George W. Bush Sounds Like Lincoln on Prayer

The conclusion of this must read article:

I visited President Bush in the Oval Office one more time. I was thinking about doing a book about how Americans pray, and I had remembered that way back in Midland, he had advised me to read the Bible cover-to-cover, something I had done since then. He agreed to talk with me about his prayer life, and, for a final time, I journeyed to the Oval Office.

“I’ve thought about this conversation a lot since you asked … ,” President Bush said. “I’m learning and have been learning ever since 1986, really.”

That afternoon, only a few months before he would leave office, we sat beneath the famous Rembrandt Peale portrait of George Washington, and President Bush told me that he prayed daily in the White House. He prayed for spiritual insight—to “be more discerning of the Word of God.” He prayed that God keep his wife and daughters protected. He prayed that our soldiers and their families be given comfort and strength. He did not pray for good weather on his daughter’s wedding day, or that his father’s hip surgery go well, or that the stock market rise.

“Do you pray, ‘Dear God, let Congress get it right?’ ” I asked.

“No.”

“ ‘Dear God, let Pelosi get it right?’ ”

“No, no, no, no, no, God is not the minority leader”—and then he laughed and corrected himself. “Majority leader. … Nor do I pray for a Republican victory. … I really don’t.”

He prayed before his presidential debates, kept a little cross in his pocket that he would squeeze: “ ‘Dear God, I pray that I speak clearly and bring calm.’ ” He prayed before his State of the Union addresses, alone in the little holding room: “ ‘Dear God, I pray that you shine through me today.’ ”

“And the prayers of the people,” he said, referring to those who pray for him, “this is where I get into a little shaky ground because I can’t prove it.” But Bush said he had actually felt the prayers of people asking God to comfort him. “And so the pop psychologists say, ‘Well, he’s grasping for affection.’ … I tell people all the time this—that the prayers of the people matter. And I do have a sense of calm.” Perhaps, he said, his prayers and the prayers of others are the reason. “I’ve been asked this some: ‘Do you think God wanted you to go to war?’ I didn’t ask in prayer. … I don’t think that’s fair to God to do that.”

“Have you prayed, ‘Dear God, if I was wrong about this, forgive me’?”

“No, no, no. First of all, I don’t believe I’m wrong about it. I don’t believe it’s wrong to confront evil. And I don’t believe it’s wrong to give people the opportunity to live in a free society. … I don’t want to bring God down into a presidential debate over ‘yes’ or ‘no’ into Iraq.”

“Do you have compassion for your enemy?”

“I have yet to forgive Osama bin Laden, and, frankly, haven’t prayed [for him] because I think he needs to be brought to justice in order to prevent him from killing other people.”

“Isn’t it possible to pray for Osama bin Laden and also want to bring him to justice?”

“I’m not sophisticated enough in prayer, evidently, to be able to pray for Osama bin Laden and at the same time go hunt him.”

Early the next morning, my hotel phone rang me out of bed.

“The president would like to talk with you,” a pleasant voice said.

In a moment, President Bush was on the line. He said he didn’t want to leave me with a wrong impression: he did pray regularly for forgiveness. He just wanted to be sure I knew that.

I thanked him for the call.

“Well,” he said with a laugh, “now you can tell your friends that the president of the United States gave you a wake-up call.”

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