Unless it’s Justin Bieber, I don’t get star-struck. But I have to admit, it was pretty cool to meet President Barack Obama during his visit to Seattle this past February, when I had the opportunity and privilege to attend one of the events where he was speaking.
I don’t usually run in those circles. Sitting in a special section with dignitaries and politicians that included mayors, council members, business bigwigs and the Washington governor was awkward, to say the least. How I even got invited to the event is a little unclear. But over the past couple years, I have made it a point of intent to build relationships with the White House through its Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. I also have a commitment as a Christian, a pastor and a leader to be a light to the world and not just merely a light to the light.
Folks notice this kind of commitment, and when opportunities arise, they sometimes ask for our input and involvement, or just merely our presence. That’s what happened in this case.
A conversation about prayer
After the larger event finished, a small group of us were invited to a more intimate gathering—more like a meet and greet—with the president. In my mind, I had envisioned it as an opportunity to share some convictions of my heart that would dramatically impact the president and alter the trajectory of his leadership, presidency and country. Had that opportunity presented itself, I was hoping to talk policies, justice, human dignity, womb to tomb, Linsanity, family and marriage. I hoped to compare pictures of our kids. Then I hoped to challenge him to a one-on-one basketball game.
Go big or go home, right?
Unfortunately, the opportunity for a long conversation wasn’t to be. Rather, it was a few minutes shared among a small group.
When folks were introduced, they all had “important” titles. But I was simply introduced as “Eugene Cho.” I’m certain many were asking, “Who is this guy, and why is he here?” In fact, President Obama had a puzzled look on his face as he said, “Hello, Eugene.” So, I had to introduce myself and explained that I was a pastor in Seattle and involved with some other work.
We chit-chatted briefly, but then there was a moment I’ll never forget in our conversation. I shared with President Obama that I regularly pray for him, and this is how he responded:
“Thank you, Eugene. I really appreciate that. Can you also please pray for my wife and children? Pray for their protection.”
His whole demeanor changed when I shared with him that I pray for him.
Or perhaps it was just me. Perhaps I was reading and analyzing too much into his non-verbal cues. But then again, I’m a pastor, and after 21 years of doing ministry, you develop a “pastoral sense” about these things. I genuinely sensed his gratitude for my prayers and the sincerity of his request that I pray for his family.
A need for prayer
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that short conversation with the president—or the sense of burden and weight that the job and “calling” of the presidency demands.
In many ways, we ought to commend the courage of all those who step into leadership on any level, including the highest level. We can criticize those who step into these offices all we want, but we must at least commend them for their courage to place themselves and their families in such vulnerable positions.
On a micro level, I have experienced harsh pushbacks and criticism in my leadership as a pastor. Several years ago, because of a controversial blog post I wrote (and a subsequent public spat with a cultural figure in Seattle), I received phone call threats at my home, anonymous hate email and a rock thrown into our church building. It was a scary time, and after assessing the potential danger to my family, I called the police to explain and seek advice, then deleted our home phone line and removed all pictures and names of our kids from the interwebs.
Now, imagine that. Multiply that by 100,000,000. And then consider it happening to you every day.
Imagine it not just for yourself but for your spouse and your children, too.
You see, it doesn’t matter what your political leanings, affiliations and affections may be. I am a staunch independent when it comes to political parties, and I urge Christians to not be played, swayed or seduced by the powers that be. I urge others to be cautious of the politicization and manipulation of Jesus, Christians and religion.
But I’m always amazed by those who so often quote 1 Timothy 2:1-4 as an encouragement to pray for leaders and then hesitate when it’s someone they disagree with. At that moment, they usually start quoting Psalm 109:8: “May his days be few; and let another take his office.” (And then there are those absolutely crazy stories like that of Pastor Wiley Drake, who continues to share very publicly that he is praying for the death of the president of the United States. Wow.)
An endorsement for prayer
This post isn’t an endorsement for President Obama or a political party. As an active pastor of a congregation, I believe it wise not to make endorsements but, rather, talk about issues—particularly from the framework of my Christian faith.
However, I am making an endorsement for prayer—and specifically prayer for President Obama, First Lady Michelle and their daughters, Malia and Sasha.
Because as I shook hands with President Obama and shared that brief conversation with him, I was reminded that despite his being arguably “the most powerful man in the world,” beneath it all, he was simply another broken and fallen man with doubts and fears—just like me, and just like all of us.
All of us are in desperate need of the grace of God. All of us are in need of the comfort and strength of prayer. Even the president of the United States.
Our brief conversation reminded me of the words I heard President Obama speak when I attended the 2011 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.:
“And like all of us, my faith journey has had its twists and turns. It hasn’t always been a straight line. I have thanked God for the joys of parenthood and Michelle’s willingness to put up with me. In the wake of failures and disappointments, I’ve questioned what God had in store for me and been reminded that God’s plans for us may not always match our own short-sighted desires.
And let me tell you, these past two years, they have deepened my faith. The presidency has a funny way of making a person feel the need to pray. Abe Lincoln said, as many of you know, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.’”
Agree or disagree. Like or dislike. Republican or Democrat. Tea Party or Coffee Party.
It doesn’t matter. Lift a prayer for President Obama and his family. Lift a prayer for our fellow brother in Christ. Pray for strength, conviction and courage. Pray for safety and peace.