Vice President Bush, who says he does not like to wear his religion on his sleeve, has begun to weave it ever more prominently into his speeches.

At an "Ask George Bush" forum in Pontiac, Mich., on Thursday, Bush drew applause after saying he believes in "Jesus Christ as my personal savior." He then told a story about the power of faith and the fragility of religious freedom behind the Iron Curtain in Poland, recalling an episode that he said crystallized for him the reason he wants to be president.

The day before, Bush brought up his religious beliefs at all four campaign stops in South Dakota, each time framing his reason for seeking the presidency around tales of having observed glimmers of faith breaking through state-imposed godlessness -- one at a state funeral for former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and another in a conversation with the late Chinese Premier Mao Tse-tung.

And in a taped interview with David Frost that will be aired tonight on 115 stations around the country, Bush, who is an Episcopalian, spoke of his faith in a God that "works in wondrous, mysterious ways" sustaining him through the most difficult moments of his life -- losing a 3-year-old daughter to leukemia, and being shot down over the Pacific during World War II.

In 1980, when he first sought the presidency, Bush recoiled from discussing such personal matters. Now he ruefully explains to audiences that he is running in an age when presidential candidates are "supposed to be stretched out on a couch and psychoanalyzed." He says he "isn't comfortable" with that sort of scrutiny, but he also says he understands people "need to know something about your basic motivations . . . and I've got to do a little better at it."

Bush's references to his personal religious convictions have become much more common in recent weeks. In the past, he has talked generally about his faith in God and made reference to the incident at Brezhnev's funeral, but his tone has changed this fall. Aides said the increased emphasis on religious faith is not part of any strategy to appeal to evangelicals, who are expected to be drawn to the GOP primaries in record numbers next year by the candidacy of television evangelist Marion G. (Pat) Robertson. Bush, however, likes to cite polls showing he runs well among evangelical Christians.

As he campaigned last week, Bush was accompanied by Doug Wead, an evangelical minister who serves as an organizer for Christian voters. Wead has worked for Bush for several years in a low-key fashion and, on a trip last week into Michigan, helped orchestrate the "conversion" of 11 Robertson supporters to the Bush campaign.

Still, aides say, Bush's reasons for talking about religion are broader and more secular. "The idea of having some overriding moral, ethical, character themes has always been something we thought as important," said one senior adviser.

In 1980, Bush was criticized for seeming to want the presidency because it was the next logical line on his resume -- not because he had any compelling desire to use the office to achieve an ideological, moral or policy agenda.

In this campaign, there is much less noblesse oblige in his campaign rhetoric. As he talks more about his faith, he also uses religious freedom as a metaphor for freedoms of all kinds, saying his quest for the presidency is grounded in a desire to lead the only country in the world that can preserve such freedoms.

A passage from a speech in Pontiac on Thursday is typical:

"When I was shot down and floating around off a Japanese-held island, Sept. 2, 1944, I know what sustained me. It was faith, and it was family. And I believe in Jesus Christ as my personal savior. There are people here who look at that differently, and I understand and I respect that, because we are a tolerant nation. We are, however, one nation under God.

"And if I ever need an event to crystallize for me why I wanted to be president, it was standing with Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader, at the grave of the fallen Polish martyr, named {Jerzy} Popieluszko, in Warsaw -- this young priest who was killed by the secret police in Poland. And Barbara {Bush} had her arms around Popieluszko's mother, tears streaming down her face because she did not believe a high official of the United States would be there in Poland, in the face of Communists who were running that country, to honor her fallen son . . . . And it all came together for me there, and I said the United States of America, one nation under God, is the only chance for freedom around the world, the only nation strong enough and dedicated enough to that concept to offer hope and freedom to others around the world."

Bush typically ends his standard stump speech either with that story or with a story of having chanced to observe Viktoriya Brezhnev making a furtive sign of the cross as she took a final look into her husband's open casket in the Kremlin, or with a story of talking with the aging Mao in China, and hearing him say, "When I die, and go to see God" -- then catch himself and say, "When I die, and go to see Marx . . . . "

A hush invariably falls over the room when Bush tells these stories. They serve several purposes. One is to reinforce his credentials as a world leader -- but subtly, not frontally, as he is still sometimes wont to do ("Bar {Barbara} and I were having a private dinner with {British Prime Minister} Margaret Thatcher . . . . " or "I was riding in a limousine with {West German Chancellor} Helmut Kohl . . . ").

Another is to advertise the same qualities of family, faith and patriotism that Ronald Reagan used to great effect in 1980 and 1984. Bush also talks of the strength and pride he draws from 42 years of marriage to the same woman, from their five children who "all come home, through thick and thin," and 10 grandchildren.

And he says time and again on the stump, "No one feels more strongly than I do about the innate decency and honor of the United States."