Last week, President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. I am sure that his presence at the even and even the event itself evokes mixed reactions from some of my friends in this space; know that I am sympathetic to your criticisms and questions.
That said, however, I found the President’s approach to prayer inspiring. I learned something from the three themes he discusses and wanted to share what I’ve learned with those of you who follow this blog.
The first category of prayer comes out of the urgency of the Old Testament prophets and the Gospel itself. I pray for my ability to help those who are struggling. Christian tradition teaches that one day the world will be turned right side up and everything will return as it should be. But until that day, we’re called to work on behalf of a God that chose justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable.
How often are our prayers motivated circumstances that impact only us and ours? And as a result, how often are our prayers totally and completely self-centered? We ought to be challenged here to seek justice and mercy for others first, both in prayer and in action.
That’s why a second recurring theme in my prayers is a prayer for humility. Now, God answered this prayer for me early on by having me marry Michelle. Because whether it’s reminding me of a chore undone, or questioning the wisdom of watching my third football game in a row on Sunday, she keeps me humble.
But in this life of politics when debates have become so bitterly polarized, and changes in the media lead so many of us just to listen to those who reinforce our existing biases, it’s useful to go back to Scripture to remind ourselves that none of has all the answers – none of us, no matter what our political party or our station in life.
Perhaps it’s due to my personality more than anything – I can be a very stubborn and prideful man – but this one hits home at a very personal level. Even though I know deep down that I don’t know plenty of things, I often act like I do. Seeking humility in prayer is vitally important, especially for me.
The final theme President Obama discusses speaks entirely for itself.
And the last recurring theme, one that binds all prayers together, is that I might walk closer with God and make that walk my first and most important task […]
We see an aging parent wither under a long illness, or we lose a daughter or a husband in Afghanistan, we watch a gunman open fire in a supermarket – and we remember how fleeting life can be. And we ask ourselves how have we treated others, whether we’ve told our family and friends how much we love them. And it’s in these moments, when we feel most intensely our mortality and our own flaws and the sins of the world, that we most desperately seek to touch the face of God.
I’m curious how any of you reacted, either to this event in general or to the President’s words in particular. Thoughts?