President Bush received clear if somewhat troubled words of encouragement yesterday for his handling of the gulf war from the political and religious leaders of the National Prayer Breakfast.

The ecumenical breakfast, begun by a Senate prayer group 39 years ago, is an annual reunion of members of Congress, governors, clerics, and men and women in business. More than 3,500 people were present at the Washington Hilton.

Imam Abdullah Khouj, director of the Islamic Center, started the group off with a reading from the Koran, the holy book of Islam. He quoted the conditions under which one Moslem party can fight against another, and then prayed, "Oh God, send your mercy on those who die. Bless the sincere intentions of those gathering here today."

The Rev. Billy Graham came next. "There come times in history when nations have to stand against some monstrous evil, like Nazism," he said.

Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer (D) read an Old Testament passage in which God tells King Solomon that God will give him anything he wishes. "My wish for our president," said Roemer, a United Methodist, "is that he may receive from God what Solomon wished for. Solomon asked, 'Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well {and} know the difference between what is right and what is wrong."

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who is Catholic, said the House prayer group, about 40 representatives who meet each Thursday, recently reviewed the religious principles of a just war. "We know that war is the ultimate abandonment of reason and of love," she said, "but we have faith as we recall the words of Pope Paul VI: If you want peace, work for justice."

Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.), also a Catholic, recalled an admonition from Jesus in the Bible to "love your enemies."

"When we consider the events of the Persian Gulf," he said, "whether we know it or not, we're recalling some of these passages and we are troubled . . . . Decisions such as we have made don't come easily, and without deep inner struggle.

"And Mr. President, we know you worry."

Bush, who has not hesitated to defend the gulf war in moral terms bordering on the religious, told the group he was chastized in a letter this week for not mentioning God in his State of the Union speech, other than his usual signoff of "God bless America."

"I should have made that clear; God is our rock and salvation," Bush said. He said he was naming this Sunday a national day of prayer, and said he he hoped people will pray "for peace, for the safety of our troops, for their families, for the innocents caught up in this war and a prayer that God will continue to bless the United States of America."