In anticipation of the Holy Gospel for this Sunday (St. Luke 11:1-13), I took the opportunity to re-read Dr. Luther's catechesis on the Our Father in his Large Catechism. As always happens when I give attention to this most precious of the great Reformer's writings, I find myself called to repentance, strengthened in my faith, and comforted by the Word of the Gospel. That seems a most salutary thing to share with anyone else who may care to read Dr. Luther's helpful words:
"The first and most necessary point is this, that all our prayers be founded and fixed upon obedience to God, regardless of our person, whether we are full of sin or upright, worthy or unworthy. And we should know that God will not have this commandment taken as a jest but will punish us in His wrath if we fail to pray, just as He punishes all other disobedience. Nor will He let our prayers be useless or wasted. For if He did not intend to hear you, He would not have told you to pray nor nailed His words down with such a strict commandment.
"In the second place, we should all the more be impelled and encouraged to pray because God has also added the promise that our prayers will surely be answered, as He says in Psalm 50:15, 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you,' and as Christ says in the Gospel of Matthew 7:7-8, 'Ask, and it will be given you,' etc. 'For everyone who asks receives.' Promises such as these certainly ought to awaken delight in our hearts and kindle in them the love to pray. For God by His Word testifies that our prayers heartily please Him and will definitely be heard and granted. This He does so that we may not disdain His promise or cast it to the wind or pray in uncertainty.
"You can hold Him to His promises and say, 'I come to you, dear Father, and pray not of my own accord or in my own worthiness, but because of Your command and Your promises, which cannot fail me nor mislead me.' Whoever does not believe His promises should once again realize that he provokes God's wrath by grossly dishonoring Him and accusing Him of lying.
"We should be all the more encouraged and induced to pray by the fact that, in addition to giving us His command and promise, God Himself takes the first step by supplying and putting into our mouths the words and pattern for the how and the what of our prayer life. He wants us to see how genuinely He is concerned about our needs, so that we may never question whether our prayers please Him or are really answered. This gives the Lord's Prayer a great advantage over all other prayers that we ourselves might devise. For in their case the conscience might constantly be in doubt and say, 'I have prayed, but who knows if it pleases Him or whether I have hit upon the right measure or manner of praying?' Nowhere on earth, therefore, can a nobler prayer be found than the Lord's Prayer, since it gives such splendid testimony that God delights in hearing us pray. We should not wish to trade this assurance for all the world's riches. . . .
"Where prayer is genuine, there must be earnestness. We must feel our need, the kind of pressure that drives us to cry aloud. Then prayer will arise by itself, as it should, and we will need no instruction on how to prepare for it or from what fountain to draw a spirit of devotion. The need that should concern us, both our own need and that of others, is indicated amply enough in the Lord's Prayer. This should serve to remind us and deeply impress upon us not to become slack in our prayer life. We all have more than enough needs, but our trouble is that we do not feel or see them. Hence God wants you to lament your needs and express your wants, not as though He did not know about them, but in order that your heart might kindle with stronger desires and more insistent and more frequent prayer requests, and that you then might simply open up and spread out your cloak to receive God's plenty.
"Each of us from his youth up should form the habit of praying every day for all those needs of which he becomes conscious when something affects him or the people around him. We should pray for preachers, government officials, neighbors, employers. We should always, as stated before, remind God of His commandment and His promise, realizing that He will not allow them to be despised. I say this because I would so like these things to be again brought home to people, so that they would learn to pray rightly instead of carrying on in the raw, cold manner that makes them daily more clumsy at praying. That indeed is what the devil wants as he bends every effort to that end. For he well knows what harm and danger it does to him when prayer life flourishes.
"We need to realize that prayer alone is our protecting shield and shelter. We are much too weak to cope by ourselves with the devil, his might, and the forces he has lined up against us. They could easily trample us under foot. Therefore we must be alert and grasp the weapons with which Christians should be armed in order to withstand the devil. . . . For when any good Christian prays, 'Dear Father, Thy will be done,' God in heaven answers, 'Yes, dear child, it will most certainly be done despite the devil and the whole world.'" (Luther's Large Catechism, CPH 1978)
Thanks be to God that Christ, who died and was raised again, ever lives to make intercession for us before His Father in heaven. For though we are so cold and reluctant to pray as we ought, the prayer of that one Righteous Man, our great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, avails for us both night and day, evening and morning, unto the life everlasting. In the same way, His Holy Spirit helps and sustains in in our weakness, praying in us and for us with the deepest groanings of repentant faith. Abba, Father. Kyrie, Eleison. Amen, amen, it shall be so.