Look to Your Need and His Word and Pray!

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:5-6

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners in order to be seen by the people. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and close the door and pray to your Father secretly. And your Father who sees what is in secret, will reward you publicly.”

After giving alms, or doing good to the neighbor, praying also is a Christian’s work. The needs of this life demand that we do good to the neighbor and take care of his needs. For this is why we live on earth in community, so that one may serve and help the other. Just so, since we daily find ourselves in all kinds of danger and distress we cannot circumvent or change, we must also always cry to God and seek help, both for ourselves and everybody. But just as true almsgiving is a rare work in this world…so now prayer also is a rare work that no one does except the Christians, although it was common in the world, especially among the Jews, as Christ here demonstrates, in their synagogues and at all street corners; and we now see much praying going on in churches, religious organizations, monasteries, etc., where people torture themselves by groaning and moaning with singing and reading. Thus, the world is full of prayers everywhere. The work is not lacking, but all these prayers combined are not worth a penny…But everything depends on prayer being an honest prayer and not hypocrisy, as their prayer and ours has been so far. This is why Christ here begins to teach them to pray correctly and shows how they should get there, namely, that they should not pray publicly in the streets, but at home in their room by themselves in secret. This is to say, above all, they should set aside the false intention of praying for the sake of renown and honor or any such thing. This does not mean that it is forbidden to pray in the street or publicly, for a Christian is not tied to any one place and may pray everywhere, on a street, in a field, or at church–so long as it does not happen for the sake of the people, that is, to seek honor and profit from it…It is fine if someone wishes to pray by himself where he can pour out his prayer to God freely and without restraint, using the kinds of words and gestures he cannot use when others are present. And while prayer can take place in the heart without any words and gestures…outward prayer should also be practiced, both when you are by yourself–e.g., by saying a blessing or Lord’s Prayer, the Creed or psalms in the morning and evening and before a meal and whenever you have time–and when you are with others who have come together to hear God’s Word, to thank him, and to call upon him on account of common needs, which should and must take place publicly…The latter is a precious prayer and a strong defense against the devil and his assaults because there all of Christendom gathers in unity…Everything that now exists and remains, both in spiritual and secular government, is preserved by prayer…But if you feel too weak–as flesh and blood always must resist faith–as if you were not worthy or prepared or ardent enough to pray, or if you doubt that God has heard you because you are a sinner, cling to the Word and say: “Although I am a sinner and unworthy, I do have God’s command that tells me to pray and his promise that he want to hear me in his grace, not for the sake of my worthiness, but for the sake of the Lord Christ.” In this way you can eliminate your brooding thoughts and doubts and joyfully kneel and ask. Instead of considering your worthiness or unworthiness, you look to your need and his Word on which he tells you to rely.

St. Louis ed., 7:499-503.

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