This Thursday is the 68th National Day of Prayer in the US. The roots of the observance go back to post World War II America.
In 1952, Conrad Hilton (of Hilton Hotels) and Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas, both veterans of World War I, initiated a bill to direct the president to name a day of prayer yearly.
Stephen White explains that “Hilton came to view prayer as no less a necessity and no less a sanctuary than work. ‘Some men jump out windows, some quit,’ his mother told him during the Great Depression. ‘Some go to church. Pray Connie. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.’ Even at the darkest, most difficult moments of his life, Hilton always found strength and consolation in his faith.”
Hilton saw prayer as necessity and sanctuary. As did Carlson.
Along with his efforts to establish a day dedicated to prayer, Carlson also initiated the yearly Annual National Prayer Breakfast. At the event in 1986, President Ronald Reagan told this story.
“One night in 1952 during the Presidential campaign, Dwight Eisenhower confided something to one of his advisers, a close friend, Senator Frank Carlson. And Eisenhower told him that during the war when he was commanding the allied forces in Europe, he’d had a startling and vivid spiritual experience — he had actually felt the hand of God guiding him, felt the presence of God.
“And the general told the Senator that this experience and the support of his friends had given him real spiritual strength in the hard days before D-day. Senator Carlson said he understood. He, himself, was getting spiritual help from the members of a little prayer group in the Senate. And a few months later, the general, who was now the President, asked Frank Carlson over to the White House.
“And he told him, ‘Frank, this is the loneliest house I’ve ever been in.’ Carlson said, ‘Mr. President, I think this may be the right time for you to come and meet with our prayer group.’ And Eisenhower did just that.
“In 1953 he attended the first combined prayer breakfast.”
And so a new tradition was born.
It’s a tradition born out of necessity and sanctuary–as prayer to our sovereign God has always been. As we have necessity now to find sanctuary.
When Eisenhower led the Allied efforts in Europe during World War II, he also found sanctuary in the necessity of prayer. On the eve of D-Day in 1944, he broadcast a message to the troops about to invade Europe, including these words:
“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”
Many died on the beaches of Normandy and in fighting that pushed through western Europe to secure victory. Eisenhower had known that many would give their lives.
He knew heavy, dark days lightened and illuminated through prayer, lightened and illuminated through God’s presence and guidance.
Let’s not wait until Thursday to begin to seek His presence, His leading for us.
Let us pursue justice, mercy, and humility. Let us pursue the lightening of burdens and the Light of the world. Let us find the sanctuary of His presence.
Let us pray.
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet,” Isaiah 58:1a.