In the church (not our church of course, but simply the church in general) there are often quite a few opinions about how the pastor should spend his time. There is sermon preparation (for Lutheran pastors, usually about an hour of preparation for every minute of preaching), worship planning and putting together all services for printing, preparing Bible classes and leading them, preparing Confirmation classes and leading them, shut-in visitation (we currently have 13), evangelism calls, hospital visits, new member instruction, figuring out who’s missing, tracking down who’s missing, counseling of nearly every kind, individual Confession and Absolution, church programming, council meetings, voters meetings, and elders meetings, church social events, baptisms, weddings, and funerals, preparing and leading Lent and Advent services, circuit business, district gatherings, synodical concerns, keeping up with the ancient languages, personal devotions, reading broadly, writing the occasional newsletter article, answering emails from members, answering emails from people all over the country and world who have found Faith’s sermons and teachings online, speaking at conferences or on Issues, Etc., attending theological lectures, being present in the community, keeping up with the news, exercising to maintain health and set a good example, cultivating a hobby or two in order to remain balanced, and, of course, with all the hours left over the pastor must nurture his own marriage and children. Sometimes I’m asked what I do with my time.
And yet, something is missing. Did you catch it? It’s arguably the most important thing of all. No, it’s not sleep. It’s prayer. A pastor must pray for the members of his church. For each soul has been bought by the very blood of God. For that reason, I’ve taken our entire membership directory and divided it up so that at least once every month your pastor will pray for you and for every member by name and by need. Despite the tyranny of all things important, this is top priority! It is of the utmost importance.
“We must see to it that we do not lose the habit of prayer and deceive ourselves into thinking that other kinds of things are more important, when they are not. Then we might become careless and lazy, cold and indifferent when it comes to praying. The devil is neither lazy nor lax in our midst.” – Martin Luther
Of all the things we Christians do, there is perhaps nothing greater than prayer. That is precisely why prayer is so difficult. The devil uses all his might to deceive us about prayer and distract us from it (he’ll even distract us with good things). For in prayer we do more than merely help our neighbor with our meager efforts and abilities. In prayer we solicit the help and abilities of Almighty God and say to Him: “Dear Father, please help.”
What could be more important? When the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus gave them neither a method nor a manual. Instead, He gave them words. Words in their ears. Words for their mouths. “Pray in this way …” and He gave them the “Our Father,” the Lord’s Prayer, we call it. Prayer is a gift from Jesus. In the first place, we are heard by God because Jesus has opened the Father’s ear to us by shedding His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. In the second place, Jesus actually gives us the words that our God and Father wants to hear and promises to hear!
How easy is the Lord’s Prayer? It takes less than thirty-seconds to say. Some three-year-old children can recite it by heart. And yet, any adult who has prayed the Lord’s Prayer more than a handful of times has begun to realize that it is a bit like the wardrobe that leads to Narnia. What first presents itself as a short, rote prayer begins to open up. Chamber after chamber opens, as the “meanings” in the Small Catechism show. And soon those chambers give way to entire worlds as the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer connect us to the Psalms and the whole of Scripture. We begin to pray in ways previously unimagined.
When Luther was asked by his barber (I wonder if he was responsible for that stylish bald-on-top haircut Luther wore) how he should pray, Luther knew of nothing better than to direct his friend to the Lord’s Prayer. Since it begins with the word, “Our,” whenever you pray it, you are praying it not only for yourself but for all Christians everywhere.
Prayer is one of the most important things you can do for your neighbor, but it is also one of the most important things for you. One of the three great Lutheran fathers (the first two are Martin Luther and Martin Chemnitz) wrote:
“When Christ prayed He was transfigured; and so prayer transforms and transfigures our souls; for prayer is a light to the soul, which very fequently leaves him exulting with joy, whom it found cast down with despondency.” – John Gerhard
Prayer is good for the soul. This is true. When you pray for your church family and for your pastor (please do), for your earthly family and friends, for your coworkers, and for our nation – yes, perhaps especially when you pray for your enemies – prayer has the power to transform and transfigure your soul.
Let it be so unto us, dear Lord.
In Christ, Pastor Rhode