Generic prayers

This is a lament over a prayer that is fast losing out. One of the things I miss in our worship services these days is that old "general prayer" after the offering in the page 5 liturgy of The Lutheran Hymnal. Visiting a number of churches throughout the synod in the past several years, I have noticed that the prayer has fallen into disuse in favor of more "personal, intimate and spontaneous" prayers. Besides the problem of mechanical repetition, it would appear the prayer is too "generic."

Until a few days ago I did not realize that generic prayers were out and personal, spontaneous prayers were in. My awakening went something like this. I fielded a phone call from an anonymous caller complaining about one of our pastors. After inconclusive discussion at considerable length, the caller rang off with the exhortation that I pray for the pastor. I responded that I prayed every day for all our pastors. I was bluntly told to scrap "those generic prayers." Until that time I was not aware some kinds of prayers received more favorable attention before the throne of God. It was not the time to argue the point as the caller hung up.

The solemn accents of the general prayer, that "generic" prayer, were burned into me in my early years. "Graciously defend us from all calamities by fire and water; from war and pestilence; from scarcity and famine.... Be thou the God and Father of the widow and fatherless children ... and the Comforter of the forsaken and distressed." It got so that I could recite the words along with the pastor as he read them.

There were Sundays, of course, when the words seemed to me to be spoken (or is "heard" better!) mechanically. But the message was clear to those who heard that at that moment a WELS community of God's people was praying for a suffering world, for a world in mortal distress. It was praying that went beyond their own self-interest and touched another world of pain and misery and hurts and needs, to which as God's children they were debtors,

Those well-cast phrases of the general prayer strike a new note of relevancy in today's world. "Fire"--12 died recently in a fire in Milwaukee's inner city, 10 of them children. As our great cities age, the central city is tinder. "War and pestilence"--when will the killing cease and what can stem the AIDS calamity! "Scarcity and famine"--they leer at us on the evening news and mock us in the headlines. "Fatherless children"--it's an epidemic. "Forsaken and distressed" their tears flood our country.

In Africa there is an old saying: when the elephants fight, it's the grass that gets trampled. And so it is. While the high and the mighty of the world feud, it's the little people who get crushed. And the high and the mighty survive in opulent and splendid retirement or exile.

Let's not forget a prayer for those who suffer, even if for the moment we must forget our own. Generic prayers are always in. Thus, it seems to me, saith the Lord.

James P. Schaefer

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