WASHINGTON (BP) -- Americans observed the National Day of Prayer by gathering at thousands of locations across the country in what was expected to be the largest such observance in its six-decade history.

The number of events for the May 3 observance was more than 35 percent ahead of last year at the same time, the National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force reported six days before the observance. In 2011, prayer events were held at about 40,000 locations.

The National Day of Prayer has been observed each year since Congress approved a resolution in 1952 calling on the president to establish it as an annual event. President Truman inaugurated the observance the same year, and presidents since then have recognized it with proclamations. In 1988, Congress amended the law to set the first Thursday of May for the observance.

In this year's National Day of Prayer proclamation, President Obama invited Americans to join him "in giving thanks for the many blessings we enjoy, and I call upon individuals of all faiths to pray for guidance, grace, and protection for our great Nation as we address the challenges of our time."

The president urged citizens to "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."

He also called for Americans to honor the members of the Armed Forces and pray for them and their family members.

The lead observance of the National Day of Prayer again was held at an event on Capitol Hill in Washington, with NDP Task Force chairman Shirley Dobson and honorary chairman David Jeremiah among the speakers.

This year's theme, established by the task force, was "One Nation Under God," which was based on Psalm 33:12: "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord."

Jeremiah, senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., and founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries, gave the keynote address at the national observance in Washington. He also wrote the national prayer for the observance, which said:

"Heavenly Father, very good gift and perfect gift comes from You. You are a faithful God and Your mercy endures forever. You have promised to bless the nation that trusts in You. Our currency proclaims 'In God We Trust,' but in our culture we are far from You. In the words of the prophet Daniel, 'We have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments.' We come before You once more, seeking Your forgiveness and mercy. You, O God, are our only hope.... Hear our prayer and, for Your honor's sake, shine Your face upon this nation. Give our leaders the desire to seek Your wisdom and the courage to follow Your guidance. . . . and watch over the men and women of our armed forces as they sacrifice for the cause of freedom. We give You thanks for all You have done for us, and we earnestly pray that You will help us become, once again, a nation whose God is the Lord. In the name of Your Son, and our Savior, we pray this prayer. Amen."

The NDP Task Force is a privately funded group that says the observance is for people of all faiths to participate in but the events it organizes are fulfilled "in accordance with its Judeo-Christian beliefs."

Obama's National Day of Prayer proclamation may be accessed online at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/05/01/presidential-proclamation-national-day-prayer-2012.

Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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