How to Keep our Heart Together to Pray

Easter 7 Monday

 

John 17:1

“After Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and spoke.”

 

When the evangelist says these words he, first of all, leaves this praise and glory for prayer that it also has outward gestures associated with it. This serves to shut up the mad saints who claim that such outward things are meaningless. For here you see that Christ not only prays with the mouth so that his disciples hear the words. He also uses a certain outward manner and gesture one uses customarily for prayer: Some kneel; some fall on their face; some stand and look toward heaven. All these three ways are all indicated in Scripture. King David fell on the ground when he prayed for his child for seven days, 2 Samuel 12:16. And Christ both knelt and fell down when he prayed in the garden, Luke 22:41; Matthew 26:39. Peter and the others fell down on their knees before the Lord, Luke 5:8. But Christ mentions standing also in Mark 11:25: “When you stand and pray.” It does not matter much whether one stands, kneels, or falls down because these are bodily acts that are neither commanded nor prohibited as something necessary. Lifting one’s head and eyes to heaven; folding one’s hands; striking one’s chest also belong here. But one should not despise them because Scripture and Christ himself praise them. … At the same time, it is not wrong if someone prays with the heart alone while bundling sheaves or lying in bed. But it is true that if there is nothing except the outward gesture, mumbling, or whining – as people have until now stood in church daily, counted the beads of the rosary, flipped through the prayer books, howled and sounded forth in the choir – that is not praying. For it happens entirely without heart and soul, and there is no one who seriously thinks to ask or receive anything from God. But where such gesticulating, signing, speaking, or reading is done in order to kindle the heart to the desire and devotion to pray, there it is very useful and good. For this is also why the psalms have been ordained to be sung and read daily in Christendom from the earliest days in order to generate devotion through God’s Word, heard and used bodily, to call and groan before God. We also have many examples of such prayer and outward stimulation to prayer. E.g., it was the manner of the prophet Elisha, 2 Kings 3:15, that he, when he did not feel prayerful or willing enough for prayer, had a harpist brought in by whom he was awakened and gained the illumination to prophesy. … I do not know how strong others are in the Spirit. But I cannot become as holy as others think they are, no matter how learned and Spirit-filled I may be. It happens to me all the time that there is no Christ at home when I am without the Word, when I do not think about it or use it. In fact, without the Word, I have no desire or Spirit to pray. But as soon as I take up a psalm or verse of Scripture, the Word shines and burns into the heart, changing my courage and mind. I also know that everybody should experience this for himself. The reason for this we all find in ourselves, namely, our senses and thoughts are so uncertain, slippery, and fickle that, even if we want to begin to ask for something in earnest or to think something serious about God, we certainly stray a hundred miles from the initial thought before we know it, if we go about it without Word and Scripture. Try if you will and tell me how long you can stick with a proposed thought. … This is how miserably torn man’s heart is. … I point this out lest we rush past verses like this one as the coarse spirits do, but learn why such outward word and manner are useful and necessary, namely, to keep the heart together lest it be scattered. We must glue our thoughts to the letters, just as we hold on to a tree or a wall, lest we slip or flutter too far or go astray following our own thoughts.

 

St. Louis ed., 8:747-750.

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