NOTHSTINE: National Day of Prayer reminds us of the limits of government

People pray the invocation during a U.S. President Donald Trump rally in Harrisburg

It was Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, who was so renowned for stressing that authority rested not in government — but with the people. Likewise, the National Day of Prayer, established officially in 1952, reminds us that there are higher purposes and truths than the power of government.One of the problems with the rising tide of secularism is the belief that government can adequately answer for or deliver us from so many local or national ills. After all, the radical Marxist belief in the supremacy of the state killed just shy of 100 million people worldwide in the 20th century.In North Carolina, there are 79 events and gatherings listed across our state by the National Day of Prayer Task Force alone. The day is now recognized as the first Thursday in May. And it was North Carolina’s native son Billy Graham who helped to launch the more official recognition of national prayer.In 1952, former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn invited Graham to speak on Capitol Hill after he held a series of revivals in Washington, D.C. Rayburn believed the nation needed revival too. “What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer,” declared Graham on the steps of the Capitol. “What a thrill would sweep this country. What renewed hope and courage would grip the Americans at this hour of peril.” The very next day a representative from Tennessee introduced legislation that enshrined the call for prayer.Call for prayers in America are not new, of course. The Continental Congress petitioned the colonists to pray fervently, as an emerging nation sought independence and freedom from the tyrannies under the British Crown. For many today, it’s popular to proclaim that the American Founders, many of whom were students of enlightenment thought, were somehow hostile to Christianity. While it is true that a minority weren’t Christian from a confessional understanding, they were neither hostile to the faith nor the Judeo-Christian worldview.The framers were virtually unanimous in the belief that free people require a strong moral framework and held religion and virtue in high esteem. For them, those attributes are essential for freedom to flourish and the entire experiment in self-government to succeed. Even Thomas Jefferson, a skeptic of some of Christianity’s claims, was soured by much of the immodesty and immorality he encountered in France. While Jefferson adored France, he was deeply shaped by an American culture and its religious influences and moral underpinnings.Prayer too reminds us of our own finite nature and that by asking God, we seek things that might otherwise seem elusive or impossible. The National Day of Prayer is not specifically Christian, but serves as a reminder too that the Lord, through His Providential ways, operates through the affairs of humans. The Prophet Daniel reminds us of the power and sovereign nature of God: “Praise be to the name of the Lord for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.”Civil religion is not a replacement or an adequate substitute for a vibrant faith. But a National Day of Prayer is meant to transcend even the civil affairs and should remind the citizenry that they have a destiny and soul beyond the state. Inherent rights remind us too that government is subservient to its citizens. Leaders, or those elected to represent North Carolinians and American citizens, would be wise to do their part and recall a line from a prayer delivered by former President George H.W. Bush at his inaugural address in 1989: “There is but one just use of power, and it is to serve people. Help us to remember it, Lord.”
Ray Nothstine is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.