PRAYER is a 6 part series taken from Dr Nichterlein’s Essay presented at the South Australian District Convention, ELCA, held at Adelaide, South Australia, March 3-9, 1949, that has been adapted for the web by the ELCR webmaster Helen Kilpatrick. All original content has been preserved, with images, extra divisions, headings and formatting being added for ease of reading. The full original un-adapted article is available for download on the archives page.
This article follows on from the previous article – Part 4 How and What Should We Pray For?
For Whom Should We Pray?
It has already been said that our prayers must not betray a spirit of selfishness in us. Our Lord teaches us to embrace our fellow-Christians in our prayers when He says we should pray. “Our Father, give us our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses,” etc. St. Paul bids us make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks for all men (1 Tim 2: 1).
Naturally, in the first place, it will be our own troubles that will bring us upon our knees. The leper asks that he might be made clean; the publican in the parable asks that God be merciful to him; the thief on the cross asks he might be given a place in paradise; St. Paul was asking for himself when he besought the Lord to take away the thorn in the flesh that hindered him in his work.
On the other hand, the Syrophenician woman had a request to make on behalf of her daughter who was greviously vexed by a devil; Jesus prayed for His disciples, He prayed specially for Peter asking that his faith not fail in the hour of crisis. And when Peter had been cast into prison by Herod and was lying under sentence of death, on the eve of his execution a band of Christians was gathered in the home of Mary, the mother of Mark, making intercession for him; Abraham prayed fervently for Lot and the preservation of Sodom.
So also in our church prayers we say, “Bestow Thy grace upon all the nations of the earth; especially do we entreat Thee to bless our land and all its inhabitants.” We ask the Lord that everywhere men might be led to the knowledge of the Saviour.
For fellow believers
Yet, as in doing good to all men, we are especially to consider them who are of the household of faith, so in our prayers we specially remember those who are our brethren in faith. In His high priestly prayer Jesus prayed not only for His disciples but also for those who through their word would believe in Him, that is, for all Christians throughout the ages to come.
St. Paul assures all those to whom his epistles are addressed that he remembers them in his prayers. He also asks his hearers to pray for him. He felt he needed their prayers and would be much helped by them. In answer to their prayers as well as his own the Lord would give him the necessary wisdom and strength to carry on the great work of the evangelisation of the world.
Especially in the chaos and confusion prevailing amongst those who are called Christians to-day, and in view of the great danger of the many wolves in sheep’s clothing, the Church needs our prayers to-day, the prayer that the Lord would preserve unto us His Word in its truth and purity, the prayer that He would keep us from strife and schisms, the prayer that He would wake up those who in the lukewarm spirit of indifference are in danger of losing the faith and thereby losing their souls, the prayer that the Lord would heal the divisions which are keeping Christians in opposing camps and are retarding their missionary endeavours, and the prayer that the Lord would come soon to make the Church Militant the Church Triumphant.
For those in authority
St. Paul bids us especially remember those in our prayers who sit in seats of government, kings and all in authority, and adds that “this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.”
Kings and those in authority may not always be very estimable people. They may not always be very kindly disposed towards the Christian faith. All the more are they in need of our prayers. For after all, as we read in the Book of Proverbs, the heart of the king, and that means of all our legislators in general are “in the hand of the Lord, as rivers of water; he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Prov 21: 1).
If we prayed more for those in authority, we should probably find less reason for complaint against, and adverse criticism of, our governments. We do well to say in our General Prayer:
“Grant also health and prosperity to all that are in authority, especially to [Her] Majesty our [Queen], to the Governor and Legislatures of this Commonwealth and of this State and to all our judges and magistrates. Endue them with grace to rule after Thy good pleasure to the maintenance of righteousness and the hindrance and punishment of wickedness, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”
For our enemies
And let us not forget that we are required to pray also for our enemies. “Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” That is one of the outstanding principles of Christianity. It is just this Christian virtue that has been so arresting to many. It is true that just because of the practice of this virtue Christians have often been accounted fools.
Yet, herein Jesus set them the example. He prayed for His executioners, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And the first martyr of the Christian Church, Stephen, followed the example of Jesus when he prayed for those who stood ready to hurl their death-dealing boulders upon him, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”
And so we do well to say in our prayers, “May it please Thee to turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries, that they may cease their enmity and be inclined to walk with us in meekness and in peace.”
Should we also pray for those who have departed this life?
We know the Romanists do that. Rome’s ceremony of the mass is based on the assumption that the prayers of Christians can induce God to liberate out of purgatory those confined there to expiate sins for which they had failed to make sufficient reparation in this life. In the Roman Catholic confession of faith as accepted by the Council of Trent in the year 1562 this is especially emphasised. In the Roman Catechism the people are taught to say, “I firmly believe that there is a purgatory and that the souls therein detained are helped by the prayers of the faithful.” Also in the Anglican Church prayers for the departed are heard.
But if we believe that it is given unto men once to die and after this the judgement, then what purpose can prayers for the departed serve? Jesus tells us of two men who lived and died. The one, a poor man named Lazarus, was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. The other, a rich man, when he died, found himself in hell. Did Lazarus have any need of intercessions on his behalf? Could intercessions make the rich man’s torments any easier?
The practice of praying for the dead is inextricably connected with, and dependent on, a belief in a purgatory or some intermediate state. But the Bible knows nothing of any intermediate state. “If the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be” (Eccl 11: 3).
As the tree falls, so will it lie,
As the man lives, so will he die,
And as he dies, so will he be
All through the days of eternity.
Lutheran theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have been unanimous in their rejection of any form of prayers for the dead. We do have, however, what we call a Commendatory Prayer to be used at a deathbed. Our Liturgy makes provision for such a prayer.
“If the pastor be present when a person’s earthly life is drawing to a close, he shall lay his hands on the dying one as he breathes his last and say a few words of farewell and benediction to him on this wise:
Go forth, Christian soul, in the name of God the Father, who so gloriously created thee in His image. Go forth in the name of God the Son, who has bought thee with a price and has redeemed thee with His bitter sufferings and death. Go forth in the name of the Holy Ghost, who sanctified thee to be His temple. May the God of all mercy who caused Lazarus to be carried into Abraham’s bosom and the thief on the cross to enter paradise keep thee from the power of the evil one … and take thee into His eternal home, etc.
When death has ensued, all may kneel and pray thus:
We thank Thee, Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Prince of Life, for having kept our brother in true repentance and faith unto his blessed end. Into Thy hands we commend his spirit in its homeward flight. He is now being gathered unto his people, etc.“
In the prayers at our funeral services we thank God for all the blessings enjoyed by the departed and pray that the remains which we are committing to the grave may be kept against the day of the glorious resurrection. That, of course, cannot be termed praying for the dead.
Reprinted by kind permission of Openbook Publishers, Adelaide, by the Evangelical Lutheran Congregations of the Reformation (ELCR), 1995. Contact: P.O. Box 692, Kingaroy, Qld. Aust. 4610.