Pentecost is only a few weeks away, and for many of us living through the pandemic we have lost track of important days. Amid negative news, racial unrest, and daily frustrations, there is more than enough reason for prayer. Today is the National Day of Prayer, but it is not on a lot of people’s calendars this year. The National Day of Prayer was instituted in 1952 by President Harry Truman and has continued for the past 69 years with various presidents, congress people, and other officials observing it each year. There is a non-profit organization called the National Day of Prayer Task Force that coordinates events surrounding the day with particular themes and bringing some unity to Christians observing the day.No matter the theme or who recognizes it, whether official or informal, it is always a good time to pray.
We all face challenges and we are always in need of God’s peace. It is enough to worry about what is going on in our homes, our classrooms, and our communities without having the constant worry of the world we are aware of through social media. Especially as black believers living in this moment, we are carrying more questions than answers. The world as we know it has been turned upside down, and not in a good way. Many of us are struggling to redefine our faith and feel connected to God and other people we haven’t felt present with in a long time.
Psalm 35:6 encourages everyone who is godly to pray at the acceptable time. The Apostle Paul encourages believers to pray without ceasing in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Jesus tells His disciples a parable in Luke 18:1 to teach them to always pray and never give up.
Philippians 4:6-7 is one of the most well known passages about prayer in the Bible. Paul says:
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)
This verse in Philippians reminds us that when we pray, the peace we will experience surpasses our understanding! It is peace that we feel, that we can rest in when nothing else makes sense.
I remember the days after my grandfather died of COVID were filled with worry, anger, sadness and frustration. There were so many barriers to getting answers, making arrangements, honoring the life of a man whose legacy I am living. When I realized I was doing worse than I expected I got a phone call from a friend. He had no idea what I was going through but asked could he pray for me. When he finished praying I felt the weight of the world lift from me. I couldn’t explain it, because I had just received peace that exceeded my understanding.
That same peace is available for all of us when we pray, and when we receive prayer from others. Take some time today to pray for yourself. Acknowledge something you are worrying about to God, He cares about all that concerns us. Then pray for someone else. Pray that God will meet them with His perfect peace. Reflect on the fact that today, you are praying alongside millions of Christians across the country. And may the peace of Christ will meet you in a way you do not have to fully understand to fully receive.
“We give thanks for our democracy that respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain according to the dictates of their conscience. Let us pray for all the citizens of our great Nation, particularly those who are sick, mourning, or without hope, and ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation. May we embrace the responsibility we have to each other, and rely on the better angels of our nature in service to one another. Let us be
humble in our convictions, and courageous in our virtue. Let us pray for those who are suffering around the world, and let us be open to opportunities to ease that suffering.”
These lofty words come on the heels of new guidelines issued by the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships for organizations that seek to “ease suffering” with funding from the federal government. The 50-page report clarifies recommendations made by two inter-faith advisory councils and includes “suggested answers” to commonly asked questions that may be asked about such programs.
The advisory councils were made up of diverse groups of leaders, both religious and secular, Melissa Rogers, the first council’s chairperson, said in a White House blog entry.
“While there are serious differences among these leaders on some church-state issues, the group was able to unite around a call for certain reforms of the partnerships the government forms with religious and secular nonprofits,” wrote Rogers. She outlined those reforms as follows:
1. “Standards regarding the relationship between religion and government are monitored and enforced in ways that avoid excessive entanglement between religious bodies and governmental entities.”
2. “Decisions about federal grants are free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization or lack thereof.”
3. “Beneficiaries of federally funded social services may receive services from a nonreligious provider if they object to receiving services from a religious provider.”
4. “Providers are given detailed and practical guidance regarding the principle that any explicitly religious activities they offer must be clearly separated, in time or location, from programs that receive direct federal support; subsidized with purely private funds, and completely voluntary for social service beneficiaries.”
5. “Social service intermediaries that disburse federal funds are instructed about their special obligations, and recipients of subawards are made aware of the church-state standards that apply to their use of federal aid.”
6. “Plans are developed to train government employees and grant recipients on the church-state rules that apply to these partnerships.”
7. “Regulations, guidance documents, and policies that have implications for faith-based and neighborhood organizations are posted online, along with lists of organizations receiving federal financial assistance.”
The first interfaith advisory council issued recommendations in March 2010. This report offers additional guidance, Rogers said in her post.
Writing for Religion News Service, Adelle Banks said the guidance “breaks little new ground,” “leaves critical questions unanswered,” and “does not resolve the issue of religious groups’ ability to discriminate in hiring and firing,” according to “church-state watchdogs.”
The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, for example, told Banks that the guidance “falls short.”
“A fundamentalist Christian church can still run a publicly funded social service program and hang out a sign that says, ‘Government job opening: No Catholics, Jews, Muslims or Atheists need apply,'” said Lynn.
There go those “fundamentalist” oppressors again. Everyone knows social service programs run by “Catholics, Jews, Muslims, or Atheists” would never discriminate against them.
What do you think?
Will the new guidelines impact your church’s or ministry’s outreach?