Last Saturday, I went down to the church library to read up on my Luther. I was hoping to find Table Talk on the shelf, but when I didn’t find it, I jut took a bunch of Luther’s other works, and started flipping through them. Most insightful was his book of devotional writings, and I wanted to share a selection of those writings with you.
“First, such a person must by no means rely on himself, nor must he be guided by his own feelings. Rather, he must lay hold of the words offered to him in God’s name…
“Second, he must not imagine that he is the only one assailed about his salvation, but…there are many more people in the world passing through the same trials…
“Third, he should by no means insist on deliverance from these trials without yielding to the divine will…
“Fourth, there is no stronger medicine for this than to begin with the words such as David used when said in Psalm 18 [:3] ‘I will call upon the Lord and praise him, so shall I be saved from all that assail me.’
“Fifth, he must thank God diligently for deeming him worthy of such a visitation, of which many thousands of people remain deprived.”
I really struggle with that last one. About a year and a half ago, I heard an exhortation that single people should give thanks for their celibacy, and I almost instantly thought the answer was no. Given the trials of my loneliness, my instant reaction was that there was no way I could give thanks for being single, and I still have a hard time thanking God for that. But it’s not something for me to question, and the opposite of seeing it as a blessing is seeing it as a curse.
And what about the Israelites after God turned them away from the promised land to wander in the wilderness for forty years, until all their fathers had died? During those forty years as they died, did they give thanks to God for that punishment? These are questions I really struggle with, but ultimately I must leave them in God’s hands.
“Therefore, we should willingly endure the hand of God in this and in all suffering. Do not be worried; indeed, such a trial is the very best sign of God’s grace and love for man.” (Luther’s Works, V. 42 Devotional Writings I. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 1969)
Luther then recommends a recitation of Psalm 142
With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way!
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.
I cry to you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me!
Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
for you will deal bountifully with me.