Jun 18, 2024

John Starck


According to my calculations, I’ve consumed 79,000 meals over the course of my life. Only a few stand out: my first meal served by my future mother-in-law, the dinner where we learned of our daughter’s engagement, and dining at Wendy’s to satisfy our son’s craving for American fast food after a year in Italy. Whether or not I can remember a meal, all of them shared one thing in common: they fed me. The same principle applies to the practice of daily prayer. While only a few mornings are memorable in the routine of daily prayer, they nourished my soul.
As I read prayers from the past, I’m struck by the surprising number of pastors from earlier eras who prepared daily devotions for their people. Praying their prayers, such as we’re doing in Prayers from the Cloud, has deepened my connection with God and heightened my appreciation for our “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12.1).

In 1728, John Frederick Starck (1680-1756) published a Handbook in Good and Evil Days. This otherwise obscure pastor from Germany wrote daily meditations on Scripture and composed hymns and prayers to accompany them. His prayers addressed almost every life circumstance. In addition to morning and evening prayers, he scripted prayers for people to use in times of war, pestilence, drought, fire, and flooding, before and after a thunderstorm or going on a journey. Today’s prayer was intended to accompany affliction:

Whenever I am afflicted, I think of thee, O Lord.
To whom else shall I turn…
Hear this prayer and harken to my cry…
Strengthen my faith, my hope, my confidence,
give me patience and strength to bear my troubles.
Thou hast never forsaken anyone, forsake me not,
Thou hast always comforted the afflicted; comfort me also,
Thou hast assisted the wretched, assist me also.
When and where will be according to thy wisdom and mercy.
Be thou at peace, O my soul?
Why are you so disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet thank Thee,
my countenance and my God.
Lord Jesus Christ, great is the load under which I sink,
help me, dear Lord,
sleep not, but be aroused.
There is no one who can help me,
no creature can assist me,
and none to whom I may complain.
Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
my trust is in thee,
whoever counts on thee,
will be safe in affliction.
Thou will help me in life and in death.

John Frederick Starck, Handbook in Good and Evil Days. (Slightly modified).

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.