I remember the day clearly. It was the heat of the 2008 presidential campaign, and I was working as the religious outreach director for U.S. Senator Barack Obama. I had been on Obama’s staff for a few years, and knew him pretty well. My job at the time was to talk with people of faith across the country about why this young senator should be president.
But outside of my professional role, I also prayed for Obama, frequently and alone. I’d pray for his family, and his sense of peace. I’d find a passage of scripture that matched up with whatever problem he was facing that day, and I’d whisper it quietly to myself, asking God to protect him, be with him in all of the challenges that he faced. I had been an associate pastor at a small church during college, and my Christian faith was, and is, the motivating force of my life. So I prayed.
One morning in the middle of this quiet ritual – reading and prayer – I felt a sense of interruption. Something in my spirit suggested to me that instead of praying for Obama, perhaps I should pray with him. Just reach out to him, and share a word of encouragement. A bit of scripture, a prayer, something to help him get through his day.
I had Senator Obama’s personal email, but knew to only use it in case of emergencies. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but was pretty sure that this didn’t constitute an emergency. But the feeling still gnawed at me: that he needed some support, beyond Secret Service protection and policy guidance and political advisors. That he needed some folks who were thinking about his soul.
And so I wrote a short email – based in the 23rd Psalm, and with another excerpt from an offbeat poem that I loved – and sent it to his personal BlackBerry. I included a cover note, something about how I hoped the message would be helpful to him. I was a nervous wreck after sending and did not expect a reply.
But less than 5 minutes later, I got one. It was a brief note, all I needed: Senator Obama said that my message was exactly what he had been looking for, and he’d appreciate it if I kept it up each day. So I did.
More than five years later, the young senator I worked for is now president of the United States, and I have accumulated thousands of these devotionals. President Obama remarked recently that these meditations “meant the world” to him, and it has been the honor of a lifetime to prepare and send them each day….
I decided to leave the White House earlier this year, and with the president’s permission I selected the best of these morning messages and assembled them into a book. The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings that Inspired President Obama.
Darkness’s Hour (from The President’s Devotional)
Then Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, “Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:52–53)
But this is your hour, and the power of darkness. Darkness will, in fact, have its hour. We saw hours of darkness in Auschwitz and Treblinka, Newtown and antebellum Mississippi. No one less than Christ affirmed that there are moments when evil moves mightily in the world. The questions become: Do we have confidence in the coming light? Will the darkness overwhelm us, which is always its goal, or will we hold on to the promise of the morning?
Jesus held on to that promise, and in his resurrection and ascension was crowned victorious, in a mantle of light. His confidence is an indicator of how we should meet our own times of darkness, those moments when evil temporarily seems to reign.
Dear God, in the night-time, remind me of the day. In the darkness, remind me of your light. I have confidence in the coming morning, and until then I will stand strong. Amen.