President Barack Obama - AP file photo.
(USA TODAY) - President Obama told lawmakers Thursday he hopes the spiritual lessons of the National Prayer Breakfast carry over from the event -- something that hasn't really happened in years past, he confessed.
"You'd like to think that the shelf life wasn't so short," Obama joked.
After previous prayer breakfasts, he said, "I go back to the Oval Office and I start watching the cable news networks -- and it's like we didn't pray!"
Making his fifth straight appearance at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Obama told the bipartisan gathering that grappling with the nation's problems -- and with politicians of different parties -- requires a constant renewal of faith.
"Faith is not a possession," Obama said. "Faith is a process."
Referring to last month's inaugural ceremony, Obama noted that he took the oath of office with Bibles owned by two icons who relied on faith to face immense personal and national challenges: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.
As the civil rights movement faced violent resistance in the 1950s and 1960s, Obama said, "we know that in Scripture, Dr. King found strength."
Lincoln also found "solace in Scripture" during the Civil War of the 1860s, Obama said, and "that allowed him to become a better leader."
"Today, the divisions in this country are, thankfully, not as deep or destructive as when Lincoln led, but they are real," Obama said. "The differences in how we hope to move our nation forward are less pronounced than when King marched, but they do exist."
Meeting them demands both faith and humility, Obama said, adding: "Let me suggest that those of us with the most power and influence need to be the most humble."
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, prayer breakfast co-chair and a Republican who has clashed with Obama on many issues, concluded the event by saying "we are one nation" with one president.
"Thank you for being my president," Sessions said. "Thank you for being our president."