National Day of Prayer
For the past 35 years, millions of people across the country have paused on the first Thursday of May to lift their hearts in prayer to God. However, the National Day of Prayer goes back much farther, with its origins rooted in the nation’s founding.
While the modern observation of the National Day of Prayer began in 1952, when President Harry S. Truman signed a joint resolution into law, the Second Continental Congress also observed a day of prayer from 1775 through 1783 as did President John Adams in 1798 and 1799.
The resolution signed by President Truman stated, “The President shall set aside and proclaim a suitable day each year, other than a Sunday, as a 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.” However, it wasn’t until 1983, at the urging of the National Prayer Committee, that the first formal National Day of Prayer observance took place, at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.
In his proclamation, President Ronald Reagan wrote, “From General Washington’s struggle at Valley Forge to the present, this Nation has fervently sought and received divine guidance as it pursued the course of history. This occasion provides our Nation with an opportunity to further recognize the source of our blessings, and to seek His help for the challenges we face today and in the future.”
The law—again with the encouragement of the National Prayer Committee—was amended in 1988 to state that the National Day of Prayer would take place on the first Thursday of May. Since then, people of faith gather not only at churches, but schools, businesses, and other public places each year to seek God’s will and blessing.
The full story of the National Day of Prayer, however, cannot be told without telling that of Vonette Bright, who served as the chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force and was present at the 1988 signing. It was Vonette’s heart for Jesus and passion for prayer that guided the push to establish a fixed National Day of Prayer.
Although she grew up in church, she felt an emptiness within her heart. It wasn’t until Vonette started dating her future husband, Bill, who would send her passages of Scripture to read, that she truly began wrestling with God.
“I began to realize I was engaged to a man to whom Christ meant a great deal, and yet He was not real to me,” she said.
Even after they were married and made a contract with God and each other, Vonette’s passion for Jesus didn’t match her husband’s. Bill was given a vision for Campus Crusade for Christ (known today as Cru), but Vonette remained unsure. That changed, however, after Vonette, at the encouragement of Bill, met with Dr. Henrietta Mears, who later founded Gospel Light Publications.
“She said that God loved me, and if I had been the only person in the entire world, He would have done everything He could to reveal Himself to me,” Vonette said. “He had a plan and purpose for me that was far beyond anything I could possibly imagine. However, before I could know that plan and purpose, it was necessary for me to know God.”
Over the years, Vonette’s passion for prayer grew, and seeing a shift in American values, she began the Great Commission Prayer, a movement to pray for the nation and its leaders. She joined the National Day of Prayer Task Force in 1982, serving as chair until 1990.
Vonette passed away in 2015 at the age of 89, but Americans continue to come together on the first Thursday of each May to praise God and ask for His continued blessings.