U.S. President Barack Obama and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) were among the speakers at the 64th annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Thursday (Feb. 4). Husband and wife producers, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, gave the keynote address, citing the challenges of mixing Christian-themed movies and Hollywood.
Obama, a Christian, said he was honored to be with faith leaders from across the country and around the world. He referenced a Bible scripture from Second Timothy that he said sustains him: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."
"We live in extraordinary times. Times of extraordinary change. We're surrounded by tectonic shifts in technology and in our economy; by destructive conflict, disruptions to our climate. And it all reshapes the way we work and the way we live. It's all amplified by a media that is unceasing, and that feeds 24/7 on our ever-shrinking attention spans," the president said.
"And as a student of history, I often remind people that the challenges that we face are not unique; that in fact, the threats of previous eras -- civil war or world war or cold war, depressions or famines -- those challenges put our own in perspective. Moreover, I believe that our unique strengths as a nation make us better equipped than others to harness this change to work for us, rather than against us."
Obama said the sheer rapidity of change, and the uncertainty that it brings, is real. "The hardship of a family trying to make ends meet. Refugees fleeing from a war-torn home. Those things are real. Terrorism, eroding shorelines, those things are real. Even the very progress that humanity has made, the affluence, the stability that so many of us enjoy, far greater prosperity than any previous generation of humanity has experienced, shines a brighter light on those who still struggle, reveal the gap in prospects that exist for the children of the world."
He emphasized the primal emotion of fear.
"For me, and I know for so many of you, faith is the great cure for fear. Jesus is a good cure for fear. God gives believers the power, the love, the sound mind required to conquer any fear," he said.
"And what more important moment for that faith than right now? What better time than these changing, tumultuous times to have Jesus standing beside us, steadying our minds, cleansing our hearts, pointing us towards what matters."
Obama said Jesus' love gives people the power to resist fear's temptations. "He gives us the courage to reach out to others across that divide, rather than push people away. He gives us the courage to go against the conventional wisdom and stand up for what's right, even when it's not popular. To stand up not just to our enemies but, sometimes, to stand up to our friends. He gives us the fortitude to sacrifice ourselves for a larger cause. Or to make tough decisions knowing that we can only do our best. Less of me, more of God. And then, to have the courage to admit our failings and our sins while pledging to learn from our mistakes and to try to do better."
"Like every president, like every leader, like every person, I've known fear. But my faith tells me that I need not fear death; that the acceptance of Christ promises everlasting life and the washing away of sins," he said.
"If Scripture instructs me to 'put on the full armor of God' so that when trouble comes, I'm able to stand, then surely I can face down these temporal setbacks, surely I can battle back doubts, surely I can rouse myself to action."
Obama referenced multiple examples of the extraordinary work of the congregations and faith communities, such as fighting global poverty; working to end the scourge of human trafficking; distributing aid, tending the wounded, rebuilding homes for the homeless; saving lives from ebola; showering communities with understanding when tragedy strikes; and assisting refugees;
"And then there's the more quiet efforts of congregations all across this country just helping people. Seeing God in others."
Obama said he prayed that U.S. leaders will always act with humility and generosity. "I pray that my failings are forgiven. I pray that we will uphold our obligation to be good stewards of God's creation -- this beautiful planet. I pray that we will see every single child as our own, each worthy of our love and of our compassion. And I pray we answer Scripture's call to lift up the vulnerable, and to stand up for justice, and ensure that every human being lives in dignity."