6 Ways to Pray Like Abraham Lincoln

Our 16th president was a man of frequent prayer. Here's how we can benefit from his habits.

Posted in , Feb 12, 2016

How to pray like Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday is February 12, may have been the most eloquent president in American history. His speeches—particularly the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address—are among the finest ever delivered. And multiple historical sources (including Lincoln himself) characterize him as a man of frequent and often desperate prayer. So it is surprising that we have no surviving text of any vocal prayer uttered by the 16th president.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we have no insight into how Abraham Lincoln prayed. We do. And there is much benefit we can derive from praying like Abe, in these six ways at least:

1)  Pray privately.
During his presidency, Lincoln often attended a weekly prayer meeting held at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church near the White House. When doing so, however, he chose to sit alone in the pastor's study with the door to the chapel ajar. He was there not for show but (as he told the pastor, Dr. Phineas D. Gurley) because he was able to pray without distraction and without anyone trying to impress him.

2)  Pray in writing.
His most famous letter is one he wrote to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, whom he was told had lost five sons in the war between the states. He wrote, “I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.” Writing your prayers—whether to others or in a journal no one else will ever see—can marvelously focus your thoughts and prayers.

3)  Make time for prayer.
Though he was elected twice, Lincoln was president for a mere 49 months. In that time he issued nine formal calls for the American public to fast and pray—an average frequency of one proclamation every five-and-a-half months. He clearly believed in making time for focused, united, purposeful prayer.

4)  Be specific in prayer.
In his first “National Fast Day,” President Lincoln’s words reveal the careful reason and specific thought he gave to prayer:

“And whereas when our own beloved Country, once, by blessing of God, united, prosperous, and happy, is now afflicted with factions and civil war, it is peculiarly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals, to humble ourselves before Him, and to pray for His mercy, to pray that we may be spared further punishment, though most justly deserved; that our arms may be blessed and made effectual for the re-establishment of law, order and peace, through the wide extent of our country; and that the inestimable boon of civil and religious liberty, earned under His guidance and blessing, by the labors and sufferings of our fathers, may be restored in all its original excellence.”

5)  Pray with hope and humility.
In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln’s prayerful words were characterized by both hope and humility: “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet if God wills that it continues…until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid another drawn with the sword…so still it must be said that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

6)  Pray fervently.
Perhaps Lincoln’s most famous words on the subject of prayer reflect an awareness of his great responsibility, personal inadequacy and fervency: “I have been driven many times upon my knees,” he once confided in an associate, “by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go.”


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