Days of Prayer
In times of war, general calamities, and other great afflictions the presence of which is felt throughout the Churches, a day of prayer may be proclaimed by the Churches appointed for that purpose by general synod.
In previous redactions of this article the word “fasting” was also used. The days mentioned here were days of “fasting and prayer.” Who thinks of fasting in our days? Yet it would have been much better if the word “fasting” had been retained in this article.
Although fasting may oftentimes have been regarded as a meritorious work, it certainly should not be discarded as something which does not mean much or is no longer fit in our modern days.
Let us, however, first pay attention to the provision of this article. There may be circumstances that bring the churches to the conviction that they all should call upon the Lord as it were with one voice, so that His anger and displeasure evidenced in great disasters may be turned away. Two churches have been appointed by general synod to issue the call to such a day of prayer. These are the churches at Burlington East and Edmonton (Providence Church). They consult with each other and when they agree that the need is there, they set a date for a special day of prayer and inform the churches accordingly. From the very words of this article it is clear that such a call should not be issued lightly or without urgent need. In former days synods warned that it should be done only when either the whole nation or all the churches together were afflicted by the distress. To give specific examples is not needed; the article is sufficiently clear.
The various needs of the churches as well as of the world are remembered regularly when the congregation calls upon the Name of the Lord. In the public prayer in the worship services also the dangers that assail the church will be mentioned on a regular basis. And so will the special needs of church and nation.
When there is a war or when war threatens country and nation, we acknowledge the Lord’s hand in it. He shows His anger because of the general deviation from the path of righteousness. His hand presses down upon the people when He sends general calamities and distress. Great afflictions which are felt throughout the churches come not by chance but are the Lord’s reaction to disobedience and apostasy. Such evidence of God’s anger and displeasure is reason for the Lord’s people to humble themselves before Him and to implore Him for His grace and mercy. Then all churches should be called upon to come before the throne of grace and mercy with one voice, for God’s people cannot shake off the guilt and sin of the world as if they had nothing to do with it. If the Lord’s people were perfect, they could say: “We have no part in the guilt of the world.” But they cannot say this.
The Holy Scriptures contain many examples which show that believers were aware of the “solidarity in guilt,” even with the former generations. We mention only Psalm 79, 85, 106; Dan. 9. The purpose of a day of prayer is, therefore, not merely or even mainly to “pray away” the disaster and tension but to pray for and receive forgiveness and to implore the Lord to be merciful. What must underlie the prayer is the awareness of unworthiness and guilt.
We deplore it therefore that the “fasting” has disappeared. No, there is no merit in fasting and it does not produce any reason why the Lord should turn away His wrath and show anew the light of His countenance, but by fasting one shows the more clearly that he is earnest in his confession and supplication. David fasted for as long as the child of Bathsheba was alive; the population of Nineveh fasted so that the cry of man and beast, of infants and aged people reached the ears of the Lord, who repented of the evil which He had spoken, and He did not do it.
The fasting does not necessarily mean that we abstain from all food and drink, although this is not precluded. When we are serious in our prayers and humble ourselves before the Lord, would we not be willing to forego all food and drink to show that we are serious? And when the heart of a mother would almost melt when her baby cries for hunger and thirst, could we then expect that the Lord would remain unmoved and that He would not show mercy? Jonah 3: 10, Isaiah 49: 15.