WASHINGTON – During his speech at the 59th National Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning, President Barack Obama said the godmother of his two daughters helped organize prayer groups for him across the country.
As expected, the president spoke about his Christian faith, sharing well-known stories about his non-religious upbringing and how it was through working with churches that got him into public service in the first place.
But he also shared more personal stories about how prayer has impacted his life since becoming president. He said that Kaye Wilson, godmother to Malia and Sasha, began praying for him during his campaign to be president after seeing him being attacked on cable television. But she soon was overwhelmed by the amount of prayer Obama needed and started organizing prayer circles nationwide to pray for the president.
"By the time I was elected president, she (Wilson) said, 'I just couldn't keep up [praying] on my own. I was having to pray eight or nine times a day just for you,'" recalled Obama, drawing laughter from the more than 3,000 people from some 140 countries at the exclusive prayer breakfast made up mostly of ambassadors, congressmen, and government officials.
"So she enlisted help from around the country."
Regarding his own prayer habits, the president said: "When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people. And when I go to bed at night I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to forgive me my sins, and look after my family and the American people, and make me an instrument of His will.
Obama said he says these prayers knowing that he must work hard, sacrifice and serve to see them answered.
"But I also say these prayers knowing that the act of prayer itself is a source of strength," he said.
The president shared his personal prayer topics, which include strength to meet the demands of his office, ability to help those in need, patience, and humility. He also mentioned by name megachurch pastors Joel C. Hunter of Northland, A Church Distributed near Orlando, Fla., and T.D. Jakes of The Potter's House in Dallas, as spiritual leaders who sometimes come to the Oval Office to pray with him.
"I was encouraged by the non-partisan approach within the U.S. government for the health of the country and it was heartwarming to hear President Obama's own personal story of faith and commitment," commented Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance.
The annual National Prayer Breakfast was founded in 1953 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to allow individuals of various nationalities, religions, and political orientation to unite through prayer. Every president since Eisenhower has attended the event.
"It (National Prayer Breakfast) is a place you can meet [people] apart from your political differences and even apart from your religious differences. It is a place you can build friendships [and] trust with people from across the world," explained Congressman Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), who has attended the National Prayer Breakfast for more than 30 years, to The Christian Post.
Pitts, a well-known evangelical Christian in Congress, added: "Relational politics is vastly superior than noise and pressure politics … you can get more done when you have a friend, someone you trust, someone you have a relationship with."
Other notable guests at this year's event included Jose Enriquez, one of the rescued Chilean miners, filmmaker and screenwriter Randall Wallace, and Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
Oscar-nominated Wallace – whose films include "Braveheart," "Pearl Harbor," "The Man in the Iron Mask," and "Secretariat" – told heartwarming but humorous stories about his hardworking, high-principled father and grandfather. He shared a particularly poignant story about when he was out of work and money because of a Writers Guild strike and was afraid he would betray the legacy of his father and grandfather and disappoint his sons. It was at this point that he got on his knees because he had "nowhere else to go" and prayed a prayer that would be the inspiration behind his 1995 blockbuster film "Braveheart."
"I pray that if I go down in this fight that I not do it on my knees to someone else, but standing up with my flag flying," recalled Wallace of his prayer, which inspired the famous Mel Gibson scene in "Braveheart."
This year, Pastor Rick Warren, a regular National Prayer Breakfast participant, did not attend. Warren's publicist, Larry Ross, who was at the prayer breakfast, said that his client was busy with the five new campuses that Saddleback Church opened in December.