Since 1986, Americans have observed an annual holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Occurring on the third Monday of January each year, the holiday falls around (and sometimes on) Dr. King’s birthday, January 15. It honors the civil rights leader’s nonviolent activism and inspirational rhetoric in protesting and changing racial discrimination in the U.S.
The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday means a day off from work for some citizens. It often includes a church service or civic event to remember and revive King’s call to equality, justice and brotherhood for all people. It can also be an occasion for prayer. In fact, it is an opportunity to pray with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.–particularly since many of his prayers are as timely and to-the-point now as they have ever been.
Here are four of Dr. King’s prayers from a helpful collection of 68 prayers edited by Lewis V. Baldwin titled, “Thou, Dear God”: Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits:
1) Forgive us for what we could have been but failed to be.
O Thou Eternal God, out of whose absolute power and infinite intelligence the whole universe has come into being, we humbly confess that we have not loved thee with our hearts, souls and minds, and we have not loved our neighbors as Christ loved us. We have all too often lived by our own selfish impulses rather than by the life of sacrificial love as revealed by Christ. We often give in order to receive. We love our friends and hate our enemies. We go the first mile but dare not travel the second. We forgive but dare not forget. And so as we look within ourselves, we are confronted with the appalling fact that the history of our lives is the history of an eternal revolt against you. But thou, O God, have mercy upon us. Forgive us for what we could have been but failed to be. Give us the intelligence to know your will. Give us the courage to do your will. Give us the devotion to love thy will. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray. Amen. (p. 7)
2) In unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life
O God, the Creator and Preserver of all mankind; in whom to dwell is to find peace and security; toward whom to turn is to find life and life eternal, we humbly beseech Thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldst be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, Thy saving health unto all nations. We also pray for Thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by Thy Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to Thy Fatherly goodness all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed in mind or body. Give them patience under the suffering and power of endurance. This we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen. (p. 57)
3) To make a creative contribution to this world
O God, we thank you for the lives of great saints and prophets in the past, who have revealed to us that we can stand up amid the problems and difficulties and trials of life and not give in. We thank you for our foreparents, who’ve given us something in the midst of the darkness of exploitation and oppression to keep going. Grant that we will go on with the proper faith and the proper determination of will, so that we will be able to make a creative contribution to this world. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray. (p. 97)
4) Increase the number of persons of good will and moral sensitivity.
O God, make us willing to do your will, come what may. Increase the number of persons of good will and moral sensitivity. Give us renewed confidence in nonviolence and the way of love as taught by Christ. Amen. (p. 119)
Adapted from “Thou, Dear God”: Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits, The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Lewis V. Baldwin (Beacon Press, 2014)