Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Luther on Prayer

It is true that what has heretofore been offered as prayer - wailing and chanting in the churches, etc. - was really not prayer. Such external, ceremonial things, when properly observed, serve as an exercise for young children, pupils, and simple minds; while they may be called singing or reading exercises, they are not real prayer. To pray as the second commandment teaches is to call upon God in every need. This God requires of us and has not left it to our choice. We are under obligation to pray if we would be Christians. . . .

From The Large Catechism, the old translation by J.N. Lenker.

Prayer has been defined by someone as "answering speech", that is, it is our response to God's address to us in his Word, which comes first. Thus it seems to me that the decline of prayer in the contemporary church and the decline of Bible reading and literacy are directly related. For many today, it would seem, the Divine Service is their only experience of both the Word and prayer. Such folk are perhaps the contemporary version of Luther's 'simple minds'. The question is, 'How do we best lead them to sense their "obligation to pray"'? The Word must be explained simply in the sermon, both in what it demands and promises, and the prayers should likewise be simple and if possible drawn thematically from the lections of the day, particularly the Gospel. If appropriate, a simplified version of the Divine Service along the lines of what the LCA has provided in its Worship Resources could be offered regularly on Sunday mornings, followed by adult 'Sunday School' class devoted to opening up the Bible for people so that they may use it with confidence in their homes. That would seem a good place to start.

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