by Diana Chandler
WASHINGTON (BP) — Pleas for revival and religious freedom were heard repeatedly at the National Day of Prayer service today (May 7) in Washington, including the keynote address by Southern Baptist pastor Jack Graham and a letter he read from imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini.
Graham, pastor of the 40,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and a former Southern Baptist Convention president, served as honorary chairperson of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.
“We are facing a crisis in America. These are desperate days,” Graham said to the hundreds gathered at the Canon House Office Building. “This is a crying time in America. It’s a time for tears.”
Graham called for extraordinary prayer, emphasizing the event’s theme “Lord, Hear Our Cry,” taken from I Kings 8:38.
“There’s a time for ordinary prayer,” Graham said. “But there is a time for what Jonathan Edwards the great revivalist called extraordinary prayer. Uncommon times call for uncommon prayer, and so we cry out to God. We cry out to God.”
Graham prayed for Abedini, imprisoned three years for his faith in Iran, where officials have threatened to extend his current eight-year sentence to life imprisonment, unless he renounces Christianity and embraces Islam. The national prayer observance coincides with Abedini’s 35th birthday.
“We should always remember to pray for suffering Christians, the persecuted church, martyred believers around the world,” Graham said. “We must never forget them.”
Abedini issued an open letter from prison to Christians on the occasion of the national prayer observance, which Graham read during his address. In the letter, Abedini urged Americans to make the most of religious freedom enjoyed here.
“The National Day of Prayer is a great opportunity for us to come out and use the freedom that we have been given. So many Christians around the world are imprisoned and martyred for their faith in Jesus,” Abedini said. “You have the freedom to gather across the United States at your state capitol to pray. Please use this opportunity. Please use your freedom for the Kingdom of God.
“Change starts with us. Revival starts with us. The first step to revival is praying together in unity as a nation,” Abedini wrote.
President Obama hailed religious liberty in his official National Day of Prayer proclamation, issued May 6.
“Millions of individuals worldwide are subjected to discrimination, abuse, and sanctioned violence simply for exercising their religion or choosing not to claim a faith. Communities are threatened with genocide and driven from their homelands because of who they are or how they pray,” Obama wrote. “The United States will continue to stand against these reprehensible attacks, work to end them, and protect religious freedom throughout the world. And we remember those who are prisoners of conscience — who are held unjustly because of their faiths or beliefs — and we will take every action within our power to secure their release.”
Graham referenced an arrogance among Americans that makes us blind to God’s will, and said society’s moral decay is happening under the watch of Christians living today.
“Sin which used to hide in the shadows has now come out into the light. I heard it said a few years ago that when some people get out of their closets, it’s time for Christians to get into theirs and pray. We need to pray in our closets and to pray openly as we’re doing today,” Graham said. “God doesn’t need America. It’s a great nation. God has given us our life and our liberty. But God doesn’t need America to do what God will do in the world. But America desperately needs God and we need Him today…. And may God give us the third great awakening in our nation.”
The Washington observance was among numerous prayer events held throughout the U.S. today.
Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales addressed a crowd of some 500 at a prayer breakfast in Nashville, Tenn., sponsored by First Baptist Church of Nashville and held at the city’s Music City Center convention hall.
“It’s a time for prayer in America, a time to humble ourselves before God and petition Him, even though we are unworthy,” said Gonzales, who served under President George W. Bush. “We live in a country where prayers still come to pass. And for this and many other reasons, America is worth fighting for and she is worth dying for. She is worth the sacrifice.”
Gonzales emphasized the need for a person of faith in the office of U.S. president.
“I believe it’s vital to the welfare and the security of our nation to have a person of faith in the Oval Office who believes in God and the power of prayer,” he said. “I pray that the majestic power of the presidency is always in the hands of someone who can be trusted to exercise power with humility without regard to personal or political gain and with respect for the law with compassion. I want my president to set a good example for our children, be unapologetic about God and our country and be a catalyst for dialogue about right and wrong, that is civil, constructive and tolerant.”
He encouraged Christians to persevere in faith as religious freedoms are threatened.
“It is my hope that those that disagree with my values afford me the same tolerance that I’ve tried to show them. However as a Christian I have to accept the real probability of persecution, the likely judgment by some that I’m a bigot,” Gonzales said. “Indeed this may be a time when we are all tested. Are we going to be obedient to God’s Word? The answer will likely only be revealed to us through prayer.”
The national observance has been held since 1952, and on the first Thursday in May since 1988. President Obama’s proclamation can he read at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/05/06/presidential-proclamation-national-day-prayer-2015.
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.
Reprinted from Baptist Press (www.baptistpress.com).
Baptist Press (BP) is the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention and provides news to the 42 state Baptist papers. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.