by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison
After about a year and a half in this position, I’ve discovered that, if nothing else, being Synod president does tend to improve one’s prayer life. A prayer Luther often prayed at night says it all: “My dear God, now I lie down and turn Your affairs back to You; You may do better with them. If You can do no better than I, You will ruin them entirely. When I awake, I will gladly try again.’
Because of a feisty barber named Peter Beskendorf, we not only know exactly how Martin Luther prayed, but we have what is probably the greatest and most practical little pamphlet ever written on how regular folks can pray: “A Simple Way to Pray” (Luthers Works, v. 43, pp. 189211). While Luther was getting lathered in the barber’s chair, Peter asked the Reformer how he went about praying. Luther gave Peter the lowdown in the chair and then sat down and peeled off his little book shortly thereafter. Because there are so many unbiblical things said and written about prayer all about us, every Lutheran should have “A Simple Way to Pray” and read it. Luther’s little book on prayer will revolutionize your prayer life.
The genius of Luther’s approach is that it anchors prayer in the biblical or biblically based text so that it doesn’t float off into self-absorbed drivel, quite disconnected from God’s mandates and promises in the Bible. Luther’s approach balances the issue of order and freedom, written prayer and ex corde prayer–but in such a way that the biblical text determines the content and inspires the mind to pray freely as the Spirit moves.
Luther followed a simple, fourfold pattern:
I call it I.T.C.P. This is how Luther prayed the Small Catechism–something I’d long heard about but had not the slightest idea what it meant. Virtually any text of the Bible can be prayed this way, or for that matter, any biblically based prayer.
It’s Lent. I invite you to pray daily with me the greatest prayer ever written (aside from those in the Bible): The Litany (LSB 288–89). This 1500-year-old prayer, which Luther loved, covers the extent of real spiritual and physical need for the Church and the world. And it’s all right out of the Bible. When you come to the following text, let Luther’s I.T.C.P. mode kick in. Heres an example: We poor sinners implore you . . . to preserve all pastors and ministers of Your Church in the true knowledge and understanding of Your wholesome Word and to sustain them in holy living.
Lord, You INSTRUCT us that it is Your deepest desire that pastors love and stick to Your Word, for themselves and for others. It’s horrible when a pastor forsakes the Word and falls into error or gross sin and does untold damage in the Church. We also know that it is Your deepest desire, Lord, that we pray for our pastors.
Lord, I give You THANKS for my pastor and all pastors of the Church. In this crazy day and age, it’s a miracle that I have a pastor who believes the Bible, preaches Law and Gospel, loves his people and serves me and my family.
Lord, I CONFESS that I fail to pray for my pastor. I dont even think about our seminaries until we have a vacancy. I’ve been stingy in supporting my pastor. I have not always put the best construction on his actions and have failed to follow Matthew 18 when I’ve had a concern. I have disregarded the fact that You have placed this man to dole out your previous gifts of the Gospel to me.
Lord, I PRAY, enlighten me by Your Word and Spirit. Be with my pastor, and strengthen him today. Cause him to love your wholesome Word. Protect him and his wife and family from the evil one. Sustain him in holy living, and give him joy in his vocation. Cause me to be a source of joy in his ministry, and give me a generous heart that I may support the ministry of the Gospel in this place in every way. Amen.