Date: January 29, 1939

Prayer for Christ in the Home

Blessed Savior, who didst enter the homes of Thy country-men to bring pardon, peace, and life:

Come into our family circles with Thy strengthening Spirit and abide with us!  We need Thy presence; for we are selfish, our thoughts often misdirected, our lives sin-bound. Do Thou therefore uphold us with the renewed promise of forgiveness through faith in the power of Thy shed blood; and let the Holy Spirit purify our daily walk, so that by the sincerity of faith and the uprightness of life we may make our homes havens of true happiness, churches of the living God, foregleams of the heavenly mansions. Thy guidance is necessary if we are to maintain the blessed custom of family prayer and Scripture­reading; for only too readily do we find excuses for neglecting this daily communion with Thee, and too willingly do we permit other demands on our time to leave us without sacred moments for Thee. O Thou Christ of heavenly compassion,—do not cast us away because of ingratitude nor punish us for indifference but pardon these denials of faith for the sake of Thy perfect merits and direct us to better discipleship! Grant us, if it be for our spiritual advantage, some of earthly prosperity; yet, above this, we pray Thee, bless our family relations, strengthen the mutual devotion between husband and wife, parents and children, and preserve us all through faith in Thee for “the whole family in heaven.” We ask this, blessed Savior, because Thou hast instructed us to bring our petition in Thy name and hast promised to answer us! Amen.

When she was baptized and her household she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide there.Acts 16:15

TERRIFYING news of destruction has again shocked the civilized world. Entire cities have been wiped out in Chile by the tremors of a quaking earth. You may not have realized the extent of death and devastation, for Chile is many thousands of miles distant, and the newspapers, accustomed to death on a large scale, quickly took the reports of this South American tragedy off the first page. But make this comparison: The most disastrous of similar catastrophes the United States has known was the San Francisco earthquake with 700 deaths. In Chile, according to local estimates, 30,000 lives were taken, with 50,000 seriously injured. Last Sunday the afflicted cities were happy and undisturbed; this Sunday they are heaps of blackened ruins, with ten thousands of homes destroyed and as many families bereaved by sudden death.

Only one domestic tragedy can be worse than this destruction of property and lives—the disaster of inner upheaval, which leaves the brick and lumber of the house untouched but shakes the moral and spiritual foundations of the home, the tremors of family tragedy capable of destroying all happiness.

More homes in our country than we probably realize are suffering from this blighting of every joy that makes life really worth living. America’s greatest sorrow today is its family sorrow. True, our architects build homes more attractively than ever before; our domestic experts show us new answers to old family problems; our Government, with unparalleled generosity, enables the working-man to purchase his home; our legislation endeavors to establish premarital health requirements; our child psychologists direct their efforts toward a better American youth; our colleges have featured more courses in domestic problems within the last ten years than otherwise within the last hundred years; yet in the face of all this we find more unhappiness in modern family life, more discord in the home, more dissatisfaction with marriage, than in any previous age.

As your own letters prove,—on no subject do you write me more frequently than on marriage problems,—out of these unhappy family situations, where hate often rules instead of love, unfaithfulness in place of loyalty, shattered hopes rather than fulfilled dreams,—out of this deep distress comes the insistent plea: “Where can we find blessing for our homes?” “How can we build a foundation for our family life that will not be destroyed by the tremors of sin or the quakes of sorrow?” It is my conviction, in answer, that the only home which can withstand the reverberating force of wealth or poverty, health or sickness, honor or dishonor, the only family life strong enough to guarantee help against the ravages of sin and human selfishness, is the home and the family blessed by the abiding presence of Jesus Christ. And this is more than merely my opinion; for the Savior Himself assures us: “Whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.”

In this spirit I want to speak to you on

FAITH-BLESSED FAMILY LIFE

as we find it illustrated in the words of Acts 16, verse 15: “When she” (Lydia) “was baptized and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide there.”

I

THE FAITH THAT BLESSES THE FAMILY

This incident is taken from the beginning of Saint Paul’s missionary activity in Macedonia. Answering the vision that had appealed: “Come over . . . and help us,” the great Apostle left Asia and began to preach the crucified Savior in Northern Greece. His first congregation in Europe—think of it!—was a group of God­fearing women who used to meet at the riverside in the city of Philippi. The first European convert recorded as won for the Savior was this woman Lydia. The very start of Paul’s missionary work in Europe was marked by a notable truth which we witness continually—the fact that women are always in the front ranks of those who come to the Cross. Ask our home missionaries upon which groups in their congregations they can always depend for work and help in any way, and they will point you to the women of their charges.

Lydia was an unusual woman, even among the first Christian workers. She was wealthy, yet her money did not prevent her from confessing Christ at a time when allegiance to the Savior involved the danger of persecution. If only there were more of Lydia’s loyalty among men and women of means! Magnificent opportunities confront the Church; at the same time it faces organized and powerful opposition. Yet many of those blessed with more money than they need or can decently use for themselves do little for Christ’s kingdom, so that new missionary fields remain untouched, retrenchment marks the work in older mission­fields, pastors remain underpaid, and young theological graduates wait years before they can begin their soul-saving work. May God’s Spirit give all of you the grace to use your money, whether much or little, for life’s highest purpose, the extension of Christ’s dominion, before your money, as it repeatedly has, puts a curse on your family and a blight on your life!

Lydia was wealthy; she had built up a thriving business in Philippi. She sold purple garments. Frequently women engaged in business, with such responsibilities, find little time and show small interest for Christ. The change in the industrial system, particularly of this generation, that has given millions of wives work away from their homes has not been a blessing either to the Church or the home. For—and now I will say something many of you will not like—in spite of high and imposing pronouncements to the contrary, a woman’s place and a wife’s greatest happiness is in the family circle. No woman can have a higher human objective than that she love her husband dearly, that she try to make a good, clean, comfortable home for him, that she recognize the deep-rooted blessing of motherhood, bring children into the world, help to lead them to God, and make them loyal citizens, useful members of society. Nothing that working wives gain in the business world can begin to compare with the rich privileges of a God-fearing mother. I know of course that many mothers have to work because their husbands—sick, crippled, or otherwise incapacitated—cannot earn enough to support the family. When a Christian wife faces this emergency, she will gladly try to find employment; and as she strives to keep the household together, God will give her strength. I know, on the other hand, however, that many wives who need not, continue to work in the factory, the shop, or office after their marriage instead of living on a simpler standard of life within the husband’s salary. Too often, as experience shows, they lose in the end. Many never know the unspeakable pleasure of nestling a child of their own on their bosoms. They often destroy the husband’s sense of responsibility, and conditions in the neglected home frequently lead to separation or divorce. Besides, is it fair that hundreds of thousands of fathers with growing children are kept in disheartening idleness while in families without children two salary checks are cashed every week? Exceptions occur, of course, and to show us that we are not to judge with sweeping statements, the Scripture portrays this business woman at Philippi, who could combine, without conflict, her faith, her home duties, and the demands of her business. But you average, typical women of America, try to concentrate your intelligence and devotion on the blessings that will last when you are too old to work, the unequaled pleasure of building your home, seeing your children grow up into achieving manhood and womanhood!

Lydia’s faith was strong enough to withstand the business strain under which too many others might have forgotten God. When the apostle came to the riverside on the first Sabbath after his arrival in Philippi and preached the message of Jesus Christ, Lydia believed. She recognized Jesus as the Messiah, long promised to God’s people. She knew, according to the Scriptures, that God would send His Son “to redeem them that were under the Law.” She understood, with a mind enlightened by the Holy Spirit, that the coming Deliverer would be the Sin-bearer, Sin-conqueror, Sin-remover. With eyes clarified by that same Spirit, she saw Him, in the prophecies of Isaiah, “despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” She remembered the prediction of David that Christ’s enemies would bore through His hands and His feet. And when Saint Paul came to preach what every ambassador of Christ should proclaim, the subject that no minister of the Gospel can ever exhaust, “Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified,” she found in Jesus on the cross her Savior and her Lord. From that moment her entire life was changed.

Because this is the faith that we all need, I ask you, “Have you ever bowed down ‘in spirit and in truth’ to acknowledge Jesus Christ as your Savior?” “You husbands and wives throughout the length and breadth of the land, sitting together before your radio and hearing this appeal, can you both say: ‘Jesus is mine’?” Or, with all the closeness and intimacy of your lives, is one of you living in unbelief, in a spiritual coma, drugged by fatal indifference toward the welfare of your souls? If Abraham Lincoln deplored a house “divided against itself” as a national calamity, what cutting tragedy in the home divided along the lines of faith and unbelief, with husband and wife completely united except in the most vital unity, the common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! I have seen so much resultant sorrow that whenever young people write to ask whether they, as church-members, should marry someone who professes to love them but who is not a Christian, refuses to consider church-membership, and makes only vague promises for the future, I always answer with an unqualified “No!” If these young men or young women are not ready to accept Christ with all conviction—not as a favor to you—now, before marriage, they probably will never accept Him after marriage. Are you prepared to attend service Sunday after Sunday alone? Do you want to come home from church, only to be greeted by a condescending smile for your loyalty to Jesus? Can you be happy if always you have to say your prayers without your beloved at your side? Are you ready to face the prospect of knowing that the one whom you cherish most dearly is daily living without God in a life directed toward hell?  Besides, intermarriages between Christians and unbelievers only too frequently result in religious indifference even on the part of the believing husband or wife. I am also against marriages between Catholics and Protestants, and this is one point on which Roman Catholic authorities agree heartily with us. In our Church we tell our young people to marry one of their own faith, since we have statistical evidence that for Christians marriage by their own pastor—not by a justice of the peace—and the active participation of both husband and wife in the same true Church of Christ is the fundamental guarantee of marital happiness. Lydia was right when she, with the help of God, saw to it that her household heard Paul and when she encouraged them to come to the Christ whom she had accepted as her Savior. God grant all of you this same unity of faith! And if this means that some of you wives must continue to work and pray as you have for the conversion of an unbelieving husband, then keep on in the name of Christ; it may be that by the power of your entreaty, your testimony, the example of your Christian life, your husband will be brought to the faith. It may require sickness and reverses to shake him out of his conceit and stolid unbelief, but I say: Blessed loss if only he gains Christ!

Lydia’s faith was not a vague, emotional experience. She did not say: “Yes, I believe what Paul of Tarsus preaches,” and then let everything stop there. She heard the apostle require Baptism, so she was baptized; perhaps at the same river bank where she had first heard Paul she and all her household, young and old, received this blessed “washing of regeneration.” I ask you fathers and mothers a pointed and personal question: Are you baptized? Are your children baptized? If not, listen with all your hearts and minds to this rich grace which the Word of God itself promises. Saint Paul says: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” “Be baptized and wash away thy sins.” “Baptism doth also now save us.” Modern Protestantism, of course, has often belittled this Sacrament, but the Bible exalts it. Jesus Himself says: “Preach the Gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” In His name I offer these baptismal blessings to all of you, old and young. Yes, old and young; for the whole household of Lydia was baptized. Who will deny that there were children in a large mercantile establishment like Lydia’s? Significantly the Book of Acts, three times in this chapter and the next, speaks of “households” coming to Christ. Now, they would not all be childless; yet all were baptized, by the promise which, God assures us, is “unto your children.”

When all in Lydia’s home had followed the apostle’s invitation to receive Baptism, the faith of this remarkable woman sought practical expression in her own family circle. With a humility that stands out in pleasant relief against the brazen boldness of many women in her day and ours, she approached Paul and those who were with him, with the request: “If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide there.” She wanted to hear more of Christ, to extend hospitality to His servants, to have her home blessed by their presence and preaching. Because there was a holy urgency in her invitation, the apostle accepted, and from that time on, throughout the many days that Paul and his assistants spent in Philipp Lydia’s home was the local church, the assembling place of the Greek Christians in that vicinity. It is my prayer and appeal that you, too, as did Lydia, will say to Christ: “Come into my house and abide there!” Make your home a church of Christ! Let the world know that in your family circle from this day on He will reign completely. Remember, Jesus spurns no home, however poor; for He Himself was reared in poverty. How sympathetically He would step across the threshold of dwellings saddened by sickness, afflicted by grief, heavily burdened by death! How gladly He accepted the invitations of sinners and social outcasts to come under their roof and sit at table with them! How earnestly He sought to enter the homes of the proud and self-righteous! How eagerly He retired to Bethany, there in the quiet abode of His followers to enjoy rest and peace! But believe especially in this moment that Christ calls you, your family, your home, that He is ready to speak grace and offer rich mercies to you and your whole household.

II

THE BLESSINGS WITH WHICH FAITH ENRICHES THE FAMILY

Lydia richly experienced the blessing of having the Word of God in her household through the presence of Paul, the servant of Christ. For every time Jesus crosses the threshold and His Word is enthroned in the family circle, this is the beginning of indescribable spiritual happiness.

This joy comes, first of all, through the assurance that by confident, childlike faith in Jesus we can appropriate the redemption from our sins and their punishment, to render praise and service. Those who have this faith—and I pray God it will be yours—are enriched by the highest gladness God Himself can give sinful men. Once more listen closely as I ask you directly, you individually, you too greatly preoccupied to answer Christ’s claims on your soul, too much engrossed in pleasure-seeking; will you not, now, in this “acceptable time,” ask Jesus to come into your hearts as into your homes and in these last days repeat the disciples’ prayer: “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent”? Remember, you, the deeply fallen but penitent, He is an all-merciful Savior; His loving patience is ready to restore us though in our weakness we frequently fall; for His mercies are “new every morning.” Regardless of the past, no matter how scarlet your sins and how crimson their consequences, Jesus loves you, dejected as you are, with such a surpassing devotion that He has taken all your sins from you, suffered their soul-crushing penalty, and now only asks you to believe. Try to picture yourself standing before God and ask yourself whether you can honestly think of one reason for rejecting Christ; whether, rather, there are not endless myriads of reasons for accepting Christ, one for every sin, one for every blessed hope.

Lydia’s home was remarkably enriched by that faith. She continued in grace, supporting the apostle’s missionary work. Years afterward Saint Paul sent her church a warm greeting of thanks, and his letter to the congregation of the Philippians, often called “The Epistle of Joy,” doubtless reflected the happiness that Lydia, as its most prominent member, experienced in her own home. With Christ you, too, can enjoy the same full measure of inner happiness; for when Jesus is enthroned in your hearts, you are born again. The old things of life, hatred, self­seeking, lust, all these enemies of the soul that help to destroy peace and make others suffer, are defeated. The fundamental problem in life today is the conquest of selfishness, the development of love and sacrifice. Domestic experts may have a dozen prescriptions for family troubles, but not until men have seen Christ on the cross and learned the power of true love, can the ravages of self-mindedness be stopped. Wealth can separate a father from his children; too much learning, especially the wrong kind, can make children ashamed of their parents; but faith in Jesus will tame the brute passions of men, make them forget self, and teach them the glory of Christlike devotion to others.

As I transpose this promise into the everyday scenes of your home, let me say that some of you husbands and wives who on the day of your marriage seemed to face life with the roseate glow of high hopes have now turned bitter, lost respect for each other. If you only would kneel before Christ, ask Him for forgiveness, strength, new love, your faith in Him would mightily help you. If some of you who are contemplating divorce, which always starts from self-indulgence, self-centered pleasure-seeking, would turn to Christ in the sincerity of a full, repentant, trusting faith, you could start again and live your married lives with His peace and blessing. Some of you have been guilty of unfaithfulness, which despite its momentary lustful pleasure will never give you rest as long as you have a conscience. Bear this in mind: If these scarlet sins are unforgiven and continue, they will help to destroy “both soul and body in hell.” But believe that, as Jesus offered peace to the soul of an adulteress, refusing to cast a stone upon her, you, too, through faith can be pardoned, learn to sin no more in this destructive way, and steadfastly “grow in grace.”

Besides removing the sins that mar our lives and checking the selfishness that turns men to beasts even in their family circles, the victorious faith in Christ gives us the power to meet temptations and repel lust. How many homes are broken by drunkenness; yet they could be spared this tragedy if only the love of Jesus were the constraining force and the influence that would help break the stranglehold of alcohol! Far too frequently a wife’s indifference paves the way for marital disaster; yet that sorrow could likewise be averted if only the uplifting power of the Holy Spirit were at work in the hearts of these women! Children often disgrace their parents, causing endless worry, withholding the love and support that God and man demand of them; but if these children would behold Christ, obedient to His parents at Nazareth, considerate of His mother even on the cross, they could find through the Spirit the power that creates and sustains unselfish devotion to parents!

This faith, by which a family looks only to Christ, shows its rich reward particularly in darker days, when the home is overshadowed by sorrows multiplied in an age like ours. Soon after Lydia turned her abode into a church, a persecution broke out, and Paul and Silas were thrown into jail at Philippi; but God was with Lydia’s household during those trying days, and He will be with your household during similar times of affliction, provided you repeat Lydia’s invitation: “Come into my house and abide there.” With multitudes in this country absolutely homeless; with millions unemployed and undernourished, we need the Christ who is particularly concerned with the lowly, the poor, the oppressed. While Jesus never lured any one through the promise of financial gain and earthly profit, He plainly assures those who are His of His Good­Shepherd guidance, so that they will not want. Richly and daily, He guarantees us, will His Father provide for our needs. Sometimes He changes poverty into plenty overnight or, as many can testify, He supports and improves a Christian business; but always, and without condition, He gives a faith-crowned home that which is beyond purchase, the riches of His grace. Take courage in this, you fathers who worry over your inability to support the family! Bring these troubles to the Lord in prayer! Trust Him to keep His word, and you will find your problems solved! Surveying His ways, often beyond your understanding, you will confess, “He leadeth me!”

We need Christ for homes disquieted by sickness, where parents spend sleepless, fear-darkened nights at the bedside of a loved one and can find no sustaining guidance if not in Him who “sticketh closer than a brother.” We offer Christ for the distracted home, where sudden accident has left a crippled body, a paralyzed limb, a hopeless invalid. Nothing but faith in Jesus can bestow the surpassing assurance that for the Christian these things are not blind accidents but have been permitted by God for some ennobling purpose, an end so exalted that it is worth a thousand times more than all the suffering that precedes it. Christ can bring His radiant comfort especially into those homes through which the deepest sorrow has cut its path, where the last enemy, death, has crossed the threshold. In the agony of death, for which all human learning and resources cannot suggest a word of real soul-strengthening, we must have—and, thank God! we can have—the abiding presence of Christ. He can strengthen all for whom the wounds of bereavement still fresh with the glorious consolation that for those who die in this blessed faith there can be no lasting night of death, instead, only the momentary decay of the body and then the unspeakable power and beauty of the resurrection.

Even homes that have escaped these sorrows should enjoy the blessed companionship of Jesus; for His Word, His Spirit, His code of divine truth, can strengthen happy, carefree families for the vital help which they must contribute in crisis years like these. Our nation will be saved and its liberties safeguarded, not so much by legislation at Washington as by the training of the youth in Christian homes and the shaping of their ideals by Christian parents. A hundred years ago the pioneers of my Church, Saxon pilgrim fathers, came to this country in order to serve God according to the freedom of worship that our country guaranteed them. After a hundred years we realize that, if these ideals and the other national preeminences are to be preserved for us, we must have homes, under God, which teach love for our country and not for Communism, respect for parents rather than disregard, a hatred of crime in place of applause for evil, patriotism and no anti-Scriptural pacifism, honesty before expediency, true wisdom rather than shrewdness.

We need these homes for the progress of the Church, since without the support of the family the cause of Christianity would, humanly speaking, suffer severe restrictions. We must have these Christian homes for countless other reasons; but since the Church must work first of all for the next world, I appeal for Christian family life that helps prepare for our heavenly home. Lydia’s household has been commemorated for all ages in its record emblazoned on the New Testament pages. My fellow­worshipers, does your home likewise glorify God? Does it exalt the love of Christ? Is it a church of that Savior? If your family does not serve God, in final analysis it serves His enemies. May you now be ready to make yours a Christ-marked dwelling, to enthrone that Savior in your family circle with the pledge “Christ is the Head of this home.” As you repeat the daily prayer: “O Jesus, ‘come into my house and abide there,’” this blessed Lord of all, whose Word has never been broken, will come and abide with you. May His power, His love, His radiant promise of life everlasting in the Father’s house above, make your home, through faith, a foregleam and promise of these eternal mansions, prepared for you and your entire household, through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.