The German Reformer, Dr. Martin Luther, taught that prayer should be living, powerful, strong, mighty, earnest, serious, troubled, passionate, vehement, fervent and ardent.
The Hardest Work of All
Luther described prayer as: “The hardest work of all – a labour above all labours, since he who prays must wage almighty warfare against the doubt and murmuring excited by the faint-heartedness and unworthiness we feel within us… that unutterable and powerful groaning with which the godly rouse themselves against despair, the struggle in which they call mightily upon their faith.”
“Audacious prayer, which perseveres unflinchingly and ceases not through fear, is well pleasing unto God,” wrote Luther. “As a shoe maker makes a shoe, or a tailor makes a coat, so ought a Christian to pray. Prayer is the daily business of a Christian.”
In 1535, Luther wrote and published: “A Simple Way To Pray,” dedicated to his barber, Peter Beskendorf. His barber had asked him for some guidelines on how he might improve his prayer life. In response, Luther wrote this 35-page book which became so popular that 4 editions were printed that first year alone.
A Man of Prayer
Martin Luther has been described as one of the most dedicated men of prayer in all of history. The historical records show that Luther prayed for 3 to 4 hours each day. In the 16th Century, the Church of Rome had buried Biblical prayer under layers of institutional, mystical and theological error. Prayer for most in the 16th Century was a mechanical, religious rite, a legalistic work, requiring little thought. Luther worked hard to reform prayer. He spent long, solitary nights in fervent prayer and fasting.
Guidelines For Prayer
In “A Simple Way To Pray” Luther wrote: “First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer, because of other tasks or thoughts (for the flesh and the devil always impede and obstruct prayer), I take my Psalter, hurry to my room…and as time permits, I say quietly to myself and word for word the Lord’s Prayer, The Ten Commandments, The Apostles Creed and … some Psalms…
“It is a good thing to let prayer be your first business in the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas that tell you, ‘wait a little while. I will pray in an hour, first I must attend to this or that’…Those who work faithfully, pray twice…Christ commands continual prayer: ask and it will be given to you, seek and you shall find; knock and it will be opened to you…pray without ceasing… we must unceasingly guard against sin and wrong doing, something one cannot do unless one fears God and keeps His Commandments…we become relaxed and lazy, cool and listless towards prayer. The devil who besets us is not lazy or careless, and our flesh is too ready and eager to sin and is disinclined to the spirit of prayer.
“When your heart has been warmed by such recitation to yourself (of The Ten Commandments, the Words of Christ, etc.)…Kneel or stand with your hands folded and your eyes towards Heaven and speak or think as briefly as you can.
“O Heavenly Father, dear God, I am a poor, unworthy sinner. I do not deserve to raise my eyes or hands toward You or to pray. But, because You have commanded us all to pray and have promised to hear us and through Your dear Son, Jesus Christ has taught us both how, and what, to pray, I come to You in obedience to Your Word, trusting in Your gracious promises.”
Short, Sharp and to the Point
Luther recommended that our prayers be numerous but short in duration. Luther taught that we should pray: “Brief prayers…pregnant with the Spirit, strongly fortified by faith…the fewer the words, the better the prayer. The more the words, the worse the prayer. Few words and much meaning is Christian. Many words and little meaning is pagan.”
The Model for Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms were tools which Luther considered most important for any Christian’s prayer life. “A Christian has prayed abundantly who has rightly prayed the Lord’s Prayer.” The Lord’s Prayer is the model prayer of Christianity and it is not essentially a prayer of one individual, but a common prayer that binds all Christians together, uniting us with all believers, past, present and future, whether in Heaven, or on earth, in a Biblical Kingdom focused prayer.
Praying the Psalms
Luther taught that praying the Psalms brings us: “into joyful harmony” with God’s Word and God’s Will. “Whoever begins to pray the Psalms earnestly and regularly will soon take leave of those other light and personal little devotional prayers and say, ‘Ah, there is not the juice, the strength, the passion, the fire which you find in the Psalms. Anything else tastes too cold and too hard.’”
Luther also recommended that we structure our prayers according to The Apostle’s Creed and the Catechism, to connect doctrine and devotion. He also recommended praying according to The Ten Commandments, meditating on each item as instruction, thanksgiving, confession and petition. By meditating on the instruction, giving thanks for the blessings that flow from these principles, confessing where we have personally failed in obeying and applying these commands, and as petition to being able to honour and obey God’s Word in our daily lives, would revive our prayer lives.
Luther lived daily exposed to what he called the “Anfectung,” the unbridled, vicious assault of Satan. At times, it seemed as if the whole world was against him, as well as the flesh and the devil. In the midst of this spiritual warfare, Luther’s enriching approach to prayer strengthened him. The Apostle’s Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The Ten Commandments, The Catechism and the Psalms deepened and focused his prayer life.
In his preface to the “Larger Catechism,” Luther wrote: “We know that our defence lies in prayer. We are too weak to resist the devil and his vassals. Let us hold fast to the weapons of the Christian; they enable us to combat the devil… our enemies may mock at us. But we shall oppose both men and the devil if we maintain ourselves in prayer and if we persist in it.”
Our First Priority
Luther recommended a set time for personal devotions, early morning or at night, and warned against postponing them for any “more urgent business.”
Flint For The Flames
He thought that one should see The Ten Commandments as a school textbook, a songbook, a penitential book, and as a prayer book. He advised that that one take The Ten Commandments as one’s structure for prayer on one day, a Psalm or a chapter of the Holy Scripture for another day, and use them “as flint and steel to kindle a flame in the heart.”
Praying The Lord’s Prayer
“A Simple Way To Pray” gives some examples of the intercessions Luther was inspired to pray on the basis of The Lord’s Prayer: “Hallowed be Thy Name. Yes, Lord God, dear Father, Hallowed be Your Name, both in us and throughout the whole world. Destroy and root out the abominations, idolatry and heresy of all false teachers and fanatics who wrongly use Your Name and in scandalous ways take it in vain and horribly blaspheme it…Dear Lord God, convert and restrain them… restrain those who are unwilling to be converted so that they may be forced to cease from misusing, defiling and dishonouring Your Holy Name and for misleading the poor people. Amen.
“Thy Kingdom Come. O dear Lord, God and Father, convert them and defend us… so that they with us and we with them may serve You and Your Kingdom in true faith and unfeigned love and that from Your Kingdom which has begun, we may enter into Your eternal Kingdom. Defend us against those who will not turn away their might and power for the destruction of Your Kingdom so that when they are cast down from their thrones and humbled, they will have to cease from their efforts. Amen.
“Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. O dear Lord, God and Father, You know that the world, if it cannot destroy Your Name or root our Your Kingdom, is busy day and night with wicked tricks and schemes, strange conspiracies and intrigues, huddled together in secret counsel, giving mutual encouragement and support, raging and threatening and going about with every evil intention to destroy Your Name, Word, Kingdom and children… for Your sake gladly, patiently and joyously enable us to bear every evil, cross and adversity, and thereby acknowledge, test and experience Your benign, gracious and perfect Will…
“Give us this day our daily bread. Protect us against war and disorder. Grant to all rulers’ good counsel and a will to preserve their subjects in tranquillity and justice. O God, grant that all people be diligent and display charity and loyalty towards each other. Give us favourable weather and good harvests…
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. O dear Lord, God and Father, enter not into judgment against us because no person living is justified before You. Do not counter it against us as a sin that we are so unthankful for Your ineffable goodness, spiritual and physical, with that we stray so many times each day. Do not look upon how good or how wicked we have been but only upon the infinite compassion, which You have bestowed upon us in Christ, Your dear Son. Amen. Also, grant forgiveness to those who have harmed or wronged us, as we forgive them from our hearts…we would much rather that they be saved with us. Amen
“Lead us not into temptation. Keep us fit and alert, eager and diligent in Your Word and service, so that we do not become complacent, lazy and slothful as though we had already achieved everything. In that way the fearful devil cannot fall upon us, surprise us and deprive us from of Your precious Word or store up strife and factions among us and lead us into other sin and disgrace…
“And deliver us from evil. This wretched life is so full of misery and calamity, of danger and uncertainty, so full of malice and faithlessness… but You, dear Father, know our frailty. Therefore help us to pass safety through so much wickedness and villainy…”
Warm Wholehearted Worship
Luther warned: “I do not want you to recite all these words in your prayer. That would make it nothing but idle chatter and prattle. Rather do I want your heart to be stirred and guided concerning the thoughts, which ought to be comprehended, in The Lord’s Prayer. These thoughts may be expressed, if your heart is rightly warmed and inclined toward prayer, in many different ways than with more words or fewer… listen in silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit Himself preaches here, and one Word of His sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers. Many times I have learnt more from one prayer than I might have learned from much reading and speculation.”
He warned against: “A cold and inattentive heart”, teaching that prayer required “the full attention of all one’s senses and members… concentration and singleness of heart…”
Luther taught that in praying through The Ten Commandments “I think of each Command as first, instruction , which is really what it is intended to be and consider what the Lord demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving; third a confession; and fourth a prayer.”
He taught the importance of Spiritual disciplines, including solitude, silence, listening, meditation, journaling, praying and obeying.
May God be gracious to use the example and teachings of Martin Luther to revive our prayer lives, to discipline, sharpen and focus our prayers in a Biblical and Kingdom focused way. As we work through The Lord’s Prayer, The Ten Commandments, The Apostle’s Creed, The Psalms and The Catechisms, may the Lord be merciful to revive our prayer lives, deepen our devotional lives, and use us more effectively for the extension of His Kingdom and for His eternal glory.
“Lord, teach us to pray…” Luke 11:1
The above article is a chapter in The Power of Prayer Handbook, now available as an e-book.
The Power of Prayer Handbook includes 10 chapters, 3 appendices and 20 illustrations. You can view the Table of Contents and a sample chapter of this E-Book online here.
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