A Plea for Delegates to Be at Prayer
The following letter was sent to 2013 LCMS Convention delegates from President Harrison.
Ash Wednesday, A.D. 2013
Grace and peace in Jesus!
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in Him in all speech and knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I appeal to you brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:4–10).
I have very intentionally chosen this verse from St. Paul as my first communication with you, the delegates to the 65th Regular Convention of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. St. Paul reveals his constant prayer of thanksgiving for a church beset with challenges but blessed with gifts—very much like our Synod—encouraging them by the Gospel and appealing to them to be unified in Christ.
You, dear delegates, are “Baptized for This Moment.” You are born again of the Spirit (John 3:5, Titus 3:5). The same Spirit of God teaches us to pray and even intercedes for us when we don’t know what to pray (Rom. 8:26 ff.) out of sheer exasperation (not uncommon in the case of Missouri Synod convention delegates!). Following the apostolic example, the place for all of us to begin in preparation for the convention this summer is prayer for the Church (Ps. 4:1; Prov. 15:29; Matt. 6:5 ff., 9:38, 26:41; Luke 11:1 ff.; Acts 1:14, 6:5; Rom. 12:12; 1 Thess. 5:17; James 5:13). The Lord Himself invites us to pray for peace in the “house of the Lord” (Ps. 122). Jesus prayed for His disciples (Luke 22:32) and for us (John 17) and taught His disciples to pray (Matt. 6:9–13). As our precious Savior, He intercedes constantly on our behalf with the Father (1 John 2:1). And Jesus loves it when we pray and promises to hear us (Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Introduction).
LCMS President H. C. Schwan (d. 1905) once made some remarkable observations on the importance of Jesus’ own directive for prayer regarding the Church’s mission to share the Gospel:
“Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Remarkable words! We would certainly have expected something else. He did not say, “Now go to it, My disciples. Run, go, grab hold of the work. Don’t wait. Everyone go out in any way he knows how or can do so! Only get to work now!” Not so. Nor does He say, “Put your heads together, make wise calculations, think through all sorts of means and ways! Any means is acceptable, if it only leads to the goal!” Rather, He says, “Implore! Pray! That is the first thing.” Thus our Lord held that that which is regarded as the very least is the most necessary, most important, and most effective. He himself prayed much; [He] spent many a lonely night in solitary prayer, began all His work with prayer. He Himself had also first prayed before he chose His apostles. Note this well! It is so easily forgotten! . . . Praying is not merely the first thing we are to do, but properly and actually, everything that we have to do. If we only pray as the Lord Christ wills it be prayed for, so all other matters come of themselves, or (in order to say it more correctly) everything that remains, the Lord does Himself. He promised indeed with clear words: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). (At Home in the House of My Fathers [CPH, 2011, page 559])
Indeed, Schwan goes on to say that as we “pray the Lord of the harvest, send workers,” we’d better get ready because the Lord may soon be sending us!
Friends, to help us all grow in the gift of prayer, I’m sending you a remarkable little document by Martin Luther: A Simple Way to Pray—For Peter, the Master Barber. As Luther sat getting a hair cut, his barber shared with him his struggles with prayer. Luther responded with this beautiful little booklet. Here, Luther reveals his own method of praying texts from the Bible and Small Catechism. There is always debate about whether prayers should be read or simply flow uncoerced from the heart, as the words come. It is Luther’s genius to say “yes” to both of these. Luther begins with a text. (In his booklet, he uses the First Article of the Creed, but any text can be chosen based upon the occasion or need.) Then he prays the text according to a four-fold pattern. 1. Instruction, 2. Thanksgiving, 3. Confession, 4. Prayer. (I call it “I.T.C.P.” to remember the pattern.) As you will note, Luther says that when the Spirit prompts through the Word of God, one must let the thoughts flow in prayer. Let me demonstrate with a verse applicable to our upcoming convention: “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Ps. 133:1).
- Instruction: Dear Heavenly Father, You instruct us in this Psalm that unity in the Church is pleasing to You and is Your heartfelt desire for us, Your children. We know that division in the Church grieves You, especially when it impedes the sharing of the Gospel.
- Thanksgiving: We give You thanks that Your Word is very clear on the necessity of unity in faith and life in the Church, while also teaching us that we are not all the same, and there are varieties of gifts and vocations in the Church. We thank You for the unity we have enjoyed. It is Your doing, not ours.
- Confession: We confess that we are by nature sinful. We often are cold and indifferent to Your Word. Our hearts are filled with jealously, envy, and anger at each other. Our pride causes us to fail to repent and seek reconciliation. Our many sins and failings embroil us in controversy in our homes, families, churches, circuits, districts, and Synod. Our lack of unity and love weakens our witness to Your saving Gospel. We deserve nothing but wrath.
- Prayer: O Lord Jesus, forgive us. Renew us. Give us humble hearts. Instruct us together by Your Word. Give us unity in faith and love. We thank You for Your blessed and clear Word, and for the many blessings of our church (congregation, district, and Synod). We confess that we are nothing but sinners, and if this Synod depends on us and our doing, we are lost. Give us great joy in the daily renewal of baptism! Teach us that we are “Baptized for This Moment,” and that we have a sacred worldwide task of sharing the Gospel for the spread of Your kingdom. And cause us at this convention to realize in every way, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”
You will of course find many biblical texts that are helpful for your prayers. Our convention theme verse is rich with prayer potential! I.T.C.P.! “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” I’ll be praying the Litany (LSB 288 ff.; LW, pages 279 ff.; TLH, pages 110 ff.) constantly as we close in on July. Please commit to prayer today for this convention. The challenges before us are monumental.
That’s more than enough for today. I’ll be sending you something to study every few weeks as we head toward convention. I plead for your prayers for me, as this is the first convention I’ve chaired, and I have much to learn.
In the Name of Jesus,
Pastor Matthew C. Harrison
President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
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