I don’t think it’s a word, either…
(Gary: Warning! This post is 123 words over your limit, and the last 45 words are the best ones!)
As far as I’m concerned, Luther’s Large Catechism commentary on the Lord Prayer is the greatest writing on prayer ever penned outside the Scripture. Now this could be because this is just about the only thing I’ve ever read on prayer, but it could just as well be because Luther is fantastic.
One of the themes that constantly floats to the surface in Luther’s treatment is the fact that when we pray we are not only praying to God but also against the devil. Prayer is an aggressive, militaristic act.
Consider the nuggets of Luther gold:
Christians must be armed in order to stand against the devil. For what do you think has hitherto accomplished such great things, has checked or quelled the counsels, purposes, murder, and riot of our enemies, whereby the devil thought to crush us, together with the Gospel, except that the prayer of a few godly men intervened like a wall of iron on our side? They should else have witnessed a far different tragedy, namely, how the devil would have destroyed all Germany in its own blood. But now they may confidently deride it and make a mock of it; however, we shall nevertheless be a match both for themselves and the devil by prayer alone, if we only persevere diligently and not become slack. (Large Catechism, Introduction, p 31)
If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and reckon upon having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies who will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us. For where the Word of God is preached, accepted, or believed, and produces fruit, there the holy cross cannot be wanting. And let no one think that he shall have peace; but he must risk whatever he has upon earth—possessions, honor, house and estate, wife and children, body and life. (Large Catechism, Third Petition, p. 63)
Such prayer, then, is to be our protection and defense now, is to repel and put down all that the devil, Pope, bishops, tyrants, and heretics cap do against our Gospel. Let them all rage and attempt their utmost, and deliberate and resolve how they may suppress and exterminate us, that their will and counsel may prevail: over and against this one or two Christians with this petition alone shall be our wall against which they shall run and dash themselves to pieces. 70] This consolation and confidence we have, that the will and purpose of the devil and of all our enemies shall and must fail and come to naught, however proud, secure, and powerful they know themselves to be. For if their will were not broken and hindered, the kingdom of God could not abide on earth nor His name be hallowed. (Large Catechism, Third Petition, p. 69)
You skipped over the quotations, didn’t you? Look, Luther writes much better stuff than I do. You’d better go back and read those, I’ll be here waiting when you’re done.
What do we make of this? First, we notice the Luther actually believed the Bible’s teaching that there is a devil who hates us and is trying to destroy our faith and everything good. Compare that with preaching today and see how often the devil is mentioned.
Second, and to the point, Luther understands prayer as an aggressive anti-devil act. “Them’s fightin’ words.” Right! And he learns this from St Paul who lists prayer with the other elements in the Christian’s Spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:18). And Paul learns this from our dear Lord Jesus; “But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21)
How different is this understanding of prayer to the mystical notions we have today. Eyes squeezed tight, hands wrenching, heart oozing and heart gushing whatever comes to mind, searching for a feeling, building the relationship, being intimate with God. Please.
Prayer is not a mystical act, at least Biblical prayer isn’t. When we pray we are fighting against the devil, and we pray with the confidence that Jesus has already won this fight.