The Spiritual Riches
of Prayer Life
Philip D. W. Krey
The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
A study guide for congregations
From The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
Are you ever concerned that your prayer life is insufficient? Do you wonder if your prayers are appropriate enough? Do you feel you need perspective on your prayers or on how prayer may transform you in the process?
The writings of Martin Luther say much about the promise of prayer, which is a gift from God. Not only is prayer a gift from God, but it is also a command. This study is designed to help you think through the dimensions of your prayer life. Feel free to make as many copies as you like. At the conclusion are questions (and answers) for your discussion. This Study Guide is part of an occasional series of guides made available to Seminary audiences.
If you'd like to comment on the Study Guide's content, please direct your remarks to Mark Staples, Director of Communications for the Seminary by telephone (215/248-6311), or e-mail (email@example.com) or write to him at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, 7301 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19119-1794.
Lutheran Spirituality: Prayer
The Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther hold a special place in Lutheran hearts. Our way of believing and behaving as Christians includes a regular devotional attention to the catechisms. To some extent we have all been introduced to Luther's Small and Large Catechisms whether through our pastor's preaching and the teaching of our Christian education leaders or simply through Confirmation/preparation for Baptism or membership in the Church. Lutherans have grown to expect certain characteristics of worship not unfamiliar to other Christians. These features are contributions to the universal Church and include a catechetical spirituality or piety, a focus on these central, symbolic texts which belong to us in our baptism. In the Large Catechism Luther describes this catechetical piety. "It is highly profitable and fruitful daily to read it (the Large Catechism), make it the subject of meditation and conversation. In such reading, conversation, and meditation, the Holy Spirit is present and bestows ever new and greater light and fervor, so that by day we relish and appreciate the Catechism more greatly" (LC, pg. 3).
Luther called the catechism the ABC's of faith. In a striking section of the Large Catechism he writes:
"As for myself, let me say that I, too, am a doctor and a preacher ? yes, and as learned and experienced as any of those who act so high and mighty. Yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism. Every morning, and whenever else I have time, I read and recite word for word the Lord's Prayer, The Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. I must still read and study the Catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I wish, but I must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and I do it gladly" (LC, pg.3).
One of the winningest coaches in baseball, Earl Weaver of the Baltimore Orioles, once said, "I don't care if I have superstars on my team, if they don't want to practice picking up ground balls in spring training, I can't use them." The Catechism includes the fundamentals of the faith; The Ten Commandments, The Creed, The Lord's Prayer, Holy Baptism, The office of Keys and Confession, and The Lord's Supper.
This brief study will focus on the Lord's Prayer, but it will not be a comprehensive commentary on the Lord's Prayer. For this you can turn to Luther's explanations in the Small and Large Catechisms.
This study will be a reflection on prayer in general, using Luther's introduction to the Lord's Prayer of the Large Catechism and the Lord's Prayer itself as a map. Please read pp, 64-69 in the Large Catechism of Martin Luther, translated by Robert Fischer, (Philadelphia, 1959). For more information on the use of the catechisms in congregational life, see What Does This Mean: Luther's Catechisms in the Parish by Timothy J. Wengert in Parish Practice Notebook (Spring 1991). See Luther's marvelous discussion of prayer in another catechetical work, "A Simple Way to Pray: For Master Peter," in Minister's Prayer Book: An Order of Prayers and Readings, ed. John W. Doberstein (Philadelphia, 1986), 437-446. For references to the Small Catechism, see A Contemporary Translation of Luther's Small Catechism, by Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis, 1994).
The Lord's Prayer:
The model and way of all our prayers
In the Large Catechism Luther describes the role of prayer in the context of our Christian life by saying, "the Ten Commandments tell us what we should do and the Creed tells us what to believe. The Lord's Prayer teaches us how one should pray" (LC, pg. 64). Like the Ten Commandments and the Creed, the Lord's Prayer is a summary of the faith. We know that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). Luther is quick to point out that one of the reasons we pray is that our Lord commanded us to do so (LC, pg. 64 and Matthew 6:9-14).
Our Father in Heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread;
Forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and forever. Amen
Questions and commentary for discussion
1. If, as Luther explains, we are commanded to pray, what does this say about the world: Is the only effect of prayer to change us to the inevitable course of things, or does God truly hear and respond to prayer?
As Luther explains, God expects us to "hang on our creator's ear calling and pleading to give, keep, and increase in us faith in Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments" (LC, pg. 64). We are invited to turn to God for all good things even as children go to their loving parents with their requests (SC, pg. 32). Thus we pray, "Our Father in heaven." Where is heaven? Heaven is wherever God is and has promised to be ? in the proclaimed word of God in Jesus Christ, Baptism and Eucharist, and wherever the coming reign of God breaks forth into the world through our faith, through love of neighbor, and through justice for the poor who cry to God for help. Thus, we pray that Heaven will already be present to us in our experience.
2. If prayer is not a matter of choice for Christians but a command, how is prayer the expression of our faith and a testimony to God's grace?
Not to pray is a kind of despair and a sin against the Holy Spirit, because then we act as if God cannot act for us ? we act like we are either too high or too low for God's compassion. Prayer is an expression of the core of our Christian life ? our faith. Thus we pray, "Hallowed be your name" because we long for God's name to be holy among us, that is that our faith is rooted in the Word of God and that we lead holy lives according to it (SC, pg. 32).
3. In our busy lives it is often easy to value our work and our schedule over prayer. How should prayer be a priority in our daily routine? If we are commanded to pray, is it possible to be too unworthy to pray? If you are not ordained, is the prayer of your pastor more acceptable to God than yours?
If God did not want to hear you from your location in life, you would not have been asked ? no commanded ? to pray. Spirituality is our Christian life. We live it out in our work and everyday life. Our daily work is holy in itself, if it is not contrary to the will of God. As Christians we do not escape from our work in the world, and in our prayers we pray that God's coming reign will come among us and will guard us against sin and the evil one. Therefore, we are to pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 4:17) and can meditate on the Lord's Prayer even while we work. Luther writes to his barber in "A Simple Way to Pray:"
"Often enough it happens that I so lose myself in the rich thought of one part or petition that I let all the other six go. And when such rich, good thoughts come, one should let the other prayers go and give place to these thoughts. Listen to them in silence and on no account suppress them for here the Holy Spirit is preaching to us, and a single word of the Spirit's preaching is worth more than a thousand of our own prayers. I have often learned more in one prayer than I could have obtained from much reading and pondering." ("A Simple Way to Pray," pg. 444.)
Our work is rarely made more meaningful by working harder and longer or by sophisticated technology, but in the knowledge that things are not yet what they will be in God's coming reign. All prayer is hope for a good future by God's grace. Thus we pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven."
4. For what should we pray?
We are to pray daily for every personal need and wherever we feel affected by our environment: For example, for our pastors, the Church, the government, the world, our neighbors. Thus we pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." Through our prayers the Holy Spirit keeps us from being alienated from the materials and the institutions in creation around us ? family, work, church, and government. Thus, prayer is not only conversation with God that asks God to change conditions, but it also changes us. In the Large Catechism Luther writes:
"To put it briefly, this petition (the fourth petition) includes everything that belongs to our entire life in this world; only for its sake do we need daily bread. Now, our life requires not only food and clothing and other necessities for our body, but also peace and concord in our daily business and in associations of every description with the people among whom we live and move ? in short, everything that pertains to the regulation of our domestic and our civil or political affairs. For where these two relations are interfered with and prevented from functioning properly, there the necessities of life are also interfered with, and life itself cannot be maintained for any length of time. Indeed, the greatest need of all is to pray for our civil authorities and the government, for chiefly through them does God provide us our daily bread and all the comforts of the life?How much trouble there now is in the world simply on account of false coinage, yes, on account of daily exploitation and usury in public business, trading and labor on the part of those who wantonly oppress the poor and deprive them of their daily bread!?Let exploiters and oppressors beware lest they lose the common intercession of the church, and let them take care lest this petition of the Lord's Prayer be turned against them (LC, pg. 74-46).
As the psalmist says, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ?May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.'" (Psalm 122: 6,7) Thus in faith we give thanks for God's goodness and provide thankfully for others.
5. Are we forgiven only when we forgive?
Our relationship to God in prayer is not based on the formula, "I do this for you, God, so that you do that for me." God's grace and forgiveness is sheer grace. Everything that we have has been given to us (I Cor. 4:7). "Forgive us our sins." In the Lord's Prayer we are praying that we love God and our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot love God without God having loved us first. God opens our future by forgiving us our sins (we cannot open that future by ourselves) and our forgiveness opens the future between us and the neighbor's sin against us. (All prayer is confession.) Since God forgives us, we pray that God will find us forgiving one another.
6. Should the Christian life be free from trial?
As Christians we need not look for a cross. The world and the Devil will always find a piece of wood to put squarely on our shoulders. Nonetheless, even as God is both hidden and revealed in the cross of Jesus, we experience God hidden in the temptations and attacks we experience from our own flesh, the world, and the Devil. Sometimes the lower we fall the deeper God descends to us; the farther we feel from God the closer to us is God's presence. Since nothing is above God, God sees best into the depths. Nonetheless, we pray that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will also preserve us from our trials and will deliver us from the powers of the evil one. As St. Paul writes, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death, so that, just as Christ was raised by the Glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life?" (Romans 6:3,4). Our God is a God of the living and of resurrection. Thus we also pray, "Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil."
7. What does it mean that God has promised to say "Amen" or "Yes, indeed!" to our prayers?
God delights in our prayer, for our Lord Jesus Christ has said, "Ask and it shall be given to you...for everyone who asks receives" (Luke 11:9,10). It is important that we ask for specific things, make specific requests, in our prayers so that we can hold this over God and say in the words of Luther, "I am coming before you, Dear Father, and ask you not out of my own presumptuousness nor out of my worthiness, but because of your commandment and promise that cannot remain unfulfilled and cannot lie." God wants us to bring our needs to voice (Philippians 4:6).
"For the Kingdom, the power, and the Glory are yours now and forever, Amen."
All prayer is praise. It is good for us to give God thanks and praise. God wants our praise but does not need it. We need to give thanks and proclaim our praise because it builds in us trust and confidence in God's promises. All prayer is witness to the goodness of God. Luther writes, "Remember that you are not kneeling or standing there alone, but that all devout Christians are standing there with you and you with them in one unanimous, united prayer which God cannot ignore. And never leave off praying without having said or thought: There now, this prayer has been heard by God: This I know of a certainty. That is what ?Amen' means" ("A Simple Way to Pray," 443, 444).
About the Rev. Dr. Philip D. W. Krey
Phil Krey became the eleventh President of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia at the beginning of 2000. His inauguration took place Friday, May 19, at 3 p.m. on the Seminary's campus.
Dr. Krey has served as Professor of History at the Seminary since 1990. In July 1997, he was appointed the Seminary's Dean. During his career at the Seminary, Dr. Krey has been co-director of the LTSP Urban Program. He has also served as a mentoring pastor, both at Emanuel Lutheran Church in Philadelphia's revitalized Southwark section, and at St. John's Lutheran Church in the city's Overbrook community. He's served as an interim pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Philadelphia's Germantown and has held pastorates in Chicago and Baltimore. A resident of Philadelphia's East Mt. Airy community, Dr. Krey received his M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. He holds a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts (1972) and an M.A. from the Catholic University of America (1985). His Ph.D. is from the University of Chicago (1990). Dr. Krey's key interests have included the Urban Church and Medieval and Byzantine Studies. He is a rostered member of the New England Synod and worships at St. Michael's Lutheran Church, Philadelphia. Currently, Dr. Krey is translating and editing Luther's Spirituality, a volume for Paulist Press to be included in their Classics of Western Spirituality Series.
A native of Brooklyn, Phil Krey hails from a family strongly rooted in the Lutheran tradition. He is married to René Diemer, the Seminary's Registrar. The couple are parents of five children.
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