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Psalm 17


Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry! Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit! From your presence let my vindication come! Let your eyes behold the right! You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress. With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent. My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped. I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my words. Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me. They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly. They have now surrounded our steps; they set their eyes to cast us to the ground. He is like a lion eager to tear, as a young lion lurking in ambush. Arise, O LORD! Confront him, subdue him! Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword, from men by your hand, O LORD, from men of the world whose portion is in this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants. As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness. (ESV)
















Shadowed Prayer

Thursday of Pentecost 20

10 October 2013

Prayer, because it is the church's way of calling on God, partakes of the church's own hiddenness. The church's life is always shadowed under the cross of her Lord. Her works are always hidden there. Her splendor is always muted by the stains of blood that proceed from His suffering. The life of sacrifice begins with the life of Christ. The holy church follows His bloodstained footsteps from the font into daily life. From the font all of Christian life is filled with Christ. What we call the drudgery of day-to-day living is ever shadowed by the cross and its value, and ever redeemed by His precious blood. Caring for cranky children, satisfying an unhappy customer, making a burdensome commute, and getting children to school on time are all good works, cleansed clean by the righteousness of Christ. He has given us our office as parent, worker, or family chauffeur; they are our stations in life. They are all sanctified by the font. This is why the church placed her font at the entry to the church, that it might be a reminder of how our life in Christ is lived out quite beyond the doors of the church. Just as baptism is the power of entry to the church, so it is the power of exit to the world. It is both adoption and mission.


If this is true of our day-to-day life under the unchanging verdict of justification given through baptism into Christ, is it not even more so true of our life of prayer? God has commanded us to pray and so we do. Prayer is no less connected to Christ than any other part of the baptized life. Prayer involves us in our proper spiritual worship as Paul puts it: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rm 12:1). Our bodies are shaped by prayer. Hands are folded. Heads are bowed. Knees are bent. As we age, we feel our knees being sacrificed by prayer.


There is so much to pray for! Just the members of our own family, congregation, and her pastors would provide an inexhaustible list of prayer needs. Pastors are often asked, "Do prayers need to be long and formal?" The older I get the more I suspect that those who ask this question pray very little and that there is no chance that they are going to bump up against God's time limit for prayer: "Please, stop! I've heard far too much already." No, instead His Word encourages us, "Pray without ceasing" (1Th 5:17). Why would we stop? The Creator of the universe, our blessed Lord Christ, has promised to hear our prayers. But like the rest of the Christian life this cry to God is hidden under Christ's cross and wetted by the baptismal flood. Christologically-shaped prayer receives Christological answers. It does not take away suffering. It gives us Christ to bear the burden, as He has. Prayer does not fill the pantry. It feeds us on the richest of foods at the table set by the Lord (Jn 6:51). Prayer does not keep death at bay. It allows us to invoke Him who is the resurrection and the life (Jn 11:25). Prayer in Christ's name and within the flood of baptism brings us the shadowed blessings He has promised; blessings no less real for being shadowed. 




"Prayer is the spiritual victim (1Pt 2:5), which has abolished the original sacrifices. 'What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats' (Is 1:11). What God has required the Gospel teaches. 'But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth' (Jn 4:23-24). We are the true adorers and the true priests (1Pt 2:9), who, praying in spirit (1Co 14:15; Eph 6:18) sacrifice in spirit by praying. Here is a victim proper and acceptable to God, which assuredly He has required, which He has provided for Himself! This victim, devoted from the whole heart, fed on faith, tended by truth, complete in innocence, pure in chastity, garlanded with love, we ought to escort with the parade of good works, amid psalms and hymns unto God's altar, to obtain for us all things from God.


"Has God, who requires prayer, ever rejected prayer coming from 'spirit and truth?' How mighty are the examples of its power do we read, hear, and believe! Old Testament prayer used to free from fires (Dan 3) and from beasts (Dan 6), and from famine (1Ki 18); and yet it had not then received its form from Christ. But how far more amply operative is Christian prayer! It does not station the angel of dew in the midst of the fire (Dan 3:25), nor muzzle lions, nor transfer to the hungry the farmer's bread (2Ki 4:42-44). It has no retained grace to avert suffering; but it supplies the suffering, the agonizing, and the grieving with endurance. It amplifies grace by virtue that faith may know what she obtains from the Lord, understanding what, for God's name's sake, faith suffers.


"In days gone by, prayer used to call down plagues, scatter the armies of foes, and withhold the wholesome influences of rain showers. Now, however, a righteous prayer declares God's wrath, keeps watch over personal enemies, and makes supplication on behalf of persecutors. Is it any wonder if prayer knows how to extract the rains of heaven, if it was once able to procure its fires (2Ki 1:10)? Prayer alone is that which vanquishes God (Gn 32:24-32; Mt 11:12). But Christ has willed that it be operative for no evil: He conferred on it all its power in the cause of good. And so it knows nothing save how to recall the souls of the departed from the path of death, to transform the weak, to restore the sick, to purge the possessed, to open prison-bars, and to loose the bonds of the innocent. Likewise it washes away faults, repels temptations, extinguishes persecutions, consoles the faint-spirited, cheers the high-spirited, escorts travelers, appeases the waves, makes robbers stand aghast, nourishes the poor, governs the rich, raises the fallen, catches the falling, and confirms the standing. Prayer is the wall of faith, arms and missiles against the foe who scrutinizes us on all sides. So we never walk unarmed.

"By day, be mindful of your station. By night, of prayerful watching. Under the arms of prayer guard we the standard of our General. We await in prayer the angel's trumpet (1Co 15:52). The angels, likewise, all pray....What more is there about the office of prayer? Even the Lord Himself prayed; to whom be honor and power forever and ever." 

Tertullian,On Prayer, 28-29

Lord Jesus, keep us faithful in our own callings, that we might be mindful of our stations in life, so that we can partake of the unceasing life of prayer. Help us to see that life in our callings is calling upon You. And when we have repose, when the world's business has quieted, grant us the joy of speaking to You in the vigil of prayer. Hear us for Your own sake and grant us our petitions. Amen.


For President Obama and the United States Congress, that they would work together for the good of the country


For the wives of all pastors, they might be kept under the care of Christ as they live as helpmeets and fellow believers


For all those who struggle to serve others in their daily lives, that they may be called to be shaped like Christ, giving themselves up to the needs of others

Art: Eyck, Jan van  The Adoration of the Lamb (1425-1429) 

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Memorial Lutheran Church | 5800 Westheimer Rd. | Houston | TX | 77057