I learned to depend on the Lord early in my childhood. During those turbulent years, my mother held our little family together. Though she wasn’t a Christian at the time, she knew she needed all the help she could get as she raised her children. So she sent my brother and me to church every Sunday, and it was there that I was introduced to Jesus Christ and invited Him into my heart.
As I learned how to pray and began speaking to the Lord, I sensed His love and care for me. Amid the chaos of our disintegrating family, this little girl found hope and comfort in Jesus. I’ve been praying and relying on Him ever since.
Prayer is our pathway not only to divine protection, but also to a personal, intimate relationship with God. That’s why I am so honored to be in my 23rd year as chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. I count it a privilege to play a small part in calling people of faith to their knees.
I remember vividly the day when I was called to lead this prayer ministry that is actively engaged in praying for our nation’s leaders. Bill and Vonette Bright had invited my husband, Jim, and me to their home in 1989. Vonette, who had been the chairman of the National Day of Prayer for eight years, turned to me and said, “Shirley, I feel that the Lord wants you to succeed me as the chairman.”
I was shocked! “Oh no, Vonette,” I said. “I just couldn’t take on anything of that magnitude.” I had my hands full as the wife of a busy husband, and I was also a member of the board for his international ministry. Besides, who could fill the shoes of Vonette Bright?
So, initially, I turned her down graciously. But as I was driving home, I sensed God saying: “Shirley, you didn’t talk to Me about Vonette’s request. You haven’t even prayed about it. America’s leaders need prayer.”
So I committed to pray about it. And I asked that if the Lord really was directing me to take on this load, Jim would be in favor of it.
I expected Jim to say, “Shirley, we have all we can handle, and it would be very difficult for us to add anything else right now.” Instead, he stunned me with his response. He was sitting at his desk, and he leaned back in his chair, clasped his hands behind his head, looked straight at me and said, “Shirley, what more important ministry could you be involved in than calling the nation to prayer?”
In September of 1991, I started the new position. Looking back over the years, it is amazing to see how the Lord has blessed and grown the National Day of Prayer. This year, on the first Thursday of May, we had some 42,000 prayer gatherings across the nation.
The Lord Jesus demonstrated the significance of prayer. He “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). He “went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12). He even told His disciples the parable about justice for the persistent widow “to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).
If Christians would pray as Jesus instructed us, it would change our lives—and the course of history. Our nation’s leaders are openly asking for prayer from the public. As a matter of fact, members of both houses of Congress met recently in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda for a time of prayer and reconciliation. In the midst of our tumultuous times, God may be preparing hearts for a new openness to seeking Him through the lifeline of prayer.
The Apostle Paul urged that “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1-3). Let’s please God by actively seeking, through prayer, “peaceful and quiet lives” for our nation and its leaders.
Indeed, we must remain in fervent prayer for those who serve as representatives of the people, even if we do not agree with all the decisions those in authority are making—which is all the more reason to pray for them.
I have spent a great deal of time over the years with our nation’s leaders. It has been an honor and a privilege to pray with them. Often their personal lives are under constant attack, with little balance between work and family time. The demands of their positions are great, and rarely do they receive thanks from the individuals they represent. They are regularly burdened and live in a perpetual state of urgency because of the far-reaching implications of their decisions. Loneliness and feelings of isolation are common.
Not long ago, my team and I spent five days going office to office just to pray with congressional representatives and their staffs. Many expected us to present an agenda with a list of demands. Instead, the walls came down as we shared our gratitude and our desire to bless them with intercession, showing authentic concern for their well-being.
One of our team members shared with me that they had gone to the office of a senator from New York. He was leaving for a very important meeting for which he was already late, so he couldn’t stop to talk. Our team explained that they were simply there to pray and bless him and his staff. The senator smiled, exchanged a few pleasantries and swiftly exited. Our team then engaged the senator’s staff and began to pray with them.
At that moment, the senator returned to the room and dropped to his knees. He said he couldn’t proceed with the decisions of the day without the blessing of Almighty God to guide him. Our prayer team gathered around him and asked God to give him wisdom and discernment.
He hugged the members of our group and then headed to a debate on the sanctity of human life. Our team had no idea what was before him when they entered his office that morning. But out of obedience to pray for our leaders, they went. As a result, a radical abortion bill was defeated in the Senate that day.
Prayer works, and it is transforming homes and communities across the globe. If God’s people will lift up every person who leads our churches, cities, states and yes, even our nation, God will hear and will heal our land. Are you ready to know certain peace in uncertain times? Good. It’s time to pray. ©2014 Shirley Dobson
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Shirley Dobson is the wife of psychologist and author Dr. James C. Dobson and has served as chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force since 1991. Several million people participate every year in this call to prayer for our nation, its leaders and citizens. To learn more or to get involved, visit NationalDayofPrayer.org.
Calling People to Their Knees