October 31, 2012

A Prayer for Reformation Day

by Nathan Busenitz

Martin_LutherFour hundred and ninety five years ago, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg.

The Theses were originally written in Latin, and were intended to be part of a scholarly debate about the local sale of indulgences. But it was not long before they were translated into German and, thanks to the printing press, disseminated widely throughout Saxony — and eventually all of Europe.

The rest, as they say, is Reformation history.

Four years later, in 1521, Martin Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms to stand trial for his assault on Roman Catholic teaching and papal authority. It was here that he would make a bold defense for gospel truth. His famous words, uttered on April 18, 1521, were filled with courage and conviction.

“Here I stand, I can do no other.”

Yet, one day earlier, his faith nearly failed him as he considered the powerful men who opposed him, and the sobering reality that he would likely be condemned to death. In the midst of his consternation, Luther cried out to God for strength and help.

Here is part of Luther’s poignant prayer:

Almighty, eternal God! How dreadful is the world! Behold how its mouth opens to swallow me up, and how small is my faith in You!

O the weakness of the flesh and the power of Satan! If I am to depend upon any strength from this world, all is lost. O my God! Help me against all the wisdom of this world. Do this, I beg You.

The work is not mine, but Yours. I have no business here. I have nothing to contend for with these great men of the world! I would gladly pass my days in happiness and peace. But the cause is Yours, my Lord; and it is righteous and everlasting! Stand by me! O faithful and unchangeable God! I lean not upon man. It would be vain!

You have chosen me for this work. I know it! Therefore, O God, accomplish Your own will! Stand by me in the name of Jesus Christ, who will be my shelter and my shield, yes, my mighty fortress, through the might and strengthening of the Holy Spirit.

I am ready, even to lay down my life for this cause, patient as a little lamb. For the cause is holy. It is Your own. Though this world be filled with devils, and though my body, originally the work and creation of Your hands, go to destruction in this cause — yes, though it be shattered into pieces — Your Word and Your Spirit they are good to me still! It concerns only the body. The soul is Yours. It belongs to You and will also remain with You forever. God help me. Amen.

Though Martin Luther would not pen his famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, until several years later — the theological roots of that timeless lyric are clearly seen in this prayer.

Nearly five centuries later, Luther’s prayer reminds us of God’s sovereignty, our frailty, and the constant need to wholly depend on Christ. When our faith is tested or our hearts are tempted to despair, we too can stand on same the truth that strengthened the embattled Reformer.

The Lord is our shelter. He is our shield. He is our mighty fortress.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.