anywhere the Lord is not. Since 2010, Gallup has shown that the area where He is not is increasing gradually.


Gallup Poll asking how important is religion in your daily lives
Polling image courtesy of Gallup, 2023

Since 1992, Gallup has asked Christians across denominational preferences (i.e., Catholic, Protestant, Methodist, Baptist) about the importance of religion in Americans’ lives. At that time, 58% said “very important.” Six years later, that number reached its highest peak at 61%, as it did once again in 2003.

Today, only 45% of Americans say religion is very important in their lives.

The National Day of Prayer is a grassroots effort. Usually, awareness is developed at the local level. If there isn’t a large group gathering at the city hall steps or in a public place, the Task Force has a national effort to participate in the event from the privacy of your home, car, or work.

Co-hosted by acclaimed author and pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York, A.R. Bernard, the broadcast will streamed live on the National Day of Prayer website, as well as other national partners, Daystar, Bott Radio Network, Christian Television Network, and NRB TV.

Branzell suggests that any local churches interested in promoting the event visit the Task Force website’s promotional tools for free downloads and information.

The national observance broadcast is scheduled for Thursday, May 2, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.

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