by Matthew C. Harrison
Prayer is the breath of the Christian.
St. Paul’s letters are filled with references to his prayers for others and his requests for their prayers for him. “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power …” (2 Thess. 1:11). “Brothers, pray for us” (1 Thess. 5:25). “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). There are many others. There have been many times, particularly as my vocations have become increasingly challenging, when I’ve had the sense that I am being carried along, especially as I pass through days when very difficult decisions have to be made. At these times, I pray that God will give me the strength to be faithful today. “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34). So I pray: Lord, have mercy upon me, today. Lord, give me what I need for today.
Once I was visiting an elderly woman who had just been transferred from her home to a care facility. She was distraught. I should have simply sat quietly, listened to this elderly saint’s lament, and then offered her comfort. But I interjected, and with law at that. “But the Bible tells us it is the task of widows to pray,” I said to her. I’ll never forget her response: “Oh Pastor, I pray for you every day.” How small I felt. And yet, how comforted I was. Far from my own ability or charisma sustaining me in the Lord’s work, it was and is much more the promises of the Lord, and especially the prayers of the saints.
Today I make a request of you. Will you pray for your pastor? Will you pray for him daily? Will you put him on the list of all those names you rattle off when you pray with your young children every night? Will you, by God’s Spirit, resolve to be more diligent in prayer for him, for his wife and for his family? He needs your prayers, always. And now — in these “gray and latter days” — he needs them more than ever.
Let me share with you two pages from an appendix in the new edition of Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (Concordia Publishing House, 2017, pp. 360-361) that may help you as you pray:
Lessons from Luther’s A Simple Way to Pray
Martin Luther lays out a simple method for praying the words of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed or any text from the Bible. To help you remember, you might think of it as “I. T. C. P.”
This method anchors prayer in the catechism or other biblical texts, but allows the Holy Spirit to prompt thoughts via the Word, which may be chased more freely by the mind at prayer. …
Here is an example of how one could use Luther’s I. T. C. P. method to pray, based on Hebrews 13:17, which says: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Instruction: Lord Christ, You instruct me here that I am to listen carefully and heed the word of my pastor when he speaks Your Word. The pastoral office is profound; You not only charge my pastor to watch over my soul, but You also call him to account for his service to me. Finally, You tell me plainly in this text that I am to be a joy to my pastor and not a pain, and this for my own spiritual benefit.
Thanksgiving: Jesus, I thank you for my pastor. In fact, I thank You for the pastor who baptized me and all pastors who have served me in my life as a Christian. Thank You for all the sermons that have clearly shown me my sin and delivered to me the free forgiveness of the Gospel because of Your sacrifice for me on the cross.
Confession: Lord, I confess that so often I fail to pray for my pastor. I fail to be gracious to his family. I do not pay attention to his preaching. I have gossiped and failed to love and defend him and “put the best construction on everything.” I deserve to have my faithful pastor taken away. Forgive me my many sins, and help me to do better. Help me especially to be a joy to my pastor and to encourage him in his difficult office.
Prayer: Savior, bless my pastor with faithfulness to Your Word. Cause him to grow in knowledge of Your Word. Give him courage and strength for his tasks. I thank you for (name) and for all faithful pastors. Grant success to the work of our seminaries. Bless our professors and students. And give my pastor joy. I ask all this for Your sake alone. Amen.
That’s Luther’s “I. T. C. P.” method — Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, Prayer. You can use it to pray with your family at home, with a group of Christians at church or elsewhere, or by yourself. As you practice it daily, it will become second nature and a great blessing for your meditation and prayer.
Adapted from Martin Luther, A Simple Way to Pray, translated by Matthew C. Harrison, copyright © 2012 Concordia Publishing House, pp. 3–5. Used with permission.
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.