Why I’m Not a Fan of the National Day of Prayer

Today is the annual National Day of Prayer, celebrated by many (primarily Evangelicals) around our great nation including many in our military. At the risk of really agitating a number of my friends who are staunch advocates of the NDoP, I feel compelled to note that I’m not really that much of a fan.

"What! You don’t support the National Day of Prayer?!" I can almost hear them cry out in anguish and gnashing of teeth. After all, on many military bases the NDoP is almost the biggest Holy Day of the year–with prayer breakfasts, flag waving, pomp, circumstance, big name speakers, and eventually even some prayer. I say that with my tongue only loosely planted in my cheek.

Well, quite honestly, I dislike the NDoP as much as I dislike having a U.S. flag prominently placed in the church sanctuary.

(Oh, bother, now I’ve really crossed the line.)

"What! Are you some kind of socialist, pinko, commie, liberal, fascist, heretic or something?!"

Nope. Not at all. I’m about as big a flag-waving, patriotic, proud American as you’re going to find, in Texas or anywhere. Added to this, I’m a chaplain in the Air Force and a devout, confessional, theologically-conservative Christian.

I am an American AND a Christian but not an American-Christian or a Christian-American, and it has nothing at all to do with Mr. Jefferson and his separation of church and state.

I am, in the words of the Apostle Paul, a citizen of heaven, and I am eagerly waiting for Christ’s return (Phil 3.20). The faith once for all delivered to the saints is neither an American treasure nor an American birthright. It is not as if we shall be gathered around the throne praising God in eternity in English. Any good Lutheran will tell you that the language of heaven is clearly German. Seriously, though…the vast crowd, too great to count, standing before the Lamb is from "every nation and tribe and people and language" (Rev 7.9). We Americans must not let our Christianity become exclusively American or even America-centered (in theology or praxis), for the promise of the Gospel and God’s gracious redemption in Christ are universal in scope.

Placing American flags in our sanctuaries and having national days of prayer aren’t necessarily sinful or wrong. But they are, at best, short-sighted. Let us indeed pray for our civic leaders…we are commanded to do exactly that (1 Tim 2.2). Let us, if we are Americans, thank God for the many blessings we enjoy here. Let us, however, not only pray for American leaders and American blessings but truly for all in authority, regardless of their nationality, and for all God’s many blessings to the nations–most notably, Jesus Christ.

Hermann Sasse on the Hiddenness of God

Nowhere is God more deeply covered and hidden than in the Passion. Gethsemane and the cry of dereliction on the cross shatter every attempt to twist the Gospel into a triumphal epiphany of some savior-god in the manner of the ancient mystery religions, or into a heroic epic. How often the theology of glory has tried to control the Gospel! The miracles have been particularly misunderstood in this way. To be sure, Jesus "manifested His glory" in them, as we are told in the account of the wedding at Cana. But it says explicitly: "His disciples believed in Him." Not the wedding guests, nor the five thousand whom He fed, nor the sick whom He healed, nor even those whom He raised from the dead believed in Him. Also these deeds were both a revealing and a covering of His divine majesty; only in faith did His disciples see His glory. His resurrection also was no demonstration for the world. The empty grave as such convinced no one who did not believe in Him. It could be explained away, as were also HIs miracles of healing (Matt 27:64; Luke 11:28). Faith always deals with what is hidden. Also the faith of the apostles and of the apostolic church that Jesus is Lord was faith in His hidden glory, in God veiled in the flesh, in the true God in the form of true manhood. Nowhere, however, is this hiddenness more profound than in the cross.
(Hermann Sasse, quoted in Treasury of Daily Prayer, 276)