In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower walked into the first National Prayer Breakfast alongside evangelist Billy Graham appearing a little hesitant. It was a risky step for a president, but it consecrated a day for our nation to remain united in prayer.
The formation of this annual breakfast, first known as the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, set Eisenhower uneasy and concerned with how critics might respond. Shortly into the meeting, the president shared his relief to be able to confide in a room of such support.
It was the first opportunity for men and women of different beliefs and parties to annually join together to pray over our nation. What started as a unifying event to solidify our efforts in prayer together, remains one of the core assets and most anticipated events in Washington, D.C.
Today, this gathering remains vital for our government and the future of our democracy.
The first annual meetings were attended by approximately 400 political and religious leaders of faith. Thursday, as I prepare to attend the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast, nearly 4,000 elected officials, diplomats, national and international religious and political leaders will join together in prayer and fellowship. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise once said the breakfast is “literally one of the toughest tickets to get in Washington.”
This annual breakfast has long been a moment for the president to receive moral and spiritual support from leaders. It has also been an opportunity for the president to share his burdens, concerns and prayer needs before a community of faith.
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson said, “No man could live in the house where I live now or work at the desk where I work now without needing and without seeking the strength and the support of earnest and frequent prayer.”
We may think the president is surrounded by endless support and confidants, but no man can be lifted up too much in prayer — least of all the leader of our nation.
Regardless of what party or religious denomination you belong to, or who you hope will reside in the Oval Office come February 2021, our nation needs our prayers.
Scripture reads in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people; for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
Certainly, the act of prayer for our leaders isn’t just a way we can bless them. It is a command from God.
For years, the National Prayer Breakfast has also been an opportunity for us to unite as a nation across all religions, denominations and all sectors of belief. Each year, Christian Evangelicals, Jews and Muslims gather not only to pray together but also to discuss issues of national and international morality and crisis. It is a time for men and women to pray specifically over the pressing issues our nation currently faces. Particularly, as the politics of our country appear so deeply divided, it is crucial (and truly miraculous) that to this day, this annual event continues.
Over the past decades, each president has approached the annual breakfast slightly differently. Some remain intentionally neutral in their statements, while others unveil their passionate faith and trust in God. Some face trials and crises in their own presidencies and become more open to the large gathering of prayer as their term passes on.
While I hope otherwise, there may one day be someone in office who outspokenly does not hold to faith at all. Regardless of the individual beliefs of our future presidents, this gathering will continue to be vital for our nation.
The passage of 1 Timothy 2:3-4 states, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” This annual event serves to unite and remind our government, our president and our nation that they are always in our prayers.
More so, it is also a time for all people of faith (whether attending the breakfast or not) to be reminded that our nation is in dire need of prayer. Regardless of what party or religious denomination you belong to, or who you hope will reside in the Oval Office come February 2021, our nation needs our prayers.
When Eisenhower first endorsed this annual meeting, it was no small achievement. Even at a time when children could shamelessly sing “God Bless America” and pray in our public schools, it was a bold step. Yet, amidst his uncertainty, Eisenhower came to acknowledge the fundamental role of faith in the founding of the United States.
At that breakfast, Eisenhower said in his speech, “Today I think that prayer is just simply a necessity because by prayer I believe we mean an effort to get in touch with the Infinite.”
Joining together the communities of political and religious leaders to converse on the importance of faith is not a religious ritual. Rather, it is a vital gathering so that we can keep our government uplifted in prayer (regardless of party affiliation) and so that we can continue to remain a united nation as we pray.