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. snowboarder

    I used to work with a pentecostal minister. he slept all shift. literally stealing from the company and complaining about how he was oppressed.

    October 22, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  2. Jim

    I thought is favorite was, "God Damn America" by his long time preacher Jeremiah Wright

    October 22, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • Bob

      Still kicking that dead horse?

      October 22, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  3. Walter

    Now, is the first one, Allahu akbar, praise be to the Prophet Mohammed?"

    October 22, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
    • sam


      Here's your prize, run along.

      October 22, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  4. Flynn Dexter

    "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."

    –Reading your devotionals, looks like you are doing an amazing job in your call to pray with the President and help with the daily devotionals. That is the power of Almighty God at work.
    God bless you Joshua DuBois.

    October 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • Realist


      ... http://www.GODisIMAGINARY.com ...

      ... and thank goodness ...

      ... because he emanates from the ..

      ... http://www.EVILbible.com ...


      October 22, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
  5. Bill D.

    Since when does a campaign need a "faith outreach director"?

    October 22, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
    • sam

      Since it became almost impossible to get elected to any office without pretending to be a big Jesus fan.

      October 22, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
      • Shiela

        Jesus fan?
        Mr Obama is no Jesus fan.
        You obviously know nothing about bill otherwise you would have been able to decipher this very simple truth!

        October 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
      • Shiela

        Jesus fan?
        Mr Obama is no Jesus fan.
        You obviously know nothing about bible otherwise you would have been able to decipher this very simple truth!

        October 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          I suspect he's a closet Atheist :-).

          October 22, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
      • sam

        Correct, I don't know a bit about bill.

        Apparently you can't decipher the simple truth of typing or using the reply function properly.

        October 22, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
  6. clarkgee

    When Jesus came, it was so called church folks who gave him the most trouble about who Jesus say He is... Today that same dumb, blind and deaf spirit still exist among those who want to judge our President on what he believes. President Obama is unapologetically and unshamefully Christian!

    October 22, 2013 at 3:55 pm |
    • Crom

      If he believes in crazy religious fairytales, how is that a good thing?

      October 22, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
  7. Catherine

    Very nice article. I appreciate your service Joshua.

    October 22, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  8. Lamb of Dog

    Colin what happened?

    October 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  9. Honey Badger Don't Care

    Its amazing that so many smart people can be fo f'ing stupid to believe in this garbage. I just dont understand how a person can complartmentalize the logic in their life like these people do.

    October 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Illumin8ted

      Perhaps it is YOU that are missing the something. Perhaps it is YOU who is compartmentalizing. You call them smart based on what you agree with, and stupid on the parts you disagree with. You are so arrogant to dismiss their beleifs as garbage leaving no possibilty that you could be wrong. Perhaps you may not care for the Creation portion of the Bible, but there are lots of good parts about humility. I guess that is just garbage too.

      October 22, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
    • Reality #2

      Could it be that these people know more than you do? But nooooooo, you have to trash them because they think differently on a subject than you do. Grow up.

      October 22, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        Not from the original Reality #2.

        October 23, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • sam

      Watch out, CNN posted the article link on the front page – the super-serious Jesus fans are going to come get defensive. As you can see.

      October 22, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
      • Crom

        Ah, the floodgates shall open and the fundies will appear in waves of rabid bible quotes. Like fish in a barrel. 😈

        October 22, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
  10. Jez

    Wow – I'm an athiest, but I would like to read this book for its uplifting messages. Very nice.

    October 22, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • Crom

      Somehow I doubt very much that any actual atheist would want to read any religious nonsense for its "uplifting" religious dogma.
      So I'm calling you a liar right here. You aren't really an atheist, are you? Just a dumb religitard thinking it's okay to lie for "god".

      October 22, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Crom

      Somehow I doubt very much that any actual atheist would want to read any religious nonsense for its "uplifting" religious dogma.

      October 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
      • Crom

        duplication error

        October 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  11. Skeptic

    It's all a ploy to hide Obama's true anti-American Muslim beliefs, right, you rabid Obama-hating radical extremist right-wingers?

    October 22, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • Jo

      You are to be pitied!

      October 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  12. peick

    Did he like the devotional from Deuteronomy about it being an abomination for a man to lie with a man as with a woman?

    October 22, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      We should all follow all the rules of Deuteronomy.

      October 22, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
      • Colin

        You'd be dead and gone before sundown.

        October 22, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
        • Lamb of Dog

          No doubt. And so would you for being gay.

          October 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
        • Colin

          Not a chance... all the downtown ladies call me tree top lover and the men just call me Sir !

          October 22, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
        • Joey

          Colin, that is what all the gay guys say.

          October 22, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
        • Colin

          I didn't know that how did you?

          October 22, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
        • Joey

          I know gay guys.

          October 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the LORD your God must be put to death. Such evil must be purged from Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)

      Death for you if you don't listen to the priest.

      October 22, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      But if this charge is true (that she wasn't a virgin on her wedding night), and evidence of the girls virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her fathers house and there her townsman shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against Israel by her unchasteness in her father's house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 22:20-21 NAB)
      Not a virgin ladies. Death to you.

      October 22, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you.

      October 22, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • Skeptic

      Do you like this?

      Kill anyone with a different religion. (Deuteronomy 17:2-7)

      October 22, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NLT)

      If a man is caught in the act of ra.ping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.

      What a deal.

      October 22, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  13. Lamb of Dog

    "Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and equitable but also to those who are perverse." (1 Peter 2:18)

    October 22, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Colin

      It doesn't say perverse. You keep changing the Bible. Why?

      October 22, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
      • Lamb of Dog

        substi.tute Cruel, Harsh, Unjust depending on your version of the buybull.

        October 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  14. Colin

    Ps there is nothing fake about me, I exist and post here as often as i like.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Colin are you in the closet?

      October 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        There's room enough for all the world's gays in God's closet.

        October 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  15. Ken P

    Wait.. I"m sure there must be something other than Judeo Christian inspriational messages..
    There has to be some hidden weird Islamic Jihadist code..
    oh wait you mean he really is a Christain.
    Dang those gullible right wing people must really want to hate him for something.
    I don't think they understand the WWJD message.
    Ah but that's not what they are in it for.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Sheshie

      if you are a Christian, then you are a follower of Christ. As a follower of Christ you have to believe in and follow the commandments that God put in place. Promoting the murders of millions of unborn babies is NOT Christian! As you say...WWJD?

      October 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
      • sam

        Jesus would hand out contraceptives and coat hangers.

        October 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
      • Lamb of Dog

        From there Elisha went up to Bethel. While he was on his way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him. "Go up baldhead," they shouted, "go up baldhead!" The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two shebears came out of the woods and tore forty two of the children to pieces. Kings 2:23-24

        October 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
        • Colin

          It doesn't say to pieces, you've added your own false interpretation. Why?

          October 22, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
        • Lamb of Dog

          Ok. What does it say?

          October 22, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
        • Colin

          Could you answer me first as to why you felt it was necessary to add "to pieces" or for that matter to call them children when that was not the word used?

          October 22, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
        • Lamb of Dog

          Once again its the NET version. But what does it matter? They were mauled and torn,

          October 22, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          In the original Hebrew, the word is "yeled", which comes from a root meaning "to bear or beget" and is thus interpreted as "something born, that is, a lad or offspring."
          The word appears many other times in the OT and is generally translated as "child".
          Yeled is several times used in the phrase "men, women, and children," or just "women and children." (Exodus 21:4, Ezra 10:1, Nehemiah 12:43)

          Genesis 21:8; And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.
          Genesis 21:14-16, "child" in reference to Ishmael with his mother.
          Exodus 2:1-10, "child" in reference to the baby Moses.
          Ruth 4:16; And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it.
          2 Samuel 6, 12; "Child" in reference to David's son born with Bathesheba.
          1 Kings 3:25, Solomon's judgment over the "child" who was claimed by two different mothers.
          2 Kings 4, the "child" healed by Elisha is called both na'ar and yeled throughout. There are also other places where the two words are used somewhat synonymously.
          Isaiah 9:4; For unto us a child is born...

          The bears killed little kids.

          October 22, 2013 at 4:04 pm |


        October 22, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Have you seen any advertisements from The President's Council on Abortion urging women to get one?
        "Hey kids! Come on down to Uncle Obama's Abortion Farm! No foetus can beat us!"
        His exact words in regards to the procedure is that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare".

        October 22, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
        • sam


          October 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
        • M.

          Good one...except it was Bill Clinton who said that 😉 I could not agree more though.

          October 22, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          In September 2010, Obama reiterated Clinton's statement.
          His words, verbatim, were:
          "Now, with respect to the abortion issue, I actually think — I mean, there are laws both federal, state and const.itutional that are in place. And I think that this is an area where I think Bill Clinton had the right formulation a couple of decades ago, which is abortion should be safe, legal, and rare,"

          October 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
      • RES

        Jesus overrode the 10 commandments when the Pharisees tried to trap him. Put God first and treat others as yourselves. Quit being a modern day Pharisee.

        October 22, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
        • Crom

          Jesus was a liar and a fraud. He was executed for being a criminal because he was a criminal. He didn't nullify anything.

          October 22, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Gregory Paul “If a creator exists, then it has chosen to fashion a habitat that has maximized the level of suffering and death among young humans that are due to factors beyond the control of humans over most of their history. As a consequence only a small fraction of conceptions have reached the age of majority. The number of unborn and children who have died due to natural causes is literally thousands of times larger than those killed by the actions of human dictators. There is no convincing evidence that a creator has favored any particular population, Christian or otherwise, over others during human history in terms of the natural levels of mortality. Requesting aid from the creator has not been effective despite the tremendous scale of the attempt.”

        Read Holocaust of the Children by this man, your god is a big baby killer.
        Not to mention the fact that what a woman does with her body is strictly no-ones business. You wouldn't want someone in your face like that.

        October 22, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
        • Crom

          Wow! Nice quote!

          October 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          The paper by him is worth the read.

          October 22, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
  16. NooYawkah

    Funny how everyday Christians are lunatics who believe in fairy tales but when it's Obama nobody questions his "sanity". Well, except for "Useless Article". I'll give him that much.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      The POTUS is just as delusional as the rest of the sky fairy worshipers.

      October 22, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
      • Colin

        The only fairy around here is you and if you ain't careful thats all you'll ever be

        October 22, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
        • Crom

          I think you're forgetting how deep in the closet you are, prayer troll / name stealer. You hate yourself and your lust for men.

          October 22, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
        • G to the T

          That boy is so far in closet he's finding old christmas presents!

          October 23, 2013 at 8:30 am |
    • Lamb of Dog


      October 22, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  17. Peter

    CNN, you need to just shut comments down on your website. This is an embarrassment. Take the lead in silencing the cloud of trolls.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • Lamb of Dog

      Because that's going to make a difference.

      October 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  18. Regis

    hmm those prayers dont sound muslem to me ....hmmm according to so many iveseen who believe everything they are told he is suppose to be this radical muslem

    October 22, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
  19. reen b

    Mr. DuBois: I am Pagan and not a Christian. However, I too want to thank you for doing this for our President. I think it is a lovely and generous way to support and no doubt inspire him each day. I never knew about this aspect of his life, and found your article very interesting and uplifting.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm |

    "I thought he needed some folks who were caring for his spirit, his soul"

    no need to read this drivel beyond that. Talk about useless.

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

      Exactly. I scrolled right past all the meaningless babble. CNN hasn't had journalistic integrity since the 80s.

      October 22, 2013 at 4:12 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.