A Laymen’s Commentary on the Large Catechism: Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer

This is part 17 of 19 in the series A Layman's Commentary on the Large Catechism

 

O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me!
    Give ear to my voice when I call to you!
Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
    and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
    keep watch over the door of my lips!
Do not let my heart incline to any evil,
    to busy myself with wicked deeds
in company with men who work iniquity,
    and let me not eat of their delicacies!

Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness;
    let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head;
    let my head not refuse it.
Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds.
When their judges are thrown over the cliff,
    then they shall hear my words, for they are pleasant.
As when one plows and breaks up the earth,
    so shall our bones be scattered at the mouth of Sheol.

But my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord;
    in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!
Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me
    and from the snares of evildoers!
10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
    while I pass by safely.

(Psalm 141)

 

Our Father who art in heaven.

What does this mean?–Answer.

God would thereby [with this little introduction] tenderly urge us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may ask Him confidently with all assurance, as dear children ask their dear father.

(Small Catechism)

 

Our Father, who from heav’n above
Bids all of us to live in love
As members of one family
And pray to You in unity,
Teach us no thoughtless words to say
But from our inmost hearts to pray.

(LSB 766)

 

The Lord’s Prayer

1] We have now heard what we must do and believe, in which things the best and happiest life consists. Now follows the third part, how we ought to pray. 2] For since we are so situated that no man can perfectly keep the Ten Commandments, even though he have begun to believe, and since the devil with all his power, together with the world and our own flesh, resists our endeavors, nothing is so necessary as that we should continually resort to the ear of God, call upon Him, and pray to Him, that He would give, preserve, and increase in us faith and the fulfilment of the Ten Commandments, and that He would remove everything that is in our way and opposes us therein. 3] But that we might know what and how to pray, our Lord Christ has Himself taught us both the mode and the words, as we shall see.

4] But before we explain the Lord’s Prayer part by part, it is most necessary first to exhort and incite people to prayer, as Christ and the apostles also have done. 5] And the first matter is to know that it is our duty to pray because of God’s commandment. For thus we heard in the Second Commandment: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain, that we are there required to praise that holy name, and call upon it in every need, or to pray. For to call upon the name of God is nothing else than to pray. 6] Prayer is therefore as strictly and earnestly commanded as all other commandments: to have no other God, not to kill, not to steal, etc. Let no one think that it is all the same whether he pray or not, as vulgar people do, who grope in such delusion and ask, Why should I pray? Who knows whether God heeds or will hear my prayer? If I do not pray, some one else will. And thus they fall into the habit of never praying, and frame a pretext, as though we taught that there is no duty or need of prayer, because we reject false and hypocritical prayers.

7] But this is true indeed that such prayers as have been offered hitherto when men were babbling and bawling in the churches were no prayers. For such external matters, when they are properly observed, may be a good exercise for young children, scholars, and simple persons, and may be called singing or reading, but not really praying. 8] But praying, as the Second Commandment teaches, is to call upon God in every need. This He requires of us, and has not left it to our choice. But it is our duty and obligation to pray if we would be Christians, as much as it is our duty and obligation to obey our parents and the government; for by calling upon it and praying the name of God is honored and profitably employed. 9] This you must note above all things, that thereby you may silence and repel such thoughts as would keep and deter us from prayer. For just as it would be idle for a son to say to his father, “Of what advantage is my obedience? I will go and do what I can; it is all the same;” but there stands the commandment, Thou shalt and must do it, so also here it is not left to my will to do it or leave it undone, but prayer shall and must be offered at the risk of God’s wrath and displeasure.

10] This is therefore to be understood and noted before everything else, in order that thereby we may silence and repel the thoughts which would keep and deter us from praying, as though it were not of much consequence if we do not pray, or as though it were commanded those who are holier and in better favor with God than we; as, indeed, the human heart is by nature so despondent that it always flees from God and imagines that He does not wish or desire our prayer, because we are sinners and have merited nothing but wrath. 11] Against such thoughts (I say) we should regard this commandment and turn to God, that we may not by such disobedience excite His anger still more. For by this commandment He gives us plainly to understand that He will not cast us from Him nor chase us away, although we are sinners, but rather draw us to Himself, so that we might humble ourselves before Him, bewail this misery and plight of ours, and pray for grace and help. Therefore we read in the Scriptures that He is angry also with those who were smitten for their sin, because they did not return to Him and by their prayers assuage His wrath and seek His grace.

12] Now, from the fact that it is so solemnly commanded to pray, you are to conclude and think, that no one should by any means despise his prayer, but rather set great store by it, 13] and always seek an illustration from the other commandments. A child should by no means despise his obedience to father and mother, but should always think: This work is a work of obedience, and what I do I do with no other intention than that I may walk in the obedience and commandment of God, on which I can settle and stand firm, and esteem it a great thing, not on account of my worthiness, but on account of the commandment. So here also, what and for what we pray we should regard as demanded by God and done in obedience to Him, and should reflect thus: On my account it would amount to nothing; but it shall avail, for the reason that God has commanded it. Therefore everybody, no matter what he has to say in prayer, should always come before God in obedience to this commandment.

14] We pray, therefore, and exhort every one most diligently to take this to heart and by no means to despise our prayer. For hitherto it has been taught thus in the devil’s name that no one regarded these things, and men supposed it to be sufficient to have done the work, whether God would hear it or not. But that is staking prayer on a risk, and murmuring it at a venture; and therefore it is a lost prayer. 15] For we allow such thoughts as these to lead us astray and deter us: I am not holy or worthy enough; if I were as godly and holy as St. Peter or St. Paul, then I would pray. But put such thoughts far away, for just the same commandment which applied to St. Paul applies also to me; and the Second Commandment is given as much on my account as on his account, so that he can boast of no better or holier commandment.

16] Therefore you should say: My prayer is as precious, holy, and pleasing to God as that of St. Paul or of the most holy saints. This is the reason: For I will gladly grant that he is holier in his person, but not on account of the commandment; since God does not regard prayer on account of the person, but on account of His word and obedience thereto. For on the commandment on which all the saints rest their prayer I, too, rest mine. Moreover, I pray for the same thing for which they all pray and ever have prayed; besides, I have just as great a need of it as those great saints, yea, even a greater one than they.

17] Let this be the first and most important point, that all our prayers must be based and rest upon obedience to God, irrespective of our person, whether we be sinners or saints, worthy or unworthy. 18] And we must know that God will not have it treated as a jest, but be angry, and punish all who do not pray, as surely as He punishes all other disobedience; next, that He will not suffer our prayers to be in vain or lost. For if He did not intend to answer your prayer, He would not bid you pray and add such a severe commandment to it.

Now that we have learned what God expects of us, who God is, and what He has done, we should call upon Him in prayer.  We pray because we do not keep the Commandments nor do we fully believe in who God is and in what He has done. So we pray that He would strengthen our faith and help us to fulfill the Ten Commandments.

The Lord commands us to pray (Luke 11:1-13, Matthew 6:5-15).  This is simply an application of the 2nd Commandment.  After all, calling on the name of the Lord in trouble or praise is prayer.  The 2nd Commandment warns us from abuse of God’s name but also says that we should properly use it. God listens to all who call on His name in sincerity and truth.  We need not doubt that He hears our prayers.

We also do not have to flagellate ourselves, as if praying harder would coerce God into acting (1 Kings 18:20-40).  This is not some sort of incantation or ritual. It is not magic or trying to compel God to act.  God is our gracious Father, He hears our prayers.

Prayer is for all Christians, you need not be a pastor or some high monk.  You do not need something lofty to say or to be of some high estate. Prayer is instead a command to Christians, we must do it.  God wants us to do it. Prayer is a natural outcome of faith. It is a good work produced by faith.  True God-pleasing prayer cannot occur without true faith.  The heathen has no access to God via prayer, only the Christian.

We should pray earnestly and not doubt that our prayers are heard, for God commands us to pray.  Your prayer is as valuable to God as any saint’s prayer, even Christ Himself. Prayer is never in vain or something to be done as a joke.  God hears our prayers and treats them with great seriousness. He surely answers our prayers (Psalm 69, Isaiah 55).

19] In the second place, we should be the more urged and incited to pray because God has also added a promise, and declared that it shall surely be done to us as we pray, as He says Ps. 50:15: Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee. And Christ in the Gospel of St. Matthew 7:7: Ask, and it shall be given you. For every one that asketh receiveth. 20] Such promises ought certainly to encourage and kindle our hearts to pray with pleasure and delight, since He testifies with His [own] word that our prayer is heartily pleasing to Him, moreover, that it shall assuredly be heard and granted, in order that we may not despise it or think lightly of it, and pray at a venture.

21] This you can hold up to Him and say: Here I come, dear Father, and pray, not of my own purpose nor upon my own worthiness, but at Thy commandment and promise, which cannot fail or deceive me. Whoever, therefore, does not believe this promise must know again that he excites God to anger as a person who most highly dishonors Him and reproaches Him with falsehood.

22] Besides this, we should be incited and drawn to prayer because in addition to this commandment and promise God anticipates us, and Himself arranges the words and form of prayer for us, and places them upon our lips as to how and what we should pray, that we may see how heartily He pities us in our distress, and may never doubt that such prayer is pleasing to Him and shall certainly be answered; which [the Lord’s Prayer] is a great advantage indeed over all other prayers that we might compose ourselves. 23] For in them the conscience would ever be in doubt and say: I have prayed, but who knows how it pleases Him, or whether I have hit upon the right proportions and form? Hence there is no nobler prayer to be found upon earth than the Lord’s Prayer which we daily pray, because it has this excellent testimony, that God loves to hear it, which we ought not to surrender for all the riches of the world.

24] And it has been prescribed also for this reason that we should see and consider the distress which ought to urge and compel us to pray without ceasing. For whoever would pray must have something to present, state, and name which he desires; if not, it cannot be called a prayer.

Beyond the command to pray, God has attached great promises to prayer.  God is our good and gracious Father, as noted in the 1st Article. He desires to give us all good, and His rich and gracious blessings.  We are His dear children, the sons and daughters of the King. The King wants to hear your petitions and desires as our dear Heavenly Father to give all good to His children (Psalm 50, 51, Matthew 7:7-11).

God certainly hears our prayers and wants us to pray daily, unceasingly.  Thus the Lord’s Prayer is given us for our comfort. We know certainly that this prayer is pleasing to God.  If you don’t know how to pray, or words fail you, say this prayer. It will cover everything you wanted to say and so much more.  For we always have something to ask for or to praise God for.  So there is never not a need to pray (Psalm 4, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22).

25] Therefore we have rightly rejected the prayers of monks and priests, who howl and growl day and night like fiends; but none of them think of praying for a hair’s breadth of anything. And if we would assemble all the churches, together with all ecclesiastics, they would be obliged to confess that they have never from the heart prayed for even a drop of wine. For none of them has ever purposed to pray from obedience to God and faith in His promise, nor has any one regarded any distress, but (when they had done their best) they thought no further than this, to do a good work, whereby they might repay God, as being unwilling to take anything from Him, but wishing only to give Him something.

26] But where there is to be a true prayer, there must be earnestness. Men must feel their distress, and such distress as presses them and compels them to call and cry out; then prayer will be made spontaneously, as it ought to be, and men will require no teaching how to prepare for it and to attain to the proper devotion. 27] But the distress which ought to concern us most, both as regards ourselves and every one, you will find abundantly set forth in the Lord’s Prayer. Therefore it is to serve also to remind us of the same, that we contemplate it and lay it to heart, lest we become remiss in prayer. For we all have enough that we lack, but the great want is that we do not feel nor see it. Therefore God also requires that you lament and plead such necessities and wants, not because He does not know them, but that you may kindle your heart to stronger and greater desires, and make wide and open your cloak to receive much.

28] Therefore, every one of us should accustom himself from his youth daily to pray for all his wants, whenever he is sensible of anything affecting his interests or that of other people among whom he may live, as for preachers, the government, neighbors, domestics, and always (as we have said) to hold up to God His commandment and promise, knowing that He will not have them disregarded. 29] This I say because I would like to see these things brought home again to the people that they might learn to pray truly, and not go about coldly and indifferently, whereby they become daily more unfit for prayer; which is just what the devil desires, and for what he works with all his powers. For he is well aware what damage and harm it does him when prayer is in proper practise.

30] For this we must know, that all our shelter and protection rest in prayer alone. For we are far too feeble to cope with the devil and all his power and adherents that set themselves against us, and they might easily crush us under their feet. Therefore we must consider and take up those weapons with which 31] Christians must be armed in order to stand against the devil. For what do you think has hitherto accomplished such great things, has checked or quelled the counsels, purposes, murder, and riot of our enemies, whereby the devil thought to crush us, together with the Gospel, except that the prayer of a few godly men intervened like a wall of iron on our side? They should else have witnessed a far different tragedy, namely, how the devil would have destroyed all Germany in its own blood. But now they may confidently deride it and make a mock of it; however, we shall nevertheless be a match both for themselves and the devil by prayer alone, if we only persevere diligently and not become slack. 32] For whenever a godly Christian prays: Dear Father, let Thy will be done, God speaks from on high and says: Yes, dear child, it shall be so, in spite of the devil and all the world.

33] Let this be said as an exhortation, that men may learn, first of all, to esteem prayer as something great and precious, and to make a proper distinction between babbling and praying for something. For we by no means reject prayer, but the bare, useless howling and murmuring we reject, as Christ Himself also rejects and prohibits long palavers. 34] Now we shall most briefly and clearly treat of the Lord’s Prayer. Here there is comprehended in seven successive articles, or petitions, every need which never ceases to relate to us, and each so great that it ought to constrain us to keep praying it all our lives.

We should not pray like those babbling or those who think they are doing some great work for God.  Their prayer is in vain.  Rather, we pray in the midst of deep distress and need.  We cry to God for relief and mercy, for we all lack or desire something.  Or if we do not lack anything, our neighbor does and we should pray for them.

God knows our prayers even before we say them, but we say them so that He may strengthen our heart.  We also know that the Lord delights to hear our prayers and wants to hear them. Thus we should pray. We should pray for everything that affects us or that we desire.  The Lord will not disregard them (Psalm 10).

We should not be afraid to pray using already written prayers.  One does not need to pray ex corde (from the heart), that is extemporaneously. A written prayer prayed in faith is pleasing to the Lord, as what else is the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms but written prayers from God Himself? There is a wealth of written prayers from the whole history of the Church, so one should feel free to use them and learn how to pray by studying them. Some great repositories of prayers are the Psalms, Treasury of Daily Prayer/Pray Now, Lutheran Service Book, Starck’s Prayer Book, and Oremus.

Everyone from the smallest child to the oldest adult should pray.  This should be a daily practice, a continual practice. It is an easy habit to lose.  Thus one should set aside at least one time during the day to pray, but, of course, we should pray at all times and all places.

Prayer in addition to all of the above also strengthens us against the devil and the world.  The devil and the world are restrained by the prayers of the saints.  For prayer calls on the Lord who has defeated and continues to beat back the devil with His Word (2 Corinthians 10:1-6, Ephesians 6:10-20).

God will do what He has said and what you ask.  Thus, let us pray with all boldness.  Our Lord God Heavenly Father desires to hear our prayers and give us all good as His dear and precious children.

1 Now rest beneath night’s shadow
The woodland, field, and meadow;
The world in slumber lies.
But you, my heart, awaking
And prayer and music making,
Let praise to your Creator rise.

2 The radiant sun has vanished,
His golden rays are banished
From dark’ning skies of night;
But Christ, the Sun of gladness,
Dispelling all our sadness,
Shines down on us in warmest light.

3 Now all the heav’nly splendor
Breaks forth in starlight tender
From myriad worlds unknown;
And we, this marvel seeing,
Forget our selfish being
For joy of beauty not our own.

4 Lord Jesus, since You love me,
Now spread Your wings above me
And shield me from alarm.
Though Satan would devour me,
Let angel guards sing o’er me:
This child of God shall meet no harm.

5 My loved ones, rest securely,
For God this night will surely
From peril guard your heads.
Sweet slumbers may He send you
And bid His hosts attend you
And through the night watch o’er your beds.

(LSB 880)

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

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