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The Scripture Blog

When We Can’t Pray

We are approaching the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. There are many event’s in Luther’s life worth serious consideration, but one I learned about recently has given me cause for reflection. It brings reality to the numerous scriptural teachings that, as Christians, we should pray for each other. (Perhaps the shortest and bluntest admonition is found in I Thessalonians 5:25 (NIV): “Brothers and sisters, pray for us.”)

We do a lot of praying for others, sometimes in general ways, often with specific intentions. Do we ever pray for those who can’t pray for themselves? Do we ever ask others to pray for us when we can’t pray for ourselves? While pondering those questions, consider a personal tragedy in Martin Luther’s life.

Luther’s favorite child was a daughter named Magdalena, who was born about two years after Luther nailed his Theses to the church door. When she was 13, she became gravely ill. Luther was traveling but rushed home to be with his beloved Magdalena. He held her in his arms and prayed that God would make her well while also invoking “Thy will be done.” She died.

A short time later, Luther wrote to a close friend: “I believe the report has reached you that my dearest daughter Magdalena has been reborn into Christ’s eternal kingdom. I and my wife should joyfully give thanks for such a felicitous departure and blessed end by which Magdalena escaped the power of the flesh, the world…and the devil; yet the force of our natural love is so great that we are unable to do this without crying and grieving in our hearts, or even without experiencing death ourselves…Even the death of Christ…is unable to take this all away as it should. You, therefore, give thanks to God in our stead.”

We seem reluctant to ask even those closest to us to pray in our stead when we find our path to God blocked by life’s darkness. And when someone asks us to pray for them–to pray in their stead–do we realize what a profound request this is–what a solemn obligation we have?

Praying for one another is an act of intimacy. Luther and his friend realized this. Do we?

When we are as honest as Luther was to say we can’t pray, let us trust each other to pray in our stead. Such an act of faith connects us with God’s grace, mercy, and love.

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