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. Apple Bush

    Matthew 7:12 Do it to them first and then the will do it to you. I need to change my pants.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  2. pill

    LOL He believes in fairy tales. What a complete imbecile Obama is.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • Colin

      Isn't qu eer marriage a fairy tale?

      October 22, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  3. Retarded Jesus

    Matthew 5:43-44 I’m a cowboy that loves bad guys

    October 22, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    October 22, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Bran changes things.

      October 22, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
      • Colin

        The second you die bran will be of no value to you.

        October 22, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
        • Lamb of Dog

          The second you die nothing will be of value to you.

          October 22, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  5. wrm

    Prayers in my blackberry, clouds in my coffee... fuqin fascinating.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  6. Retarded Jesus

    Matthew 5:43-44 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor when he leaves.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  7. Apple Bush

    I wish more Christians would copy and paste bible versus.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  8. Retarded Jesus

    Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine on men, that they may see your goods, and glorify your Father which is in your tunic.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  9. bostontola

    As an atheist, if this helps our president then I'm all for it.

    I was a little disappointed that the article appears to be an advertisement for the author's book, but what the heck, a dude has to make a living.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  10. Retarded Jesus

    Luke 5:31, 32 And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole wheat need not a vitamin supplement; but they will get sick!!

    October 22, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  11. Apple Bush

    Christians are unable to answer a single question about there god. They will simply find some passage that suits them and baaaa like a sheep.

    October 22, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • Topher

      I'll admit I don't understand everything, don't have ALL the answers, but I can't answers a single question? Dude ...

      October 22, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        Topher, not a single question. I can easily prove it.

        October 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        How are you by the way?

        October 22, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
        • Topher

          I'm good. You feeling better?

          October 22, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
        • Topher

          I'm good. Hope you are feeling better.

          October 22, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
        • Topher

          No idea what it posted like this.

          Anyway, are you saying we can't answer a specific question? That's quite possible. As I said, I don't have all the answers.

          October 22, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Topher, you don't have ANY answers.

          October 22, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
        • Topher

          Apple Bush

          "Topher, you don't have ANY answers."

          Obviously I disagree. So what is your question?

          October 22, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          T, My question today is this, if your god is real, why will it not appear to us?

          October 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
        • Topher

          Apple Bush

          Well, for one, He already did. Two, because the cannon is closed. It's called cessationism. (Probably spelled that wrong.) It basically means that what we already have is sufficient. The Bible tells us everything we need to know to be saved. Nothing else is needed.

          October 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
        • Athy

          Here's another question for you, Topher. Why did your "creator" give blind cave fish those useless shriveled eyes under their skin? Hint: They are nowhere near the fish's reproductive organs!

          October 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          My point is proven. Thank you Topher.

          October 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
        • Joey

          Sounds made up to me Topher.

          October 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
        • Topher

          Apple Bush

          I answered the question. That's what you requested. I'm guessing you disagree with my answer.

          October 22, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
        • Athy

          Well, Topher lost again!

          October 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
        • Topher

          What did I lose exactly?

          October 22, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        Thanks, funny you should mention that I was just noticing I am feeling better today.

        October 22, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
      • Colin

        There is a debate as to whether topher is even a Christian.
        Answer to the simple question:
        God reveals Himself to those He loves. Sorry about you.

        October 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
        • Joey

          According to the Bible god is all loving, so he loves everyone. Are you claiming that the Bible is wrong on this point?

          October 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
        • Colin

          The word god refers to an idol your average rock or block of wood doesn't have much in the way of emotional attachment.

          October 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
        • Joey

          Fake Colin, is that your way of letting everyone know that you are about as smart as a rock?

          October 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
        • Colin

          No joey its a way of showing what a horses ass you really are.

          October 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      T read my original post. That is exactly what I said you would do. YOU can't answer any questions about your god with the Bible.

      October 22, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
      • Apple Bush

        w/o the bible, sorry.

        October 22, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
      • Colin

        The word god is used to refer to an idol. If you want an answer about God look up.

        October 22, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
        • G to the T

          Why say "God" when you mean Yahweh (or more correctly El/Yahweh)?

          October 23, 2013 at 8:15 am |
      • Topher

        I didn't quote the Bible there. Guess I'm missing your point.

        October 22, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          No you didn't quote it, you dropped the whole thing on my foot.

          October 22, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
        • Topher

          I was just answering your question, dude. Are you telling me you're asking a question, but don't want an answer?

          October 22, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • Dippity Do Da

      their not there.

      October 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  12. Apple Bush

    Christians are compelled to believe they are too ignorant to do anything other than behave as livestock. This is not natural. Let the children be free.

    October 22, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  13. Retarded Jesus

    Mark 8:34-37 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he flatulated unto them, Don’t cross me mister! Sorry dad.

    October 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  14. MatarObamacare

    I guess that Obama must not read them...

    October 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  15. Bootyfunk

    you don't need god to be a good person.
    love and help your brothers and sisters whenever you can.
    you don't need to believe in fairy tales.

    October 22, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • hmmm

      you don't need to be good.... By who's standard are you measuring?

      October 22, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
      • nope.


        October 22, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
      • Joe

        If you stink, by whose standard are you measuring. Is there a universal stink giver? or a Universal omnipotent omniscient stinker?

        October 22, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • Colin

      Qu eer marriage is the biggest fairy tale out there.

      October 22, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
      • G to the T

        Colin, come out of the closet honey, we all love you just the way you are...

        October 23, 2013 at 8:17 am |
  16. Tim

    Psalm 145

    A psalm of praise. Of David.

    1 I will exalt you, my God the King;
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
    2 Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever.

    3 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
    4 One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
    5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b]
    6 They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
    7 They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

    8 The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love.

    9 The Lord is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made.
    10 All your works praise you, Lord;
    your faithful people extol you.
    11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,
    12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
    13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures through all generations.

    The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.[c]
    14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
    15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
    16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

    17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
    18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
    19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them.
    20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy.

    21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever.

    October 22, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • Aspen


      October 22, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Why does your god want everyone to praise it forever? What does that accomplish?

      October 22, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
      • MatarObamacare

        Explain the logic there. If someone emails you something then you must believe it?

        October 22, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
        • Apple Bush

          Email? You lost me sorry.

          October 22, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Charm Quark

      A psalm, a psalm everyone has been waiting for a psalm.

      October 22, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  17. CLT

    I have never commented on a CNN article before, but given the current comments I felt compelled to say Thank You Joshua for praying for our President. I pray for him and his family too. I can only imagine the weight he carries everyday and I know his spirit needs all the support it can get. The Lord blesses those who pray for others and not just themselves.

    October 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • nope.


      October 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
    • Nada

      Prayers = spells

      October 22, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • Athy

      CLT, do you really believe that your prayers will actually help? Pitiful.

      October 22, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  18. Retarded Jesus

    Why didn't Jesus Tweet his parables and put the bible on Facebook?

    October 22, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
  19. pm ohio

    Kind of blows holes in the Right's lies about him being a "devout Muslim", although i don't know what that means one way or another anyway...

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

      Explain the logic there. If someone emails you something then you must believe it?

      October 22, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
      • Joey

        That seems to be how most of the republicans I know operate.

        October 22, 2013 at 2:16 pm |

    Very interesting on how when the POTUS talks religion, all is well and accepted. If any repub were to talk about religion...WOW. What a double standard the POTUS and the media push.

    October 22, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      HEY DUMBY. What a load of rubbish.

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

      ...I guess the Right saying he's not an American, a Muslim, etc, is ok to do. The very people who are self-righteous and judgmental about the President should know that he's a caring introspective Christian, not some demigod trying to insidiously take down our Government.

      October 22, 2013 at 1:26 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.