If you were the President of the United States, would you still find the time for daily devotions?
I can attest from personal experience that it’s hard keeping up with regular devotions and Bible reading amid work, family, and other commitments—and I say that as somebody who works at a Bible website, where it couldn’t possibly be easier for me to access a Bible anytime I want to. I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be to fit devotional reading into a day whose duties also included handling international crises, wrangling with Congress, and surviving the endless grind of everyday American political culture.
But precisely because of those challenges, time for Bible reading, prayer, and devotions would be all the more critical for a national leader. Martin Luther famously quipped “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer;” if that’s true for me and my busy day, it’s even more true for the “leader of the free world.”
Why do I bring this up? Because as it turns out, like other presidents before him, President Obama reads his daily devotions, and 365 of those daily readings have just been collected and published as The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama. These devotions were written by Joshua DuBois, who, while working on Obama’s staff, once asked the then-senator for permission to email him a devotional reading each day. Obama agreed, and DuBois went on to send the president a daily devotional for years.
So what does a “presidential devotional” look like? DuBois and his publisher have kindly given us permission to share a few of these readings here on the blog. Here are two daily readings from The President’s Devotional. The first devotional is from September 15:
Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” — John 11:24–25 (NKJV)
Up out of this sea, expectancy rises reborn again and sees heaven open—reborn. —— Søren Kierkegaard, Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
Martha’s brother Lazarus had died four days earlier. Before his death, Martha called to Jesus to save him, but Jesus came too late. Still, Martha believed. She declared that God’s will would be done, if not now, then in the future, on that great Resurrection Day. And Jesus said in response: Martha, today is your resurrection. In me, there is life, each day. And then Jesus called Lazarus forth into life.
Our Lord is telling us: today is our resurrection.
In Christ, we are renewed, every day. The old things, the broken things, the depressed and dead things, are behind us. Through the blessing of an intimate relationship with our eternal God, this flesh of ours perishes each morning and our spirit is renewed. A personal springtime. A fresh awakening. Our resurrection.
Dear God, I humbly accept my renewal. Let me believe in your ability to restore. Put the old things behind me, and move me forward into my resurrection day. Amen.
Here’s one more devotional, this one from November 20.
“Power Made Perfect”
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. — Matthew 5:11-12 (NASB)
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. — 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NIV)
What burden—what pain and sorrow—could have broken the Apostle Paul to the point that he pleaded with God three times to take it away?
This is Paul: mighty defender of the Gospel. Second to Jesus, the most important figure in all of Christianity. Imprisoned frequently, flogged severely, shipwrecked thrice, and still—always—standing.
But something got to him. Something drove Paul to his knees to cry out, “God, take it away.” Rejected, he pleaded again. Spurned, he begged for reprieve a third time.
And God said: No. I will not remove this thorn from your side. But here’s what I will do: I will show myself strong through your weakness. My grace will wash over your pain. My name will be glorified in your time of trouble, and others will see my saving power.
Our suffering is a legacy of prophets and apostles. Let us embrace it, for the glory of one whose triumph outlasts our pain.
Dear God, remind me that my momentary struggles are just that—momentary. Fix my eyes on what is eternal. Amen.
One of the reasons The President’s Devotional caught my eye is that Bible Gateway actually has a link—albeit indirect—to White House devotionals, although from a different era. The outspoken evangelist Billy Zeoli, famous for his ministry to professional athletes, was very close to President Gerald Ford—close enough that Zeoli wrote a weekly devotional for President Ford and met with him periodically for Bible study:
When Ford became Vice President in the fall of 1973, Zeoli began sending him a weekly devotional memo that would be waiting on Ford’s desk on Monday mornings. It always had the same title — “God’s Got a Better Idea” — and began with scripture (always from the King James version, Ford’s preferred translation) and ended with a prayer. Zeoli sent 146 devotionals in all, every week through Ford’s presidency. “Not only were they profound in their meaning and judicious in their selection,” Ford said, “I believe they were also divinely inspired.” Beyond the memos, Zeoli and Ford would meet privately every four or five weeks for prayer and Bible study. Their conversations took place either in the Oval Office or the family quarters upstairs. (from Time magazine)
Zeoli was at the helm of Gospel Films when it discovered and put online a little college student project you may have heard about—BibleGateway.com.
Regardless of the political climate or the particular party that happens to be in power, I find it reassuring that Scripture is being read regularly in the White House. If you’re interested in learning more about The President’s Devotional, see the official website. There have been some interesting discussions about the book on Twitter, which you can follow at #ThePresidentsDevotional. And lastly, print copies can be found at the Bible Gateway store.