Bible Study: Starck’s Prayer Book – We Don’t Want to Pray this Way, but we Need to Pray this Way

In lieu of Bible study this week I wanted to provide some real meat and potatoes on suffering and a Christian response to the pandemic we’re facing.  To my chagrin, the best resource I have is not a Bible study, but a devotional book- a prayer book.  I say that this is to my chagrin because this shows how much our prayers and studies have dropped off from that of our ancestors.  What they had the stomach to pray as a prayer, we can barely stomach to study and learn! And I am not pointing the finger at you, I say this of myself.

From the time I first picked up this book it has made me uncomfortable.  It belonged to an elderly woman whom I was visiting and she had requested I read it at her deathbed. And I did.  I instantly saw its value, but was also scared of its impact.  It says things bluntly that modern sensibilities don’t let pastors get away with saying…even though it has the scripture references right there!  How could this elderly woman own this and use this and want this at her death bed…for comfort of all things!?

Over my short ministry I have hated using this book, but also loved using it.  I have always hesitated to lend it out or use it in times of need.  Yet every time I have used it people have been profoundly thankful!  I left it in the hospital room with the family of a man dying of cancer- worried they’d get offended by the starkness of Starck’s prayers.  Far from offended, the brother of the dying man thanked me and said this book should be in every Lutheran home!

I know why I hate this book- it makes me feel so shallow and weak.  I know why I love this book and have to keep using it- it feeds me with true spiritual food to grow-up.  It gives real, biblical answers to real, tough questions.  Even the editor who updated the new edition says, “Starck’s prayers are meat for the soul in an age accustomed to devotional cotton candy. They challenge the Christian on all sorts of levels.” 

So why am I sharing this one with you now?  It’s not just because the prayer is called Believing Christians Pray in Time of Widespread Sickness.  It is because our Service of the Word, live-streamed this Sunday, will go away from the scripture lessons for the 4th Sunday in Lent and use a special occasion.  The bulletin on our website is titled “Day of Humiliation and Prayer”.  This is what God’s Word teaches us to do in such a crisis: repent and pray.  The devotion I’m sharing teaches this better than any Bible study.

We repent, because “we need not think that those on whom Your heavy rod is now descending are worse sinners than the rest; rather we confess that we all deserve to perish like them.”  We pray because God is still and always will be a “God of Mercy!”

The following is from Starck’s Prayer Book (CPH, 2009), pages 380-382.


"But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you…The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me. The Lord will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” Deuteronomy 28:15, 20-21

When wrath, tribulation, and anguish come upon those that do evil (Romans 2:8-9), contagious diseases and pestilence must certainly be included in that anguish.  To a large extent this plague comes when people put no faith in the word of warning and admonition (Numbers 14:12); when they serve God outwardly and not with the heart (Jeremiah 14:12); when they even put God out of their minds entirely by their disobedience (Jeremiah 24:10; 27:9); when they despise the servants of God (Jeremiah 29:17); when the people become bold and unruly (Ezekiel 14:19); when fornication and murder are rampant (Ezekiel 33:26-27); when no admonition to repentance is any longer heeded (Amos 4:10); on account of adultery (Numbers 25:6-9); on account of blasphemy (2 Kings 19:35); on account of pride (2 Samuel 24:15); and also on account of other sins.  Now, when God inflicts such chastisement, it is necessary that people repent because the Lord allows Himself to be entreated according to His mercy; hence David from among three plagues chose this one (2 Samuel 24:12-14) rather than the others.


O strong and mighty God, great is Your wrath against willful sinners who will not permit Your kindness to lead them to repentance. For a time You deal with people like a loving father, who seeks with much patience to draw back his disobedient children to himself, but then, when people willfully abuse Your grace, You manifest Yourself as a stern judge.  We, too, are experiencing this now, O just God.  We hear that in many places a contagious disease has appeared, devouring many thousands of people, so that death is a guest in many homes and there are not enough hands to bury the dead.  We are consumed by Your anger, and by Your wrath we are troubled. Have we not strong reasons to fear that You will send this spreading contagion also into our borders and our city?  O Jealous God, we need not think that those on whom Your heavy rod is now descending are worse sinners than the rest; rather, we confess that we all deserve to perish like them. There is found among us security in our sinfulness, contempt of Your Holy Word, stubbornness, wastefulness, fornication, unrighteousness, worldliness, and pride. Yes, there is scarcely and fear of God in our land; the godly ceases and the faithful fail among the children of men. If You, O Lord, kept a record of iniquity, O Lord, who could stand?

            O Lord, when You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (Psalm 27:8).  You have no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but that the sinner turn from his way and live. Therefore, we abhor ourselves and repent in dust and ashes. Do not look upon our countless ins; graciously pronounce us not guilty.  Comfort us in our distress and remove all punishments from us. We have sinned with our ancestors; we have committed iniquity and done wickedly. Command the destroying angel who is wielding the sword of vengeance to cease, and say to him, “It is enough.”  Let us love, and we will glorify Your name.  Although we do not deserve any mercy, we are in need of it.  Although we are all children of death, You have promised the penitent that You would exercise mercy instead of justice toward them.

            Oh, grant us Your grace and life, for Jesus’ sake, our only mediator and advocate. Have mercy, have mercy upon us, O God of mercy!  Be gracious to us; spare us, good Lord! Be gracious to us; help us, good Lord, our God! Have mercy on the poor and afflicted who have been seized with this violent pestilence, who must suffer hunger and grief, who are destitute of all nursing care, and forsaken by others. Lead them to the knowledge of Your grace in Christ, Your dear Son.  Aid them with Your comfort and let Your Spirit witness to their spirit that they are God’s children, though they have to die of this plague.  O Lord, hear our prayer! Protect our country, and we shall say: The Lord has done great things for us. Yes, You can deliver all who come to You.

            Since He is ours, We fear no powers, Not of earth nor sin nor death.  He sees and blesses in worst distresses; He can change them with a breath.  Wherefore the story tell of His glory with hearts and voices; all heav’n rejoices in Him forever: Alleluia! We shout for gladness, Triumph o’er sadness, love Him and praise Him, and still shall raise Him glad hymns forever. Alleluia! Amen. (LSB 818:2)


Evening and morning,
Sunset and dawning,
    Wealth, peace, and gladness,
    Comfort in sadness:
These are Thy works; all the glory be Thine!
Times without number,
Awake or in slumber,
    Thine eye observes us,
    From danger preserves us,
Causing Thy mercy upon us to shine.


Father, O hear me,
Pardon and spare me;
    Calm all my terrors,
    Blot out my errors
That by Thine eyes they may no more be scanned.
Order my goings,
Direct all my doings;
    As it may please Thee,
    Retain or release me;
All I commit to Thy fatherly hand.

LSB 726:1-2