The Day of Trouble
Psalm 50:1–15 (ESV) The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
Our Lord tells us to call upon Him in the day of trouble. Does that mean only on certain days of the week, on particularly difficult days? Hardly! As Luther so aptly says in the Large Catechism about our daily situation: “You will also have the devil about you…He is a liar, to lead the heart astray from God’s Word and to blind it, so that you cannot feel your distress or come to Christ. He is a murderer, who cannot bear to see you live one single hour. If you could see how many knives, darts, and arrows are every moment aimed at you [Ephesians 6:16], you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible. But there is no reason why we walk about so securely and carelessly, except that we neither think nor believe that we are in the flesh and in this wicked world or in the devil’s kingdom” (Large Catechism, Lord’s Supper, lines 80-82). If we really believe our situation is so dire, we will seek regular protection from Satan by our faithful use of the Lord’s Supper, and similarly seek our Lord’s help and protection in prayer continually. Every day is the day of trouble!
But when have we finally prayed enough? How often is often enough? I think this area is where we run the risk of getting shipwrecked. Our Lutheran forefathers often spoke of the drunken peasant trying to steer his wagon down a narrow way, careening from one ditch to the other. That is how we are tempted to think about prayer and devotions, with one ditch being “I don’t need to pray at all” and the other being “I have to pray all the time.”
So often our questions need clarification. “Do we need to pray?” should be answered with, “It depends on what you mean.” If you mean that we need to pray in order to acquire salvation, then the answer is, “No. We don’t need to pray in order to be saved.” Prayer is a work, and we are not saved by works. Rather, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
But once we have down the basis that we are not saved by our own prayer, then the answer to the question, “Do we need to pray?” is most certainly, “Yes!” Prayer is something a Christian just cannot live without. God commands us to pray and promises to answer. We desperately need to pray because we need God’s help and protection against Satan. And we need to pray because God tells us, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Prayer: O Lord, our saving light and our shelter in the day of trouble, turn us not away in anger because of our sins. Calm our hearts, strengthen our faith, and lead us in Your straight paths until we see Your surpassing goodness in heaven with all those who live in Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.