October 22nd, 2013
12:05 PM ET

The prayers inside the President's Blackberry

Opinion by Joshua DuBois, Special to CNN 

Washington (CNN) - One thing is for sure: I didn't feel ready to send morning devotionals to the next President of the United States.

I was a young staffer, 25 years old, on Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. I had known Obama for a few years, and at the time worked as faith outreach director for his campaign.

In addition to my professional role reaching out to the faith community, I also personally prayed for Obama by myself each day. I had been an associate pastor at a small Pentecostal church in Boston, and my Christian faith was, and is, the guiding force of my life.

But I wasn't some famous mega-church pastor or internationally known cleric. I went to public policy school, not seminary, and although I loved Scripture and history and could write a bit, I was still learning more about Jesus every day.

But one day I felt a tug at my spirit, a sense that this young candidate needed some support. Not Secret Service protection or policy advice or political strategy - he had plenty of that. I thought he needed some folks who were caring for his spirit, his soul.

So I wrote an e-mail and sent it to Obama's personal BlackBerry, a meditation on the 23rd Psalm. It was about finding restoration and rest even when trouble brews.

I didn't know how he would respond. But in just a few minutes, he got back to me and said the message helped him, and he'd like me to continue each day.

We kept this quiet practice for years, spanning the campaign and the White House. But one day in a round table with religion reporters before his visit with then-Pope Benedict XVI, Obama reflected on what these devotionals meant to him.

“One last little note of sustenance, a little note is, is that Joshua does a wonderful service for me and he actually sends me a devotional on my BlackBerry every morning,” Obama told the reporters, “which is actually something that he started doing I think when I was really having a tough time during the campaign.

"And it was just such a wonderful practice that we’ve continued it ever since. So every morning I get something to reflect on, which I very much appreciate.”

MORE ON CNN: What's next for President Obama's 'pastor-in-chief'

I wasn't always sure which meditations the President liked best, but he would tell me on occasion in the West Wing hallway, "I really enjoyed that one today," or when I missed a day or two, he'd notice that as well. And his former personal assistant, Reggie Love, would call me to make sure I started sending them again.

The President seemed particularly to appreciate the devotionals that wove together culture with Scripture, and he is a fan of history and jazz, so I came back to these sources regularly.

He’s pretty private about his spiritual life, but here are a few of the devotionals that, knowing what I know about the President, were likely to be among his favorites:

1. One devotional tied together King David, the Hebrew monarch and psalm writer and Nina Simone, the great jazz singer. Both musicians had an uncanny ability to write joyful lyrics even in the middle of the dark melodies and situations.

The devotional concluded with a point I thought might be music to the Obama's ears.

"Nina Simone and David remind us of one unimpeachable fact: whatever situation we face, the lyrics we sing today are completely up to us. We can choose to shout above the din outside our window and sing louder than the ominous noise approaching our lives."

2. Another devotional reflected on rejoicing even amid tough times, using the lesson of the late British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who led a beleaguered Britain from 1916-1922.

George was faced with an economic crisis, the Irish Liberation movement and World War I all at the same time. Still, he once declared with a smile, "I find that a change of nuisance is as good as a vacation.”

This reminded me of a verse on joy in suffering in 1st Peter, which I shared with the President. “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

MORE ON CNN: In Obama’s first term, an evolving Christian faith

3. Another meditation began, "Johnny Cash was a glutton for redemption."

Growing up in Tennessee, I became a big fan of the "Man in Black," and this devotional reflected on the need to run toward grace, as Cash, a sinner and saint par excellence, did so often.

We often have a tendency to hide our sin in the dark, instead of bringing it to God’s feet. Cash was remarkably candid about his shortcomings, and his daily need for grace - that’s something from which we can all learn.

4. And another favorite expounded on the example that Eleanor Roosevelt set for us on humility.

"I'm glad I never feel important - it does complicate life," she was known to say.

In the way she lived her life, Roosevelt echoed the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Humility paves a pathway to relationships with others, while pride always tends to get in the way.

5. Most of the devotionals weren't about tough times or political figures at all.

They were simply about how to appreciate the character and nature of God, and grow closer to him each day, even among people who’d like nothing more than to see us fail.

One day, I decided to include this quote from James Baldwin, the great 20th-century writer, who said, "I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain."

The devotional concluded with a prayer of forgiveness for those who had wronged us, and a request that God would help heal any underlying pain.

There were many more - thousands over the years - and I've tried to capture the best of them in my new book, “The President's Devotional.”

While Obama's day-to-day life is certainly unique, at a deeper level, I imagine that the joys and challenges he meets aren’t too different from our own.

Like us, he wants to how to love God and those around us and how to start each day with real, lasting peace.

I hope my devotionals, which I still send to the President every day, have helped him find a little oasis of spiritual peace in his e-mail inbox, and I hope they’ll do the same for others as well.

Joshua DuBois is author of "The President's Devotional: The Daily Readings that Inspired President Obama" and former head of the White House faith-based initiative. You can find more about him on his website, www.joshuadubois.com

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Barack Obama • Belief • Bible • Christianity • Faith • Obama • Opinion • Politics

soundoff (555 Responses)
  1. mfh1957

    Another Obama worshiper article. Beware false prophets.

    October 22, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • pm ohio

      Like the Koch brothers, mega church leaders, and most of the Bible thumpers i know. All of them false profits. Thinking THEY know what God thinks and judging al lothers who don't think like THEM.

      October 22, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The Koch brothers make very real profits.

      October 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • America, our country is bankrupt...cut the spending

      Agree, total Obama worshiper. I appreciate when writers can point out the faults of its fallen, frail human leaders. I hate these "Obama is great and can do no wrong and is a super-human" type articles. Once Obama is out of office, the media no longer looks the other way, and the dust settles, we will all see what a debauchery and scandal this whole Administration was–just like spending $634 million on a worthless website.

      October 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • America... The Country of Illiterate Religious Morons Who Can Barely Do Their Own Taxes Let Alone Understand Global Economics...

      have once again tried to sink the country so they can go back to their celebrated past of beating slaves, discriminating against women, banning interracial marriage and continuing their persecution of same gender couples.

      October 23, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  2. Retarded Jesus

    Matthew 7:7,8 Ask, and it shall be teleported to your planet; seek, and ye shall find green women; knock, and I will say unto you “wait your turn I am not done in here!”

    October 22, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  3. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    Oh... OBAMA
    Grant "ME" victory over The Tea Party !!!

    October 22, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  4. Retarded Jesus

    Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the toilet of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be farted on you. I am gonna get in trouble.

    October 22, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  5. James


    October 22, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  6. Say Whaaaat!

    It nerver ceases to amaze me why CNN will post such trash regarding a fa i th revered by billions of people in this world. These comments are just awful and it C N N were a legitimate source for discerning people, these posts would be not have made the cut. If it were an article about a mus lim cle ric and the writings/sayings of Mo ham med, they wouldn't dare let these kinds of post see the light of day.

    October 22, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • nope.

      @Say Whaaaat!

      October 22, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  7. Retarded Jesus

    John 14:6 Jesus (that’s me) saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man (bad word) unto the Father, but by me. But you can’t come in ha ha.

    October 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  8. Colin

    My favorite Jesus quote is in Mark 1:2, where Jesus says, “as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.”

    Well, unfortunately Jesus got it wrong. The passage he quoted is in Exodus, not in Isaiah.

    What I love about this quote is that it puts Christians in a bind; either they have to admit that Jesus got it wrong, which is obviously difficult to reconcile an all knowing Son of God – an error error about the Bible itself, of all things – or that the author of Mark's gospel got it wrong, which they also hate to do.

    As an interesting note, some scribes in the Middle Ages simply changed the passage to read, “as it is written in the prophets..” so as to bury Jesus’ apparent error. The altered manuscripts were used by the compilers of the King James Bible and the altered scripture appears in many English Bibles to this day.

    October 22, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
    • Eddy72

      The passage that Jesus quoted is not in Exodus like you say, it is in Malachi 3:1.

      October 22, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
      • Colin

        Truth(below) has the same comment. Let me check.

        October 22, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Truth

      The King James version does not mention Isaiah, just prophets.

      2 [a]As it is written in the [b]Prophets, Behold, [c]I send my messenger [d]before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

      [b]-This is the figure Metonymy, whereby is meant the books of the Prophets, Malachi and Isaiah.

      Malachi 3:1 Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts.

      Does that clear things up a little?

      October 22, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
      • Colin

        No, not really, the same issue arises doesn"t it. Jesus (as quoted by Mark) got it wrong and later scribes changed it. You post is consistent with that point, no?

        October 22, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Servant

      Yes, it is in Isaiah.

      A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God – Isaiah 40:3

      October 22, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • Glen

      Oh yeah we Christians are really in a bind over that verse lol, the one where pretty much the whole chapter is about the coming messenger that would come head to announce the arrival of Jesus (Yeshua) the Son of God who would die for the sins of the world. You are like a hungry person looking for a fly in your soup when one is freely given to you; step back and look at the big picture of what is being said in Isaiah 40 and Malachi 3:1 and what Jesus said about the prophet who spoke of Him throughout the Old Testament. They were both essentially saying “a voice crying In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God

      October 22, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • BJack

      Did he really say it, or was it just written that way...who really knows what time it is?

      October 22, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  9. Bill

    My question is why a blackberry from a company in Canada and not a iPhone from a company in the USA! I hope his blackberry is as bad as website he had Canada build.

    October 22, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • c

      Iphone's are relatively new;cetainly newer than a Blackberry=your point is....

      October 22, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      That's a long stretch to attempt to construct a point of argument.

      Your bridge misses you Bill.

      October 22, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
    • lulu

      Bill you are why most Americans have the horrible reputation – too much hatred for others and jealousy of other countries who are clearly better

      October 22, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • thetruth

      Because Blackberry phones are far more secure and meet government standards which the iphones do not. Also: iphones are made in China anyways...

      October 22, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  10. Lamb of Dog

    11. Genesis 19:8

    “Look, I have two daughters, virgins both of them. Let me bring them out to you and you could do what you like with them. But do nothing to these men because they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

    October 22, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • Colin

      That's funny. You think he thought of throwing out his girls to keep Boehner and the Republlicans at bay during the shutdown.......Actually, that's a little creepy.....

      October 22, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
  11. JJ

    “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

    From the book of Bilbo, 1:1

    October 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      So inspiring. I feel all warm and fuzzy now.
      Thanks for that.

      October 22, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Thanks for finally spelling "oozy" correctly.

      October 22, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
      • JJ

        Hey, I owe it all to you. I know how upset you were.

        October 22, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
      • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

        Deeply ! 😉

        One must respect the sacred texts.

        October 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
        • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

          (Just a bit more than seven weeks to go now!)

          October 22, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  12. palintwit

    Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
    A: To get to the other side.

    Q: Why did the tea party patriot cross the road?
    A: To grab that mason jar full of Everclear before someone else did.

    Q: Why did Sarah Palin cross the road?
    A: She's so lost and confused she didn't realize she crossed it.

    October 22, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      She crossed the road from Alaska to Russia.

      October 22, 2013 at 12:50 pm |
  13. planetwalt

    I thought Obama was Muslin. Hmmm.

    October 22, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • coyoteliberty

      In the best tradition of all religious "wisdom literature" or scriptures, as true believers like to call them, are widely common source or plagiarized as non-believers like to call it. The Quran is no exception, in fact, is more of a case study than most wisdom literature. So there's no reason a Muslim wouldn't be uplifted by spiritual thoughts, is there?

      October 22, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  14. Her Royal Highness, Princess of Peaceville

    Thanks for sharing the devotionals, Joshua DuBois, they are truly inspirational!

    October 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  15. Lamb of Dog

    “Go back to the abyss! Fall into nothingness that awaits you and your master!”
    I think this one is about jesus.

    October 22, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  16. Vic

    "3. Another meditation began, "Johnny Cash was a glutton for redemption."

    Growing up in Tennessee, I became a big fan of the "Man in Black," and this devotional reflected on the need to run toward grace, as Cash, a sinner and saint par excellence, did so often.

    We often have a tendency to hide our sin in the dark, instead of bringing it to God’s feet. Cash was remarkably candid about his shortcomings, and his daily need for grace – that’s something from which we can all learn."

    That is the true reality of the Christian believer, whether we admit it or not!

    October 22, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  17. Lamb of Dog

    I need Obamas number so I can start sending him inspiring Gandalf quotes. I think that's a great idea.
    My only issue is why does he have a blackberry.

    October 22, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  18. Lamb of Dog

    “For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

    October 22, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  19. Alias

    First, liberals criticized George W for his faith, now the want to praise Obama for his.
    I'm laughing on the inside.

    October 22, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • Brother Maynard

      Just to even the score. I criticize Obama about his faith as passionately as I did George.
      Both men are misguided.
      If this pastor gets on penny from the US govt for this 'service' it should end now.
      100% total waist of tax payer money

      October 22, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
      • Reality #2

        If it brings the Prez a moment of peace and inner reflection, it was money well spent.

        October 22, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
        • Reality # 2

          Comment was not from the original Reality #2.

          October 23, 2013 at 8:53 am |
      • CommonSensed

        Just an FYI that the Congress has paid Chaplains. So much for separation of church and state, eh?

        October 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Brother Maynard

      waist == waste
      sorry 'bout that

      October 22, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • CommonSensed

      First, partisan trolls like to use gross generalizations to castigate the opposing party. Now they want to use gross generalizations to...oh wait.

      October 22, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • c

      Bush used is faith as a weapon/tool for political gain not an devitional inspirational instrument of God.
      Real christians don't have tho shout to the world who they are.

      October 22, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
      • Glen

        Hmm is that why when they told Jesus and His followers who were shouting and praising Hosanna to be quiet that Jesus said if these people were to keep quiet, these very rock will cry out and sing praises to me. God can use anyone to sing His praises or give a message to us, even a Donkey, so if you are hiding your faith under a bushel you got some serious problems.

        The kind of faith that we have is something to shout our from the roof and mountain tops. No Bush was not using his faith the force people to believe like him, he was merely acting out his faith in the work that he did. He believed in saving the life of the unborn and considered them very much human just like God and the Bible clearly talk about that all life is important in God's eyes...

        October 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
        • G to the T

          C – In America, religious liberty should alway trump religious beliefs. Otherwise you may find yourself on the wrong end of the equation some day. And I believe the poster's reference was in regards to Bush saying "god told me to go to war".

          October 23, 2013 at 8:01 am |
        • Glen

          Go to the T said – In America, religious liberty should alway trump religious beliefs. Otherwise you may find yourself on the wrong end of the equation some day. And I believe the poster's reference was in regards to Bush saying "god told me to go to war".

          Oh ok that makes sense and that's a hard one to know if it was God or his own voice, there are many times God speaks to people and tells them to do things that we may not always like or approve. He told the Israelites many times to fight their enemies. We don't' know the full truth of what the real reason was, sometimes we don't see the fruits will many generations later. But if someone says it was God's voice and it wasn't, he is in serious trouble already, so its not sometime one would say or take lightly.

          October 23, 2013 at 9:51 am |
        • Doc Vestibule

          All life?
          Well, except for heathens, pagans, apostates, heretics, witches... oh and every living creature on the entire planet save for that which fit on a boat.
          Do you know how much value God puts on the life of a child?
          Not much, based on what He told Moses....
          "If the person is from a month old up to five years old, your valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver." (Leviticus 27:6)

          To say that God values embryoes as much as those who have actually been born is pure arrogance.
          "As you do not know how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.” (Ecclesiastes 11:5)

          October 23, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  20. CommonSensed

    I, myself, like to quote Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.

    October 22, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.