2003 National Prayer Breakfast
Lesson #1, Sunday 2/16/03 -- Larry Stroup
Background and History of the National Prayer Breakfast


Whenever I attend the National Prayer Breakfast, I come back full of hope, full of enthusiasm for everything that the Holy Spirit is doing in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.   So while I have this "Jesus Buzz" on, I want to take two or three weeks, as an interruption to the study of Ephesians, to try to pass along my enthusiasm.

If you are like I am, I get very discouraged about what goes on in Washington D.C. I fall into the cynical attitude that everyone there is out for what they can gain.   That to go to Washington means that a person is a self centered ego maniac with questionable values and ethics, at best.

But I came back this year, as I have in the past, with the comforting feeling that we should take heart, God is still in control, and he is working out his plan, even in Washington D.C.

The National Prayer Breakfast is a real true "Jesus Meeting" with sincere prayer and believer speakers.

Every year, in Santa Fe on the 2nd or 3rd morning of the session of the New Mexico Legislature, there is a Governor's Prayer Breakfast.   According to the program for that meeting, it is patterned after the National Prayer Breakfast.   I am here to tell you, since I have attended it for the last several years, that is a false representation.   There is no similarity in the two meetings, except that the word prayer is in the title.   Unfortunately, there is little or no prayer in the meeting in Santa Fe.   It is usually somewhere between a PR event and a lobbying meeting.

Unlike the New Mexico Governor's Prayer Breakfast, the National Prayer Breakfast includes lots of real prayer, lots of talk about God and lots of talk about Jesus, by name.

Speakers for the New Mexico Governor's Prayer Breakfast are cautioned not to be religious, do not use the name of Jesus.   You can mention God, if it is general and non-specific.   You can offer a prayer, as long as it is generic.   It is interesting though, that it is OK to offer a Native American religious prayer, or a Sikh prayer, just not a Christian prayer or a "Jesus prayer."

I, along with a few friends who have attended the National Prayer Breakfast have discussed whether or not the New Mexico Governor's Prayer Breakfast could be changed to in fact be patterned after the National Prayer Breakfast.   I am not encouraged, but I am also not optimistic.

This Week's Report:

This morning I want to give you the background and history of the National Prayer Breakfast, so you can get some feel of its origin and purpose.   After you understand that, I think you will see some reasons that the New Mexico Governor's Prayer Breakfast may never be patterned after the National Prayer Breakfast; The leaders here may not have the values and principles that cause the Washington meeting to be what it is.

The History and Background of the National Prayer Breakfast:

In the 1940's, during WW II, small groups of House of Representative members and small groups of Senators were meeting to pray together and share and support and to study the Bible.

Shortly after President Eisenhower came into office in 1953, he remarked to one of the Senators, "The White House is the loneliest place in the world." The Senator suggested that the Senate Prayer Group and the House Prayer Group meet with the President to give him support in that lonely position.

They did that, and in 1953 they held the first National Prayer Breakfast.  This year was the 51st National Prayer Breakfast.  No President has ever missed the Prayer Breakfast.   It is considered that important.

In contrast, at the New Mexico Governor's Prayer Breakfast, our governor attended, but requested that the agenda be change so he could make a few comments and leave.   In fairness, he had a root canal the night before and did not feel well, but he did not see the meeting as important and worth him staying for the one hour that the meeting lasted after he left. And given the way the meeting is conducted, I guess he is correct.   But it will never be much more, with lack of support like that.

But back to the foundation of the National Prayer Breakfast.   As some of you will remember from when we did a study on the holiday of Thanksgiving, we found that the discovery of North America by Columbus included God in his core purpose and he even credited God and mentioned Jesus in his prayer of thanksgiving when he landed.

During that study we also looked at the fact that the sincere worship of God and Jesus was foundational to the first celebrations of Thanksgiving, and to the founding of this country and to the principles on which it was founded.

It is amazing how far the world has taken us from our founding principles; how far the press and media have taken us; to the point that, although our coins say "In God we trust" and our paper money says "In God we trust," it is now politically incorrect to even mention God or Jesus in public, let alone proclaim him as the true God.

Just to remind you of our foundations, Jesus and God are built into the foundations of our country. It goes as far back as Columbus, but as The Unites States of American was being formed, God and Jesus and dependence on prayer to them played fundamental roles.

For Instance:

In 1789, the Convention, which was called in Philadelphia to draft the Constitution of the United States, was hopelessly mired in disagreement and rancor.   After four weeks, Benjamin Franklin rose to speak and was recognized by the President of the Convention, George Washington.   Franklin said, "I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth -- that God governs the affairs of men. We have been assured, Sir in the Sacred writings, that, 'except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.'  I firmly believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building not better than the builders of the failed tower of Babel."

Following the words of Franklin, the Constitutional Convention proceeded with prayer each morning and in short order the birth of our nation was achieved, by a final draft of the Constitution.

Spiritual commitment was the foundation of our nation and stands today as the source of our future; not a commitment to organizations, labels or institutions, but to a relationship with God as taught by the man Jesus of Nazareth.   I use Jesus' name in that form, because that is the form that the leaders of the National Prayer Breakfast use.   I will explain why as I describe the purpose and vision of the National Prayer Breakfast, later or probably next week.

Now back to more evidence of the spiritual basis of our country.

Patrick Henry said:

I have now disposed of all my property to my family.   There is one thing more I wish I could give them and that is faith in Jesus Christ. If they had that, and I had not given them one shilling, they would have been rich; and if they had not that, and I had given them all the world, they would be poor indeed.

George Washington's prayer for the United States of America was:

"Almighty God, We make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in thy Holy protection; and Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States at large."

And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Devine author of our blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Thomas Jefferson said:

"I hold the precepts of Jesus as delivered by Himself, to be the most pure, benevolent, and sublime which have ever been preached to man."

Harry Truman said:

"I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he'd taken a poll in Egypt.   What would Jesus Christ have preached if he'd taken a poll in Israel?   It isn't polls or public opinion of the moment that counts, it's right and wrong."

Here are a few excerpts from remarks made by some of our Presidents at the National Prayer Breakfast over the last 51 years:

Jimmy Carter said:

"To me, God is real.   To me, the relationship with God is a very personal thing.   God is ever present in my life.   He gives me guidance when I turn to Him and provides for me, through the life of Christ, a perfect example to emulate in my experiences with other human beings."

Past President George H.W. Bush said, about the Congressional prayer groups:

"Since 1942, leaders in the United States Congress. along with leading people in the judiciary and executive branches of our country, have been meeting in private session because of their sense of great need in the face of world crises (as well as in their own personal lives) and because of their desire to grow in their love for God and for each other and to be supportive and understanding of other views. This idea of men and women meeting in the name of Christ and in prayer has found root in many of the countries of the world."

In our cynicism, we fall into the trap of feeling that our leaders are all greedy, self serving, ego maniacs, without the principles of Jesus.   I do not know about you, but for me it is a welcome discovery to find that there are followers of Jesus of Nazareth in leadership roles, who deeply believe in his principles and in him as their Lord and Savior.

Today, there are small groups of Senators and small groups of Congressmen, meeting every week that Congress is in session, with the sole intent of prayer, study and mutual support, in the name of Jesus.   There is a group of 15 or 20 Senators who meet weekly and a group of 30 or so Congressmen meeting weekly.   To meet in either group, there is no requirement to be of a given denomination, or even to have faith.   Everyone who wants to meet is welcome.   But Jesus is the guiding role model.   There are no divisions between Republicans and Democrats, or conservatives or liberals, or believers and non believers.   Everyone in the meeting is considered to be a child of God and welcome.

The rules are:

As Ronald Reagan said in 1985, at his presentation to the National Prayer Breakfast that year, talking about the Senate and the House prayer groups:

Then he related this story: Small Groups in Washington: In addition to the two larger regular prayer groups, there are also smaller groups meeting around Washington, in twos or threes, as members want.

Here is the weekly meeting format:

So, Take heart, God is still in control, and he is working out his plan, even in Washington D.C.


Next week:

... I will describe who sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast, who really executes it, and I'll talk about the vision, mission and purpose behind it.   Next week, or more probably the following week, I will report the highlights on the Prayer Breakfast this year.

So don't miss the next two weeks.   It is exciting and encouraging.