The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Teach me to pray

'We are beggars: this is true' Martin Luther, a few days before his death, February 1546

Here I stand, begging God: “Teach me to pray.” Such a petition for a churchman of 70 years ought to be unnecessary. But even on mornings when I read the Bible or meditate with the Jesus Prayer—Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner—I am soon buried under the day’s must-do tasks. In emergencies, I seldom pray for help but am content that I can do it myself.

At Bible study last night, Alan, a fellow retirement community resident, discussed Revelation 3:20 where the Son of Man proclaims to Laodicea: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come into you and eat with you, and you with me.”

Alan described the care hospice gave his dying wife—utter liberty in her last days. “But they had to be asked,” he said. “Otherwise they wouldn’t come.”

Jesus does not enter uninvited. Opening the door is a simple act of human freedom that frees us.

“Be still and know that I am God,” the Lord says. But often it was noisy, violent theophanies like Pentecost that forced saints to turn the doorknob: the thunderstorm that drove Martin Luther into the priesthood, the fire that descended upon Pascal, the blindness that struck down Paul. After weeks of suffering and pleading, Job heard God in a whirlwind—full of gritty sand. If the Lord approached me this way, I’d be scared stiff. Maybe, when I die and there is nothing of earth left, I will at last hear God’s voice.

With praying, as with all spiritual problems, the question is how to pray in the meantime. I have done fairly well in the spiritual domain—all without much “prayer.” Very little suffering or fear, a lot of love, satisfaction and joy.

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