Monday, March 26, 2018

Luther on Prayer

Sometimes I come across resources that are simply excellent, but I know not many people are going to attempt them. The writings of Luther could well fit into that category. However, if you are at all tempted to read some of Luther, his comments on prayer would be an excellent place to start.

Inspired by Keller's Prayer, I ordered a little book containing two of Luther's Works: Little Prayer Book, 1522 and A Simple Way to Pray, 1535. Both were treasures waiting to be discovered.  The whole volume is under 100 pages, and in a modern writing style, which I trust has retained the essence of Luther's German but in a way I can actually read, understand, savour and appreciate. They are extracted from a larger body of works, and the authorial comments (by Mary Jane Haemig and Eric Lund) help the reader to understand Luther's points and flow.

I'm not going to give an extensive review. Not only do I feel ill-equipped to review Martin Luther, but there is a vast chasm of time and experience between my life and his. Instead, I'll share with you some of his words and main points.

Little Prayer Book, 1522

Luther encouraged all people to earn and know the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer:
"Indeed, the total content of Scripture and preaching and everything a Christian needs to know is quite fully and richly comprehended in these three items. They summarise everything with such brevity and clarity that no one can complain or make any excuse that the things necessary for salvation are too complicated or difficult to remember."
So the commandments teach us our failings, the creed shows us where to find healing (grace) through God and his plan in Christ, and the Lord's Prayer teaches how to bring all this to God in prayer.  Luther then spends considerable time expounding what it would mean to break each commandment and what it would be to keep each. These would bring any believer in humble repentance before God.

The same detail is then given to the creed in sections and the Lord's prayer (and shorter to the Hail Mary, which I chose not to spend much time in).  The depth of his thought brings the reader to a truer understanding of what it really means to trust in Jesus and follow him with your whole life.

Here is just a section on possible prayer on Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven:
"Your will is at all times the best, to be cherished and desired above everything else. Therefore have mercy upon us, O dear Father, and let nothing happen just because it is our own will. Grant and teach us a a deep patience in times when our will is preventing from happening or comes to nothing. Help when others contradict our will by what they say or do, do or leave rundown, that we not become angry or vexed, not curse, complain, protest... 
Grant us grace to bear willingly all sorts of sickness, poverty, disgrace suffering, and adversity and to recognise that in them your divine will is crucifying our will."  
Regarding the Lord's Prayer:
"I am convinced that when Christian rightly pray the Lord's Prayer at any time or use any portion of it as they may desire, their praying is more than adequate. What is important for a good prayer is not many words, as Christ says in Matthew 6, but rather a turning to God frequently and with heartfelt longing and, doing so without ceasing... get accustomed to praying this plain, ordinary, Christian prayer. The longer one devotes one's self to this kind of praying, the more sweet and joyous it becomes."

A Simple Way to Pray, 1535  

Written as a letter to his barber, this is more of a guide to prayer for a friend.  (you can view some of it online here)

With a wonderful starting line:
"I will tell you as best I can what I do personally when I pray. May our dear Lord grant to you and to everybody to do it better than I! Amen."
He proceeds to model how to pray through the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments in depth. There is a richness here which is so encouraging. He evens warns people against using his actual words so that they don't become rote, but rather using it as an example from which to spur you on in your own prayer.

About the Lord's prayer:
"It is the very best prayer, even better than the Psalter, which is so very dear to me. It is surely evident that a real master composed and taught it. What a great shame that the prayer of such a master is prattled and chattered so irreverently all over the world!"
About morning prayer:
"It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Diligently guard against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, “Wait a little while, I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get your away from prayer into other affairs that so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day. This is especially so in emergencies when you have some task that seems as good or better than prayer."
This letter is where the idea that Keller quotes from Luther about praying 4 ways from a passage comes from:
  • Instruction – what is the point of the passage, and what does God intend for the passage for me? This may be obvious or make take some thought.
  • Thanksgiving – praise God for it.
  • Confession – confess in response to it.
  • Petition – ask God to act, for change in me or others.
And some comments on Amen:
"Finally mark this, that you must always speak the “Amen” firmly. Never doubt that God in his mercy will surely hear you and say “yes” to your prayers. Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition which God cannot disdain. Do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, “Very well, God has heard my prayer, this I know as a certainty and a truth.” That is what Amen means." 
I was encouraged and refreshed by this volume.

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