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President lauds ‘generous act’ of prayer as greatest gift of fellow countrymen

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush told an audience assembled May 2 at the White House for the 51st annual National Day of Prayer that the event is a part of the nation’s heritage because prayer is a vital part of national life.

Describing America as a country of faith that turned to prayer both in times of crisis and calm, Bush thanked Americans the tremendous difference that their “generous act” of prayer had made during the past year.

“Since the attacks of September the 11th, millions — millions — of Americans of every religious faith have been led to prayer,” Bush said. “They have prayed for comfort in a time of sorrow, for courage in a time of fear and for understanding in a time of anger. They have prayed for wisdom in the midst of war and for strength on the journey ahead.”

While “evil and suffering are only for a time,” Bush reminded “love and hope endure.” In times of the world’s most bitter conflicts, he said, “Prayer reminds us of God’s love and grace, his mercy and faithfulness, the hope he provides and the peace he promises.”

Bush added, “Prayer is central to the lives of countless Americans, including Laura’s and mine. We have been blessed by the prayers of millions of Americans. We could ask for no greater gift from our countrymen.”

At least nine Southern Baptists were among the nearly 200 who gathered in the East Room for the ceremony. Those attending included former Southern Baptist Convention presidents Tom Elliff, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., and evangelist Bailey Smith of Atlanta; state convention executive directors Robert White of the Baptist Convention of the State of Georgia and Jim Richards of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention; pastors Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, Jerry Sutton of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., and Ken Whitten of Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla.; and SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission representatives Harold Harper, vice president for broadcast, and Shannon Royce, legislative counsel and director of governmental relations.

Bush expressed gratitude to all of those present “who remind us that a great people must spend time on bended knee, in humility, searching for wisdom in the presence of the Almighty.” Thanking them for coming to celebrate the special day, he expressed appreciation “for your devotion to prayer, and for your love of this country, and for the Lord who has blessed it so long.”

Before introducing the President, Laura Bush read Psalm 46 and praised her husband as “strong enough to bear the burdens and humble enough to ask God for help.”

U.S. Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie, in a prayer for America, acknowledged that as a result of Sept. 11 and the battle against terrorism, Americans “have discovered again that You truly are our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Ogilvie also prayed for spiritual awakening in America and read from Jeremiah 33:3 during the White House ceremony.

Ogilvie had asked those gathered at National Day of Prayer observances throughout the country to join in reading at noon a prayer he had composed so that “a huge wave of prayer will flow across our nation, expressing unity of God’s people and acknowledging his sovereignty,” underscoring this year’s theme of “America United Under God.”

Ogilvie’s prepared prayer noted, “We rededicate ourselves to be one nation under You. In You we trust. We reaffirm our accountability to You, to the absolutes of Your Commandments, and to justice in our society.” He asked God to bless the President, Congress and national leaders with supernatural power as “we commit ourselves to be faithful to You as Sovereign of our land as our personal Lord and Savior.”

Richards told Baptist Press he appreciated Bush’s sincerity in acknowledging that he draws strength from God. “Personally, it was a very moving moment to hear our president refer to his dependence upon the Lord,” Richards said.

Graham, who will be nominated in June to serve as the next SBC president, found inspiration from the first lady’s remarks about her husband being humble enough to ask God for help. “To me, that was the signature of the day because it indicates we have a president and first lady who understand the necessity of prayer, who desire, above all else, to honor God with their lives and to include people of faith in the influence of government,” Graham said.

“We’ve come through a time when we’ve been wondering if people of faith are welcome at the table in Washington,” Graham said, “and it’s good to have a president who not only welcomes people of faith, but is thankful and grateful for the prayers of God’s people.”

As chairwoman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, Shirley Dobson expressed gratitude for a president who honors God and recognizes the need for prayer. “May the Lord put a shield of protection around you, your family and the nation,” she told the president.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter