In this month of Martin Luther’s birth (Nov. 10, 1483), we enter the 501st year of the Reformation with a look at his Large Catechism. Published in 1529, the same year as his Small Catechism for home and family, the Large Catechism is an expanded commentary for pastors and theologians. As we are using the Small Catechism to reflect on the Lord’s Prayer the first Sunday of each month during Springdale’s fellowship breakfast, I share some of Luther’s thoughts from the Preface to the Lord’s Prayer.
(T)hat we might know what and how to pray, our Lord Christ has Himself taught us both the mode and the words, as we shall see. But before we explain the Lord’s Prayer part by part, it is most necessary first to exhort and incite people to prayer, as Christ and the apostles also have done. And the first matter is to know that it is our duty to pray because of God’s commandment. For thus we heard in the Second Commandment: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain, that we are there required to praise that holy name, and call upon it in every need, or to pray. For to call upon the name of God is nothing else than to pray.
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Let no one think that it is all the same whether he pray or not, as vulgar people do, who grope in such delusion and ask, “Why should I pray? Who knows whether God heeds or will hear my prayer? If I do not pray, someone else will.” . . . But praying, as the Second Commandment teaches, is to call upon God in every need. This He requires of us . . . (I)t is our duty and obligation to pray if we would be Christians.
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For by this commandment He gives us plainly to understand that He will not cast us from Him nor chase us away, although we are sinners, but rather draw us to Himself, so that we might humble ourselves before Him, bewail this misery and plight of ours, and pray for grace and help. . . . Let this be the first and most important point, that all our prayers must be based and rest upon obedience to God, irrespective of our person, whether we be sinners or saints, worthy or unworthy.
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In the second place, we should be the more urged and incited to pray because God has also added a promise, and declared it shall surely be done to us as we pray, as He says in Ps 50, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver you.” And Christ in the Gospel of St. Matthew 7, “Ask, and it shall be given you. For everyone who asks receives.” Such promises ought certainly to encourage and kindle our hearts to pray with pleasure and delight, since He testifies with His word that our prayer is heartily pleasing to Him, moreover, that it shall assuredly be heard and granted, in order that we may not despise it or think lightly of it.
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Besides this, we should be incited and drawn to prayer because in addition to this commandment and promise God anticipates us, and Himself arranges the words and form of prayer for us, and places them upon our lips as to how and what we should pray, that we may see how heartily He pities us in our distress, and may never doubt that such prayer is pleasing to Him and shall certainly be answered. . . . Hence there is no nobler prayer to be found upon earth than the Lord’s Prayer which we daily pray, because it has this excellent testimony, that God loves to hear it, which we ought not to surrender for all the riches of the world.