As the first Thursday in May, today is the National Day of Prayer according to a law passed in 1988. I might not have noticed if not for a musical demonstration going on behind the state capital building in Albany this morning. I stayed long enough to grab a brochure from the National Day of Prayer Task Force ("the Judeo-Christian expression of the National Day of Prayer") suggesting specific things to pray for pertaining to "seven centers of power": government, media, the military, business, education, families and churches themselves. The brochure also invites the devout to go to www.adoptaleader.com and name a specific politician to pray and solicit prayers for. The Task Force gives Ronald Reagan credit for signing the Day of Prayer into law, but the modern notion actually dates back to the Truman administration. All Reagan (and a Democratic Congress) was designate the first Thursday in May, for reasons unknown to me. That is, I'm not aware of any special significance to the time of the month itself. According to Wikipedia, the "National Prayer Committee" promoted the idea of a specific date to facilitate mass prayer meetings like the one in Albany. The law, of course, has faced legal challenges from secular humanists, and while it doesn't "establish" a religion in the strict legal sense understood by the Framers, the language of the law appears prejudicial, however ecumenical the drafters' intentions, due to its invocation of an implicitly monotheist "God."
Some of the recommended Bible texts to go with the suggested prayers are peculiar choices. For instance, under the "Military" heading the pamphlet recommends Romans 5:1-5 as a text for prayers for "Divine protection from the enemy." Those verses, however, make no mention of enemies except implicitly, instead proclaiming that Christians "glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance." Regarding the media, the Task Force cites Proverbs 8:10-11 for prayers that "the decision makers within the media [will] realize they can profit by producing family-friendly products." Proverbs 8:10 calls on readers to "choose knowledge rather than choice gold," while 8:11 states that "wisdom is more precious than rubies." Those verses suggest a trade-off rather than a sales plan. Most of this stuff is basically nonpartisan, especially when the recommended verses seem particularly irrelevant. The most nearly controversial might be the recommended prayer for "a return to family values that serve the nation as a whole." The text here is Job 22:21-22, which opens: "Submit to God and be at peace with Him; in this way prosperity will come to you." With the emphasis on submission, that could have come right out of the Qur'an. More alarming is the text for prayers for "the re-establishment of relationships between parents and children." This text is Malachi 4:5-6, which predicts the return of the prophet Elijah to "turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents [...wait for it...] or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction."
"Whether we face fluctuating economics, threats from abroad, unrest at home, or other troubling circumstances, our Heavenly Father is not caught unaware," the Task Force writes. Apparently, HF doesn't mind letting us get caught unawares, as the last decade or so demonstrates. He doesn't do things out of the goodness of his heart, or because it might be his job as God. You have to ask him -- and ask nicely. "He stands ready to respond to our needs when we humbly ask for divine intervention in the affairs of men," the lesson closes. So have the pious simply not prayed enough recently, or aren't they humble enough? It's a trick question, of course, but the trick's on us -- it's our fault if we aren't praying. At least I expect that excuse.