A Psalm Still in Their Hearts

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On January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president of the United States. A few days later, on February 6, the president celebrated his 70th birthday. As seen in the photo below, Speaker of the House of Representatives Thomas “Tip” O’Neill was a guest at the president’s birthday party in the Oval Office.

President Ronald Reagan, Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, and Nancy Reagan at a party celebrating the president’s 70th birthday. Courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

On March 30, President Reagan gave a speech to the Building Construction Trades Union at the Washington Hilton Hotel. As he left the hotel, the mentally-ill John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate the president. His shots wounded White House Press Secretary James Brady, a policeman, and a secret service agent. One shot ricocheted off the presidential limousine, seriously wounding the president. The president came very close to death but after surgery began a slow recovery at the George Washington University Hospital.

Several days after the shooting, Speaker O’Neill made a brief visit to the president in the hospital. When O’Neill entered his room, he said, “God bless you, Mr. President.” Then he got down on his knees and began to recite the 23rd Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

As O’Neill prayed Psalm 23, the weak, recovering Reagan joined him with a voice a bit above a whisper.

I love this story. I love imagining both of these powerful leaders learning the 23rd Psalm as children, and here they were—Reagan at age 70 and O’Neill at age 68—with the psalm still in their hearts.

What you do each day is so very important.

With all my heart I have sought You;
Do not let me wander from Your commandments.
I have treasured Your Word in my heart,
So that I may not sin against You.
Psalm 119:10-11





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