Many would say that there is something contradictory about having the words "national" and "prayer" in the same phrase. They say there should be a "separation" between God and government.
The men who signed the Constitution did not feel this way.
On April 6, 1789, following the ratification of the Constitution, George Washington was selected president; he accepted the position on April 14, 1789, and his inauguration was scheduled in New York City (the nation's capitol) for April 30, 1789. A leading New York Daily newspaper reported on the planned inaugural:
[O]n the morning of the day on which our illustrious President will be invested with his office, the bells will ring at nine o'clock, when the people may go up to the house of God and in a solemn manner commit the new government, with its important train of consequences, to the holy protection and blessing of the most high. An early hour is prudently fixed for this peculiar act of devotion and . . . is designed wholly for prayer.
(New York Daily Advertiser, Thursday, April 23, 1789, p. 2)
The details of this report are in line with Congressional resolutions. On April 27, three days before the inauguration, the Senate:
Resolved, That after the oath shall have been administered to the President, he, attended by the Vice President and members of the Senate and House of Representatives, shall proceed to St. Paul's Chapel, to hear divine service.
(Annals of Congress, Vol 1, p. 25, April 27, 1789; available online at Library of Congress.)
After being sworn in, George Washington delivered his "Inaugural Address" to a joint session of Congress. In it Washington declared:
[I]t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves . . . . In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and . . . can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage.
[W]e ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained . . . .
Messages and Papers of the Presidents, George Washington, Richardson, ed., vol. 1, p.44-45
Following his address, the Annals of Congress reported that:
The President, the Vice-President, the Senate, and House of Representatives, &c., then proceeded to St. Paul's Chapel, where Divine service was performed by the chaplain of Congress.
Several months later, Congress contemplated whether it should request the President to declare a national day of Thanksgiving. The Annals of Congress for Sept 25, 1789 record these discussions:
Mr [Elias] Boudinot said he could not think of letting the session pass over without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining with one voice in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings He had poured down upon them. With this view, therefore, he would move the following resolution:
Resolved, That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.Mr. [Roger] Sherman justified the practice of thanksgiving, on any signal event, not only as a laudable one in itself but as warranted by a number of precedents in Holy Writ: for instance, the solemn thanksgivings and rejoicings which took place in the time of Solomon after the building of the temple was a case in point. This example he thought worthy of Christian imitation on the present occasion; and he would agree with the gentleman who moved the resolution. Mr Boudinot quoted further precedents from the practice of the late Congress, [he was a member of the Continental Congress from 1778-79 and 1781-84 and President of the Continental Congress 1782-83] and hoped the motion would meet a ready acquiescence. [Boudinot was also founder and first president of the American Bible Society.] The question was now put on the resolution and it was carried in the affirmative.
On this very same day, Congress approved the final wording of the First Amendment.
The Congressional resolution was delivered to President Washington who heartily concurred with its request. On Oct 3, 1789, he issued the following proclamation:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th. day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
America was once a "City upon a Hill." In 1892 the Supreme Court of the United States declared in dramatic terms that America was and should be a Christian nation. America's Founders called it "an experiment in liberty."
During the 20th century, the western world abandoned Christianity in favor of "secularism." The "powers that be" declared that there was no Higher Power, that George Washington's "great Lord and Ruler of Nations" was dead, and the "experiment in liberty" was replaced with an experiment in central planning.
The experiment of America's Christian Founders made America the most prosperous and admired nation in history. The experiment in secular central planning has bought poverty and misery wherever it has been attempted. America is no longer prosperous and admired, but bankrupt and despised.
Today's politicians are leaving tomorrow's children with trillions of dollars of debt and billions of people who hate us.
We have much to pray about on this National Day of Prayer.
Thankfully, the Declaration of Independence really is true when it mentions certain "self-evident truths," among them, the existence of God Who has revealed His Law to us, showing us the path to blessings, and promising that if we conform our lives and institutions to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," we can have a firm reliance on "the Protection of Divine Providence."
True prayer is not presumption. It always involves repentance.
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14