CNN Senior National Editor
George W. Bush appreciated knowing that people were praying for him as President of the United States. "I turn to them without hesitation and say, 'That is the greatest gift you can give anybody, to pray on their behalf,'" he told the National Prayer Breakfast in 2003.
Apparently not everyone who prayed for George W. Bush as President was willing to do the same for his successor, but more people may be willing to pray for President Obama than for his predecessor.
There is, of course, no count of how many people pray for the President, but there is a Presidential Prayer Team, founded by members of a Scottsdale, Arizona, church. The PPT combines a belief that there is greater power unified prayer with direction from the Apostle Paul to his disciple Timothy to encourage followers to pray for their leaders.
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
John Lind, president of Presidential Prayer Team, recently told the Religion News Service that 25,000 members left the organization after Barack Obama won the election. But another 41,000 people joined.
“The only … president we’ve been under has been Bush, so you’ve got to be realistic and say, ‘Wow, this could be a substantial dip in our database,’ but it wasn’t,” Lind told RNS. “I think it’s a positive. It’s almost two-to-one new member to unsubscribed.”
The PPT was born after the November 2000 election, in an adult Sunday school class where congregants were urged to pray for the new president. The next idea was to persuade 1 percent of the American population (at the time, roughly 2.8 million people) to pray for the president. The launch of this campaign was scheduled for November 2001.
The terror attacks of Sept. 11 that year expedited that plan. A week later the Presidential Prayer Team was formed. Its website went on line the next month.
Since its creation, the Presidential Prayer Team has had 1.7 million members in some 200 countries. At present there are about 500,000 subscribers. Membership is free, but some 31,500 people have made financial donations, which help provide the estimated $84,000 a month required to maintain the organization.
Events such as the 9/11 terror attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia Tech shootings and elections have led to surges in membership. “It comes in waves. In crises, people don’t have control. People have a tendency, if they have a spiritual bent, to look for something bigger than themselves,” Lind told me, even if it is a “virtual” congregation created online. Lind says he knows of no similar effort this large.
The PPT’s projects include not only prayers for the President (such as the first-100-days program in progress) but also for other government leaders and the U.S. armed forces.
Do these prayers work? “There are things we’re not going to know, this side of heaven,” Lind answered.
There have been organized prayers related to the economy (one on bipartisanship and the stimulus bill proved a touch controversial). Is the economy beyond divine intervention? “Heavens, no,” Lind chuckled.
The majority of PPT members are Christian. “The power of prayer in Jesus name is our first and foremost foundation of the Presidential Prayer Team, Lind says. Referring to the verse from Timothy cited above, Lind says that Christians are motivated to pray for their leaders “because they fell that they have a biblical responsibility to do so.”
This means praying even if they don’t care for their leaders, Lind says, noting that the Paul’s letter to Timothy came at the time of Emperor Nero, who persecuted Christians. Lind is moved by examples of people transformed personally by prayer for others. He understands that the change of occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue hasn’t been easy for some PPT members.
Religion News Service cited a woman who only signed her name as “Betty” in a message to PPT.
“I did not want to pray for Obama because I didn’t vote for him, but then I realized that I had to pray for him, and it has literally changed my life to pray for him,” wrote “Betty.” “God really changes our hearts if we allow him to do so. So, thank you for your part in getting us together.”
Another note, from a woman identified as Barbara Brown, included this admonition. “I still have to remind some of my Democrat friends that no, President Obama did not inherit all of our nation’s problems from President Bush’s administration, and I have to remind some of my Republican friends that even though we did not vote for President Obama, he is now our president and he deserves our respect, honor and prayers as commanded by God.”
PPT board members were invited to the White House and prayed with George Bush in the White House on Jan. 19, his last full day as President. “It was an honor to be there,” Lind said.
Lind hopes they have the opportunity to pray with President Barack Obama. They know he’s busy. They’re praying for him.