Our National Day of Prayer – May 2, 2024

With organized anti-Semitic protests erupting on college campuses and war in the Middle East and Ukraine, we must fervently pray for a heaven-sent revival.

Thursday, May 2, is America’s National Day of Prayer. Important gatherings will take place in Washington, D.,C. and in thousands of cities and towns. 

Will you pray for America and the world this Thursday, May 2?

Our National Day of Prayer – May 2, 2024

The National Day of Prayer is a uniquely American event–and maybe our most important holiday. 

National days of prayer share similarities with Thanksgiving. Both were national proclamations that brought people together in early America. National observances in the colonies in late fall called for prayerful thanksgiving while spring and summer events urged prayer and fasting.

The fall observance became a set tradition by President Lincoln as the official Thanksgiving holiday in 1863. The spring observance was signed into law by President Truman in 1952–encouraging a National Day of Prayer for all Americans. But there was no definite date or day for united prayer in the spring until 1988.

Here’s an historical snapshot of our National Day of Prayer.

Disputes over taxes and the like between the colonists and England during the mid-1700s ignited the Revolutionary War and prompted some American cities/colonies to proclaim days of prayer. For example, the people of Boston declared a day of fasting and prayer in September 1768 to protest a British edict to station troops in the city. The Boston Massacre took place less than a decade later.

Virginia’s House of Burgesses proclaimed a day of fasting and prayer on June 1, 1774, to protest the British blockade of Boston Harbor. Local pastors led the colonists in prayer and Thomas Jefferson wrote that “the effect of the day through the whole colony was like a shock of electricity.” This moved Virginia patriots to choose delegates to establish self-rule in Virginia. Other colonies observed official days of fasting and prayer during the lead-up to the “Glorious Cause” of the American Revolution.

The observance of a day of fasting and prayer came to all the colonies by the Continental Congress in 1775. Congress issued a proclamation for “a day of public humiliation, fasting, and prayer” on Thursday, July 20, 1775 due to the British invasion of Boston and the beginning of the war.

This was the first National Day of Prayer on a Thursday. 

On behalf of the Continental Congress, John Witherspoon and John Hancock, instructed the colonists to pray for an honoring of “the just rights and privileges of the Colonies in civil and religious” matters. The proclamation was sent on horseback to every town. John Adams wrote that the people responded enthusiastically to the call to prayer and more people attended than normally went to church.

After these nation-changing precedents, the United States Congress called for a day of fasting and prayer each spring, and a day of thanksgiving/praise every fall. Thanksgiving became fixed on the fourth Thursday of November–but the National Day of Prayer continued to move around.

As head of the Continental Army, General George Washington acknowledged a day of “fasting, humiliation and prayer” proclaimed by the Continental Congress on Thursday, May 6, 1779—at a crucial time in the war for independence. To enable his soldiers to participate, Washington ordered a one-day stoppage of work and recreation. In March 1780, Congress proclaimed another day of “fasting, humiliation and prayer” on April 26, 1780.

National days of fasting and prayer ceased for a time after the war during the forming of the U.S. Constitution. They resumed on October 3, 1789, when President George Washington called for a National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving for Thursday, November 26, 1789—a renewal of the Thanksgiving tradition that took place in most of New England.

President Adams continued the practice of announcing national days of prayer in the spring and fall. However, President Jefferson did not schedule such “holy days” for the nation. He considered prayer a personal matter and not a state concern.

After James Madison, none of the next eleven presidents issued prayer proclamations between 1815 and 1862. America’s greatest president and the liberator of the slaves, Abraham Lincoln, renewed the heritage during our nation’s costliest conflict—the Civil War.

President Lincoln called the nation to fast and pray on three occasions. His first proclamation, focusing on national peace and unity, and took place on the last Thursday of September in 1861. Some highlights:

“Whereas when our own beloved country, once, by the blessing of God, united, prosperous, and happy, is now afflicted with faction and civil war, it is peculiarly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals to humble ourselves before Him and to pray for His mercy—to pray that we may be spared further punishment, though most justly deserved.”

“Therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do appoint the last Thursday in September next as a day of humiliation, prayer, and fasting for all the people of the nation.”

Lincoln’s second proclamation, issued March 30, 1863, stated our need to repent as a nation through prayer and fasting–during some of the war’s darkest days:

“Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord. It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

No one said it like Lincoln–to all Americans—black and white, slave and free.

His final proclamation on August of 1864—just eight months before he was cut down by the assassin’s bullet–asked government leaders and other authorities to seek God with fasting and prayer.

“The President of the United States [requests] to appoint a day for humiliation and prayer by the people of the United States; that he request his constitutional advisers at the head of the Executive Departments to unite with him as Chief Magistrate of the nation, at the city of Washington, and the members of Congress, and all magistrates, all civil, military, and naval officers, all soldiers, sailors, and marines, with all loyal and law-abiding people, to convene at their usual places of worship, or wherever they may be, to confess and to repent of their manifold sins; to implore the compassion and forgiveness of the Almighty.”

Abraham Lincoln knew we needed to pray as a nation for unity and peace, to repent before God, with our religious and political leaders leading the way.

National days of prayer continued sporadically through the first half of the 20th century, especially during World War I & II—with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt even leading the nation in prayer over the radio on June 6, 1944, just prior to D-Day. His successor, President Harry Truman, in response to a passionate desire by evangelist Billy Graham, legalized a springtime National Day of Prayer. Dr. Graham remarked during the Korean conflict:

“What a thrilling, glorious thing it would be to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer. What a thrill would sweep this country. What renewed hope and courage would grip the Americans at this hour of peril.”

Representative Percy Priest from Tennessee received the challenge and members of the House and Senate introduced a joint resolution for an annual 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.”

On April 17, 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed a bill proclaiming a National Day of Prayer must be declared by each subsequent president at an appropriate date of his choice. Finally, on February 3, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law Proclamation 5767 establishing the 1st Thursday in May as our perennial National Day of Prayer.

That’s this Thursday, May 2, 2024. Theme: Lift Up the Word – Light Up the World.

Join your heart with millions of others to cry out to God in prayer.

(See nationaldayofprayer.org for more details.)


  1. Ron Boehme on May 6, 2024 at 11:09 am

    Thank you, Lynn. If you’d like some more “history” of the NDP and beyond, I’d be glad to send you a copy of my autobiography called “One Small Life” which came out last fall., Just send me your physical address.

    Let’s continue to pray for God’s awakening in our nation.


  2. Lynn Kelley on May 6, 2024 at 6:29 am

    Love reading this history! Thank you for all you do💛🧡❤️👏👏🧡

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