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President M. Russell Ballard: The National Prayer Breakfast should begin an American movement of prayer

President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, waves to attendees after a devotional in Worcester, Massachusetts, on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

This week in Washington, D.C., thousands will assemble for the National Prayer Breakfast. The gathering will include the president of the United States, business executives and government officials, along with religious leaders of various faiths from across the country and around the world. They will not come to debate their differences but to pause for a moment and consider the need for divine guidance in addressing the difficult challenges that face America today.

The secularists and the skeptics scoff at the need for prayer in our modern world of science and knowledge. I disagree.

Many of these loud and strident secular voices seem determined to not only drive faith out of the public square but also to remove it from the founding pillars of this nation and the documents designed by the wise men I believe were raised up by God for that very purpose. For years they have tried to diminish faith and prayer to minor and insignificant footnotes in history, and now they wish to erase them from the pages of the American story altogether.

Our nation was founded on prayer, it was preserved by prayer and we need prayer again.

When we read the letters and diaries of the Founding Fathers and Mothers, it is clear and undeniable that they believed they had a better chance at receiving their needed miracles if they entered into a relationship with God, which required their national adherence to that God and regular petitions of prayer.

George Washington relied upon divine providence again and again. He issued a general order asking his men to fast and pray:

“Thursday ... being set apart ... as a day of fasting and prayer, ... to implore the Lord, and Giver of all victory, to pardon our . . . sins and wickedness’s, and that it would please him to bless the Continental Army, with his divine favour and protection.”

Throughout the War of Independence, Washington repeatedly acknowledged the hand of God as an answer to prayer: “Providence has heretofore saved us in a remarkable manner, and on this we must principally rely.”

For more than 240 years, this nation has come together in many moments of prayer. Some have been in expression of gratitude. Sadly, such prayers are rarely called for or permitted in public anymore. More often, moments of prayer in America have come in the wake of tragedies — natural disasters and, increasingly, man-caused calamities.

It is time again to unite to pray for this country, for our leaders, for our people and for the families that live in this great nation founded by God.

I invite all to join, not just in a moment of prayer, but in a new, and sustained, movement of prayer. Each of us should invite our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends on social media to pray for this country.

All around the nation and across all faith traditions, a movement of prayer can and will change hearts, improve dialogue, increase understanding and lead us all to better love and serve one another.

It is wonderful to live in a pluralistic nation that values individuals of every belief and of no belief. All should be encouraged to bring their whole authentic self, including their faith, into the public square. Valuing our diversity is also part of the American ideal.

Admittedly, it is easy for those who wish to demonize people of faith or ridicule the practice of prayer to drive wedges of division into our differences. I believe a movement of prayer in this nation will build new bridges across those differences and to that God who knows our collective and individual struggles and whose help this nation desperately needs.

Good women and good men, united in prayer and faith-filled effort, can change the history of the world. Our nation’s history is a testimony to that reality. This year’s National Prayer Breakfast should serve to begin anew an American movement of prayer.

M. Russell Ballard is the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.