Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast

February 04, 1982

Thank you very much, John, all our friends and distinguished guests here at the head table, and all of you very distinguished people. Nancy and I are delighted to be with you this morning, and are honored to be here.

General Dozier, I know you don't like being praised for what you only consider was doing your duty. Forgive me, I'm going to pull rank on you. [Laughter] We want to give thanks to God for answering our prayers. We want to salute the Italian authorities for their brilliant rescue, and, Jim, we just want to thank both you and Judith for your gallantry. Welcome home, soldier.

Someone once said that a hero is no braver than any other man. He's just brave 5 minutes longer. Well, General, you were brave 42 days longer. And now we know why prayer breakfasts are a time for praise and celebration.

Last year, you all helped me begin celebrating the 31st anniversary of my 39th birthday. [Laughter] And I must say that all of those pile up, an increase of numbers, don't bother me at all, because I recall that Moses was 80 when God commissioned him for public service, and he lived to be 120. [Laughter] And Abraham was 100 and his wife Sarah 90 when they did something truly amazing— [laughter] —and he lived to be 175. Just imagine if he had put $2,000 a year into his IRA account. [Laughter]

Those of you who were here last year might remember that I shared a story by an unknown author, a story of a dream he had had. He had dreamt, as you recall, that he walked down the beach beside the Lord. And as they walked, above him in the sky was reflected each experience of his life. And then reaching the end of the beach, he looked back and saw the two sets of footprints extending down the way, but suddenly noticed that every once in a while there was only one set of footprints. And each time, they were opposite a reflection in the sky of a time of great trial and suffering in his life. And he turned to the Lord in surprise and said, "You promised that if I walked with You, You would always be by my side. Why did You desert me in my times of need?" And the Lord said, "My beloved child, I wouldn't desert you when you needed Me. When you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."

Well, when I told that story last year, I said I knew, having only been here in this position for a few weeks, that there would be many times for me in the days ahead when there would be only one set of footprints and I would need to be carried, and if I didn't believe that I would be, I wouldn't have the courage to do what I was doing.

Shortly thereafter, there came a moment when, without doubt, I was carried. And now, we've seen in General Dozier's life such a moment. Well, God is with us. We need only to believe. The Psalmist says, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

Speaking for Nancy and myself, we thank you for your faith and for all your prayers on our behalf. And it is true that you can sense and feel that power.

I've always believed that we were, each of us, put here for a reason, that there is a plan, somehow a divine plan for all of us. I know now that whatever days are left to me belong to Him.

I also believe this blessed land was set apart in a very special way, a country created by men and women who came here not in search of gold, but in search of God. They would be free people, living under the law with faith in their Maker and their future.

Sometimes, it seems we've strayed from that noble beginning, from our conviction that standards of right and wrong do exist and must be lived up to. God, the source of our knowledge, has been expelled from the classroom. He gives us His greatest blessing, life, and yet many would condone the taking of innocent life. We expect Him to protect us in a crisis, but turn away from Him too often in our day-to-day living. I wonder if He isn't waiting for us to wake up.

There is, as Pete so eloquently said, in the American heart a spirit of love, of caring, and a willingness to work together. If we remember the parable of the Good Samaritan, he crossed the road, knelt down, and bound up the wounds of the beaten traveler, the Pilgrim, and then carried him into the nearest town. He didn't just hurry on by into town and then look up a caseworker and tell him there was a fellow back out on the road that looked like he might need help.

Isn't it time for us to get personally involved, for our churches and synagogues to restore our spirit of neighbor caring for neighbor? But talking to this particular gathering, I realize I'm preaching to the choir. If all of you worked for the Federal Government, you would be classified as essential. We need you now more than ever to remind us that we should be doing God's work on Earth. We'll never find every answer, solve every problem, or heal every wound, but we can do a lot if we walk together down that one path that we know provides real hope.

You know, in one of the conflicts that was going on throughout the past year when views were held deeply on both sides of the debate, I recall talking to one Senator who came into my office. We both deeply believed what it was we were espousing, but we were on opposite sides. And when we finished talking, as he rose he said, "I'm going out of here and do some praying." And I said, "Well, if you get a busy signal, it's me there ahead of you." [Laughter]

We have God's promise that what we give will be given back many times over, so let us go forth from here and rekindle the fire of our faith. Let our wisdom be vindicated by our deeds.

We are told in II Timothy that when our work is done, we can say, "We have fought the good fight. We have finished the race. We have kept the faith." This is an evidence of it.

I hope that on down through the centuries not only is this great land preserved but this great tradition is preserved and that all over the land there will always be this one day in the year when we remind ourselves of what our real task is.

God bless you. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 9:23 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. He was introduced by Senator John Stennis of Mississippi.

In his remarks, the President referred to Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Annual National Prayer Breakfast Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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