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Hymn 493 “Thou Who the Night in Prayer Didst Spend”

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Hymn Text: Luke 6:12 ff.

Author: Christopher Wordsworth, 1862, cento, alt.

Composer: Dimitri S. Bortniansky, 1822, ad.

Tune: “St. Petersburg”

Public ministers of God’s Word are faced with a challenging task. They bring that Word to bear in a world that increasingly resents it. They must deal with many different people, many different personalities, and many different problems which Satan throws in their way. Without the hand of God at work in their ministries, they would fail in a moment. It is fitting then to pray for all those whose task it is to administer Law and Gospel; including pastors, teachers, missionaries, evangelists, and more. But what do we pray?

The hymn Thou Who the Night in Prayer Didst Spend (TLH 493) begins by reminding us that our Savior Himself prayed all night long before He chose the apostles who would carry His ministry into the world (Luke 6:12). Before any endeavor involving the work of the kingdom, it is good to call upon God (Luke 11:2). Since the ministry of the Gospel is a ministry carried out by human messengers, we pray as Christ did, asking that the necessary workers be sent out (Matthew 9:38). Thou who the night in prayer didst spend / And then didst Thine apostles send / And bidd’st us pray the harvest’s Lord / To send forth sowers of Thy Word.

Second, we pray to Jesus, the Lord of the Church, that He give His ministers the gifts of holiness, faithfulness, and an unselfish spirit. Public servants of the Word who are lacking in these areas can hinder the message of Christ crucified. Ministers acting contrary to the Word of God, not doing their work faithfully, or always doing what personally benefits them the most, may distract precious souls from hearing and believing the saving truth. For this reason the Apostle Paul gave Timothy detailed instruction for the proper conduct of ministers (1 Timothy 3), and for this reason we pray, Hear and Thy chosen servants bless / With sev’n-fold gifts of holiness. / Oh, may Thy pastors faithful be, / Not lab’ring for themselves, but Thee!

Third, we pray that the Church’s ministers would tell us what we need to hear, especially the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Christ. Give grace to feed with wholesome food / The sheep and lambs bought by Thy blood, / To tend Thy flock, and thus to prove / How dearly they the Shepherd love.

Fourth, a prayer is raised for those who receive the ministry of the Word. Those who hear need God to work in them so they accept what is told to them (1 Corinthians 12:3b). Hearers need to put away petty complaints over the spiritual leaders Jesus has given them and recognize that the Word those leaders bring is living water for their souls (John 4:14). Oh, may Thy people faithful be / And in Thy pastors honor Thee / And with them work and for them pray / And gladly Thee in them obey, / Receive the prophet of the Lord / And gain the prophet’s own reward!

There is a final petition that ministers and hearers will together reach the goal of their faith. So may we when our work is done / Together stand before Thy throne / And joyful hearts and voices raise / In one united song of praise, / With all the bright celestial host, / To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. In all, the hymn presents a model prayer for the holy ministry.

The author, Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1855), was the nephew of English poetic giant William Wordsworth, and a scholar of the first rank. The Ukrainian composer Dimitri Bortniansky (1751-1825) is responsible for the beautiful hymn tune ST. PETERSBURG. His works influenced later Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, the former of whom collected and edited Bortniansky’s sacred music in ten volumes.

David Schaller is pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sister Lakes, Michigan. He also prepares the “Bread of LIfe” devotions for the Lutheran Spokesman.