Dear Friends in Christ,
I thought I knew how to pray. I thought I was good at bringing my needs and the needs of my neighbor to the Lord in prayer. How does the saying go? “Pride goeth before a fall”? Or, as St. Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (10:12)
This past year, both personally and pastorally, I have learned how weak and inadequate I am in prayer. The Lord has laid burdens on me that have put me to the test. Perhaps you’ve been there, when it seems like your own needs are more than you can bear? Or you know so many that are suffering or desperate for help, to the point that you become overwhelmed?
At that point what can we possibly pray? This is when we look to the Lord’s word – the Holy Scriptures – and see what He has taught us there. Of course, first and foremost, we have the prayer that our Lord Jesus taught His disciples when they asked Him to teach them to pray. When we ask Him how to pray, He teaches us the same.
Our Father who are in heaven,
hallowed be Thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven;
give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Scripture also reveals to us that when those who are in need come to Jesus, they often pray in simple ways. The lepers who cry out to Jesus as He passes along between Samaria and Galilee: “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.” Two blind men on the road: “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” The Canaanite woman whose daughter is severely oppressed by a demon: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David.”
Our Lord gives us a prayer to pray, His own prayer, and He also reveals to us in His Word the simple prayers of faith. What can we pray? These are marvelous prayers. They say it all.
Above that, our Lord promises us that even when we don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit – the Helper! – is already helping us by bringing prayers and intercessions before God on our behalf. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words.” (Romans 8)
Why does our Lord permit us to come to this point: we have so much to bring before Him for ourselves and for others that the burden is too great for us to bear? Why can it not simply cease? In Hebrews, the Lord teaches us and encourages us in this discipline that we receive from our heavenly Father.
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12)
We truly have much to pray for now. For those who are ill; for those who are suffering; for peace in our land; for each other; for a spirit of unity amongst us; for those whom we don’t see in the Divine Service regularly; for the young members of our congregation; for our homebound members; for the workers who will be building our building; for generous hearts.
I hope that you’ll gladly take up these prayers with me in the coming months. Don’t just “wing it.” Pull out the prayer list and go through it, name by name. Even if you don’t know who the person is or what their specific needs are, the Lord does. Bring their name to Him on your prayers, which rise before Him as a sweet-smelling incense. Frame the day with the Lord’s Prayer. Call out to the Lord for “help” and “mercy.” Remember me. I will remember you, too.
Peace in Christ,