The speaker at Thursday’s 16th annual National Day of Prayer, sponsored by King’s Daughters’ Medical Center, used the occasion to emphasize that days of prayer and fasting date back much farther than 16 years and much farther than 62 years, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed the first National Day of Prayer for the first Thursday in May.
In fact, days of prayer and fasting date back to the earliest days of American history, said Timothy Barton, a speaker for WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization that emphasizes the important role faith has played in American history. His organization stresses the need for America to return to the days when our leaders trusted in God and actively sought his divine guidance, Barton said.
When the first English settlers in America arrived at Cape Henry in what is now Virginia on April 29, 1607, the first thing they did is to have a prayer meeting and to thank God for a safe journey, Barton said.
When the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts in 1620, the first thing they did is have a prayer meeting, and they celebrated what is known as the first Thanksgiving in 1621, even though almost half of the settlers did not survive their first year in America, Barton said.
When they observed Thanksgiving in 1723, he said only 24 of the settlers were still alive. “Still, they prayed and gave thanks and they declared a day of fasting,” Barton said. “That’s how important prayer was to them. That’s how much they trusted God.”
That trust in God did not end with the deaths of the first generation of settlers, Barton said. Between 1720 and 1815, there were more than 1,700 “official prayer proclamations” in America, Barton said. Three hundred were proclaimed by the church, but the other 1,400 were proclaimed by the government.
In proclaiming the first Thanksgiving in the new nation, President George Washington declared he has a “duty to acknowledge providence of God,” Burton said.
John Adams, the second president, said he considered calling for days of prayer and fasting his “indispensable duty.”
Even Benjamin Franklin, who Barton called “one of the least religious of our Founding Fathers,” called for the daily meetings of Congress to begin with prayer, a practice that continues to this day, Barton said.
When those gathered to write a new document to replace the Articles of Confederation were making no progress after weeks of deliberations, Barton said they declared a two-day recess so they could pray for God’s guidance in their efforts. After the break, work on the drafting of the U.S. Constitution advanced quickly and Franklin said the Constitution, a non-religious document, would have not been written and enacted without the guidance of God.
Since a 1962 U.S. Supreme Court decision removed prayer from public schools, Barton said teen pregnancies have skyrocketed and violent crime has exploded.
“The Bible tells us that fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but since God has been removed from our public schools, SAT scores have fallen at an alarming rate,” Barton said.
“This is why things like today are so important,” Barton said. “As a nation, we have forgotten God and we need to return to our biblical principles to again prosper.”
Barton called on those attending the breakfast to “pray for our leaders even if you did not vote for them. The Bible says that everyone of us has a responsibility to pray for out leaders. We need to return to the time when we were a nation of godly people.”
Amanda Wilcox, a native of Ashland and one-third of the popular trio Kimber Rising, sang before Burton’s talk. She is the daughter of Jim Wilcox, minister of music and worship at First Baptist Church of Russell, who gave the invocation at the breakfast. While still singing with the trio, she is working on her first solo album.