Praying to the Lord of the harvest

by Matthew C. Harrison

I pray the catechism every day like my little Hans and ask God to keep me in his dear, holy Word, lest I grow weary of it.1

For the longest time I wondered what Luther meant by that. Then Concordia Publishing House invited me to provide a fresh translation of Martin Luther’s A Simple Way to Pray, written for Peter, Master Barber. Luther was sitting in the barber’s chair one day in 1535, when his barber asked him how to pray. He responded with a delightful little pamphlet on the topic. There Luther described a method, no doubt developed during his years as an Augustinian friar. It’s a method that can be used with any text of the Bible, the Catechism or even a hymn. It has four parts: 1. Instruction; 2. Thanksgiving; 3. Confession; 4. Prayer (I.T.C.P.).

I recommend reading Luther’s pamphlet. There he encourages allowing one’s mind to wander as the Spirit prompts thoughts and prayers based on the text. Should we pray written prayers or prayers ex corde (“from the heart”)? Luther answered, “Yes!”

In the next 15 years, half of the current LCMS pastors will retire. Seminary numbers are currently very low. And there is a strong need for LCMS-trained schoolteachers and administrators now! With these kinds of needs for “laborers in the harvest,” allow me to demonstrate Luther’s method of prayer, based on the words of Jesus.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:36).

  1. Instruction. Dear Jesus, in Your earthly ministry in Palestine, You demonstrated the utmost compassion for the “harassed and helpless.” You grieved over people who were “like sheep without a shepherd.” You teach us in Your Word that the fields shall be ripe for harvest until Your return, and that Your Church needs workers to have compassion and proclaim the Gospel. You also instruct us that when workers are needed, the place to begin is with prayer.
  2. Thanksgiving. O Christ, I thank You for my pastor. I thank You for the pastor who baptized me. I thank You for my confirmation pastor. I thank You for the seminaries. I thank You for all faithful pastors. I thank You for our dear Lutheran teachers. I thank You for our Concordias. I thank You for all the thousands of young women and men who are entering the sacred calling of teacher. I thank You for the thousands of selfless church workers who have chosen lives of modest means for the sake of serving Your sheep.
  3. Confession. I confess, O Lord, that I have failed to recognize what a great blessing my pastors have been. I have thought little of the thousands upon thousands who teach our children and youth in the schools of the LCMS. I have been stingy in my support of my own congregation and have barely given a thought to supporting the church’s seminaries and universities. I have failed to express my thanks and love to our congregations’ pastors and teachers. I have failed to pray for them. I have even sinned by thinking ill of them or gossiping about them. And I have ignored Your very own words directed to me, “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers.” I think little of the very reason Your Church exists: “The harvest is plentiful.” I deserve to have Your precious pastors and teachers taken from me.
  4. Prayer. O Merciful Savior! Look not upon my manifold and horrid sins! I plead Your precious sacrifice on the cross for me! I plead Your resurrection, absolving the world and me from sin! I plead my baptism! Lord, forgive me! Lord, strengthen my love for Your Word, and for Your faithful pastors and teachers! Cause me to be a joy to them in all I do! Help me to pray daily for them! Remind me that the gifts these workers bring me are to be shared with the harassed and helpless! Make me generous in my support for them! Lord, make me cognizant of Your words every day of my life: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

The Lord bless your prayers for the benefit of His precious workers.

— Pastor Harrison

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, Helmut T. Lehmann, and Christopher Boyd Brown, Vol. 54 (Philadelphia and St. Louis, 1955–), 163.

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