Prayer Breakfasts – Gerald Ford
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.
January 30, 1975
Thank you very, very much, John Dellenback. Mr. Vice President, my good friends from the Congress, my associates in the executive branch and our fellow workers in government from the various States and local communities, ladies and gentlemen :
Al Quie is a very hard man to follow, whether in political debate, and especially at a prayer session. There are very few people I know who demonstrate better the truth that to be a leader, one must first be a servant. And Al is indeed a diligent servant of God and of his fellow men.
Yes, I have been fortunate to know, during a few years in Washington, many, many others who have the same strength, the same feeling. And it has been a great experience for me.
The platform on which we are standing this morning–“standing in the need of a prayer,” as the old spiritual goes–is broad enough and strong enough to hold politicians of all elements of all parties, men and women of many different convictions, both religious and political convictions. The beauty of Joseph’s coat is its many colors, and the beauty of these prayer breakfasts is the many faiths they bring together. We are joined in the profound realization that none of us can go it alone, and that we do not need to go it alone if we seek the help of God and of our fellowship.
While I have been coming to these annual gatherings for a good many years, I must admit that this one takes on a little different meaning. In the past, I have found it an opportunity for reflection and for rededication and an occasion to pray for our country and its leaders, for my friends and my loved ones, for the courage to do what is right, and forgiveness for my own shortcomings and trespasses.
But since we last met, I have discovered another aspect of the power of prayer: I have learned how important it is to have people pray for me. It is often said that the Presidency is the loneliest job in the world. Yes, and in a certain sense, I suppose it is. Yet, in all honesty, I cannot say that I have suffered from loneliness these past 6 months.
The reason, I am certain, has been that everywhere I go, among old friends or among strangers, people call out from the crowd or will say quietly to me, “We’re praying for you,” or “You are in our prayers,” and I read the same sentiments in my mail. Of course, there are some that are not so inspiring, but the great ground swell of good will that comes from the true spirit of America has been a wonderful source of strength to me as it was, I am sure, to other Presidents before me. Believe me, having counted the votes and knowing that you have them is a great satisfaction, but the satisfaction of knowing that uncounted numbers of good people are praying for you is infinitely more rewarding.
Prayer is a very, very personal thing, at least for me. Yet, to me, as many of my predecessors, it is a terribly important source of strength and confidence.
Now I am able to truly appreciate that statement attributed to Abraham Lincoln, who confessed, and I quote: I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.
President John F. Kennedy spoke to one of these prayer breakfasts a few months before his tragic death. Many of you will remember his moving conclusion, and let me share it with you: “This morning we pray together; this evening apart. But each morning and each evening, let us remember the advice of my fellow Bostonian, the Reverend Phillips Brooks: ‘Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks.'”
On the day that I suddenly became President of the United States, after all the guests had gone, I walked through some of the empty rooms on the first floor of the White House and stopped by that marble mantle in the dining room to read the words carved in it–words that were a prayer of the first President who ever occupied the White House: “I pray to heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it,” John Adams wrote. “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”
I am grateful to President Adams for leaving that message and to all who have said amen to it for nearly two centuries.
My own prayer is for God’s continued blessing and God’s continued guidance for our country and all its people whose servants we in government strive to be.
It had been my intention to suggest we have a prayer together at this point, but Harold Hughes will follow. Let me just say, I hope at some time during this day, each in your own way, if you think it appropriate, will pause to ask God’s blessing upon our Nation, our leaders in the executive, the legislative, leaders in all forms of government throughout this country, and yes, to all our people. And when you have finished, I think we can say that we should thank our Father for listening, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast
January 29, 1976
Congressman Preyer, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
Our Nation was born 200 years ago poor and very weak. Our leaders were untested and our land remote from much of the world. This continent was mostly a virgin wilderness.
Yet our new Nation displayed extraordinary determination and near limitless capacity for discovery about ourselves and about our future. Our Declaration of Independence surpassed all worldly doctrines in its enlightened pronouncements on human rights and individual liberty.
Our leaders showed that the inspired will and raw courage of our ragged defenders could defeat not only hardship and privation but the disciplined power of an empire. Our people demonstrated extraordinary belief that their cause was just and that it would prevail.
I think it is well to recall at the start of this Bicentennial Year that it was not might nor wealth which ultimately gained American independence and liberty, but more powerful forces–the unshakable, unbreakable belief of our people in themselves and in their cause. They proved that a people’s greatest strength is its own faith.
We are gathered here this morning to recall and to renew that faith–faith in God and belief in the future of our country. We seek to sustain and to increase our spiritual strength at this time of prayer and recollection.
John Muhlenburg wrote in his diary in 1776, about 200 years ago: “There is a time to pray and a time to fight. This is the time to fight.” If he were alive today and writing in 1976, he may have written, “This is the time to pray.”
Let men and women of faith remember that this Nation, endowed by God with so many blessings, is also surrounded by incredible needs. At the beginning of this century in American history, let us remember Jesus, who, surrounded by needs still early in the morning, went away to a solitary place to pray.
We are one people, one Government, and one Nation. We are, by any name, an indivisible land and people.
Benjamin Franklin, addressing himself to religious faith and worship in God in the society in which he lived, told the framers of the Constitution: “Without [God’s] concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests. Our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a by-word down to future ages.”
Today, unlike the times of Dr. Franklin, our Nation is mighty and is wealthy. The many changes in our land in these 200 years may be as frightening as they are wondrous.
This becomes apparent when we ask ourselves this question: Do we have the faith, the belief of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and others? Has our spiritual growth matched our temporal destiny as a nation?
We know that wealth and power do not measure the greatness of this or any other nation. Our spiritual principles and moral values transcend the physical capacities and the boundaries of our land.
That is why we come here humbly this morning–to ask from God strength and guidance so we may leave our third century a legacy of leadership worthy of the inheritance left us by our forebears.
Often, as I walk into the office, I realize that man’s wisdom and strength are not sufficient. So, I try to practice the truth of Proverbs 3: 5-6
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; Lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct thy path.”
Tolerance, understanding, love–let us pray for all of these because we need them as a people. Let us pray for God’s guidance in our pursuit of peace. Let us rediscover our past and renew ourselves in its cherished principles. And then let us begin our journey into this third century with the same faith and the same purpose of our Nation’s founders. Let us span the centuries at this moment and unite the past, the present, and the future in spiritual communion.
Let us make it our “earnest prayer,” as George Washington did two centuries ago, that “God would graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with charity and humility, and a peaceful temper of mind, without which we can never hope to be a happy nation.”
And let us make it our “constant prayer,” as Lincoln did more than a century ago, not only that God is on our side but that we “and this Nation should be on the Lord’s side.”
Finally, let it be said that in this great Nation of ours freedom still flourishes and liberty still lives. As we declare our dependence on God, let us unite in the same bond which united those who signed America’s Declaration of Independence 200 years ago.
Let us today reaffirm their pledge, as written in the closing words of that majestic document, that “For the support of this declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine. Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”