Thursday, May 6, 2010

National Day of Prayer

The setting was in ancient Persia. A Hebrew man by the name of Daniel was facing yet another crisis in his spiritual life. Years earlier he and many of the other best and brightest from his nation had been carried away into Babylon as captives. Eventually his nation was overrun by the Chaldeans who burned the gates of Jerusalem and looted and destroyed the House of God. Most of the inhabitants of the city were herded away to Babylon to join the captives who had been taken earlier.

God had been with Daniel throughout his life in a strange land. He and three of his companions, Hannaniah, Azariah, and Mishael determined early on in their captivity that they would not yield to the pressure to assimilate into the Chaldean culture. They were privileged to receive the best living conditions, the finest education available, and the opportunity to be the "Yuppies" of the day. However, their devotion to their God, put them in precarious life threatening positions on several occasions. Yet on each occasion, God honored their faithfulness, and brought them through their (sometimes fiery) trials.

God brought Daniel to a place of prominence in the Empire. He served the Babylonian kings and became a trusted advisor to them. His national prominence continued to grow, even after the death of Nebuchadnezzar and the fall of Belshazzar and his kingdom. When Darius the Mede took the throne, Daniel gained favor with the new king as well. Darius set 120 Satraps over the kingdom, with three overseers (or presidents) ruling over them. Daniel became the chief of these three overseers, answering only to King Darius. The Bible says "Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm." (Daniel 6:3)

As in many similar situations, the success of this outsider, Daniel, (a Hebrew no less) did not set well with the other jealous officials. Verses 4 & 5 summed up their frustrations:

"So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him. Then these men said, "We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God."

Isn't that a wonderful testimony to the faith and integrity of Daniel? Oh, that the same thing could be said of we Christians today!

The scheming enemies of Daniel came to the king with praise and flattery. They convinced the king to pass a royal decree that anyone who "prayed to any god or man for a period of 30 days, would be cast into a den of lions". The law of the Medes and Persians was so binding that even the king himself could not change a decree once it was issued. The plotters knew this. They also knew that Daniel was a man of regular prayer, and that no matter what the law might say, Daniel would not alter his practice, nor his dependence on the God who he loved so dearly. The king signed the decree, and the stage was set for a showdown.

Here is the part of the narrative that I love the best. "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days." (verse 10)

Well, I'm sure you know the rest of the story.

Here is the main point I would like to make today.

The first official National Day of Prayer was authorized by Congress in 1952. In 1988 it was set as a permanent annual observation for the first Thursday in May. As a result, there are thousands of public and private observations going on across America today. We are blessed to live in a nation with the freedoms our constitution guarantees for every citizen. For many years, even unbelievers have respected our religious heritage, and we have enjoyed the freedom of religion in this nation. The constitution guarantees us that the government may not establish a particular state religion, nor may it prohibit the free exercise of religion by its citizens.

On April 15th, a U.S. District Court Judge, Barbara Crabb, issued a 66 page decision which in essence said that a National Day of Prayer violates the "establishment clause" of the constitution. The ruling stated that the President may not officially set a National Day of Prayer by proclamation. To its credit, the Obama administration announced that they would seek to overturn this decision on appeal.

My point is this. While I certainly support the freedom to have an official National Day of Prayer, EVERY day should be a day of prayer for the people of God. I am not so naive to believe that one day, we in America could find ourselves in the same precarious situation that Daniel did. What would our reaction be? Will we rail against the pagan government, file lawsuits, march in the streets, form PAC's to lobby Congress, or take matters into our own hands? Or, like Daniel of old, will we simply continue to call upon our God.

We certainly don't need a Presidential proclamation to come before the Throne of Grace. I personally hope we will always be allowed that benefit in America. But if not, may God help us to have the courage to continue to pray openly - even if the time may come when the practice is outlawed!

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