Believing Christians Pray in Time of Widespread Sickness: An Exhortation and Prayer Adapted from Starck’s Prayerbook

This morning’s devotion is adapted from The Revised Concordia Edition of Starck’s Prayer Book. Johann Friedrich Starck was a Lutheran pastor and favorite author of evangelical Germany in the early 1700s.


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 only outwardly and not with the heart (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 (2 Kings 19:35); on account of pride (2 Samuel 24:15); and also on account of other sins. Now when God inflicts this chastisement, it is necessary that people repent because the Lord allows Himself to be entreated according to His mercy.

So far, Pastor Starck.

Why do you suppose we view situations so differently—between us and Stark’s time? I must admit some reluctance to directly assign the COVID–19 Coronavirus pandemic to God’s anger, not because I don’t believe He would do such a thing but rather, but rather, how can I tell that He is directly behind this specific instance—same as any natural disaster or why a particular accident happens? Today, when there is trouble, people seem more apt to believe that there is a problem with God, rather than a problem with sinful humanity. Such was not the case with the ancients. Martin Luther in his day, and Johann Starck some two-hundred years later, and Christians until about the era of the World Wars[*], believed that God is real and that He interacts with this world in real, tangible ways. They didn’t trust the sciences for their salvation. There was no higher authority than God, so if man didn’t orchestrate the disaster, than God must have since man clearly deserves it.

Today, we don’t believe God is real and active in this world (or at least we don’t behave like we do). We are empiricists. We need to see the proof before we believe. We trust science and our behavior to cure us. God isn’t the highest authority, therefore God wouldn’t have done anything to us since we really are not that bad.

In his Preface to the Revised Concordia Edition of Starck’s Prayer Book, editor Pastor Will Weedon writes: “I didn’t like it. Not at first. I do not think I am alone. Starck’s prayers are meat for the soul in an age accustomed to devotional cotton candy.” Has our “Jesus is a nice guy” culture fundamentally altered our own view of God in ways we haven’t recognized?  Have we become so accustomed to “the Law only lasts for 7.5 minutes before the Gospel in the sermon overcomes it” that we have lost our ability to rightly ponder and fear the holy wrath of God? Do we trust more in twenty-second hand washing than we do in the water and the Word of our Baptism?

When bad things happen, we are not privy to the reason or the mechanics behind it. We will certainly acknowledge that nothing happens apart from the divine will of God. Yet we are not given the wisdom to even begin to understand the ways of God. Ultimately, all things are assigned to the divine work of God. We can be certain that, of all that work of God, we deserve nothing good. So, if bad happens to us, we deserve it. If good happens, we rejoice in His great mercy. We also rejoice because God uses all things, good or bad, to our good.


{Starck:) 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 any 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 sins; 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 live, 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. Amen.


LSB 726 Evening and Morning

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.


Ills that still grieve me

Soon are to leave me;

    Though billows tower,

    And winds gain power,

After the storm the fair sun shows its face.

Joys e’er increasing

And peace never ceasing:

    These shall I treasure

    And share in full measure

When in His mansions God grants me a place.


To God in heaven

All praise be given!

    Come, let us offer

    And gladly proffer

To the Creator the gifts He doth prize.

He well receiveth

A heart that believeth;

    Hymns that adore Him

    Are precious before Him

And to His throne like sweet incense arise.


[*] Take a look at The Lutheran Liturgy‘s prayer for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer, pp. pp. 366-68. It is unsettling for quite a number of folk with words like, “… We have seen Thy judgments abroad in the earth, but have not learned righteousness…” The Lutheran Liturgy ©CPH 1947.