During my 25 years in Washington, D.C., associated with the prayer breakfast movement and pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church, I developed a deep conviction that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” requires faithfulness in prayer by God’s people. It could well be argued that to the extent to which governments fail, they fail because of prayerlessness as much as because of negligent leaders.

Prayer for our leaders is not optional, it is mandatory. Not to pray is to disobey a clear command from God. (The apostolic injunction is given in 1 Tim. 2:1–4.) We profess to see a direct influence of prayer when it relates to such concerns as evangelism and missions. Scripture teaches the same vital connection between our prayers and a stable, godly social fabric. Why do we seemingly ignore the first reason the apostle gives for our intercession for government leaders? It is certainly not because we are unaware of our nation’s grave social ills.

Social evils are growing like a deep-seated cancer, and the so-called evangelical revival has not stopped it. In fact, despite evangelicals’ successes in the mass media and their political influence, it appears that they have had little positive impact on contemporary culture.

Evangelicals have never had it so good. Their television celebrities attract millions of people and dollars. Some of their books sell in the hundreds of thousands. In the last election they got involved in politics as never before.

Meanwhile, however, divorce, abortion, alcoholism, drug abuse, pornography, and crime threaten to bring down our nation. The apostle Paul clearly understood that intercession for national leaders was an effective antidote. Is it not conceivable that prayer will make a difference?

Thirty years ago Congress called for an annual National Day of Prayer on a day other than Sunday. This year the date is May 6. In his proclamation, President Reagan recalled that the purpose of Congress in taking this action was to call people to turn to God in prayer and meditation, whether in groups or as individuals. “From the earliest days of our Republic,” he said, “Americans have asked God to hear their prayers in times of sorrow and crisis and in times of bounty.… Ever since, Americans have shared a special sense of destiny under God.”

America’s leaders have often called on citizens to pray in times of crisis: 15 times between 1775 and 1863–9 of them between 1775 and 1784 during the struggle for independence.

In his 1863 call for a Day of National Humiliation and Prayer, President Abraham Lincoln perhaps most clearly enunciated the underlying spiritual issues. He said:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown.

“But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.

“Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves … to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

President reagan reminded us this year that God answered prayer “through the storms of Revolution, Civil War, and the great World Wars.” He added: “As a nation, we have been richly blessed with His love and generosity.” He then issued this call for all Americans to pray on May 6:

“On that day I ask Americans to join with me in giving thanks to Almighty God for the blessings he has bestowed on this land and the protection He affords us as a people. Let us as a nation join together before God, aware of the trials that lie ahead and of the need for divine guidance.”

Every church ought to schedule and promote special times of intercessory prayer on May 6—early in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. Christian organizations should set aside periods of prayer. Every Christian should be certain to pray particularly for our government leaders on May 6. No other duty is as important as prayer. It matters little what else we do if we fail to pray.

“… if my people who are called by my name 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 Chron. 7:14).

Richard C. Halverson, formerly pastor of Washington, D.C.’s Fourth Presbyterian Church, is chaplain of the United States Senate.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.