Guest Post: Learning to Pray With Martin Luther

One of my college students worked up a piece for the rest of my college group analyzing and summarizing Martin Luther’s instructions on prayer to his barber, Master Peter. I figured I’d post it here for easy access and to bless the blog-readers as well. Also, I’m really proud of him.

Learning Prayer through a Letter from Martin Luther to His Barber

By Matt Poblenz

            Many people think that liturgy stifles spiritual growth, but Martin Luther believed differently. In Luther’s letter to his barber (Peter), we see how he views liturgy and bible reading in conjunction to, what he deems one of the most important disciplines, prayer. Luther starts off his letter with a quick prayer for his recipient, that “our dear Lord grant to you and everybody to do it (prayer) better than I!” This petition not only shows the importance of prayer to Luther, but this transitions him into his opening statements about prayer.

Before, Luther walks Peter (and us) through prayer step by step, he has some remarks about prayer. The main subject, in these opening remarks is the importance of prayer. Luther believes “it is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night.” He also instructs to guard yourself from business or ideas that can cause us to be distracted from prayer. Furthermore, he offers up two places to prayer: a quiet solitary place (for Luther his room), and a gathering of believers meeting to worship (for Luther Church during service). The places Luther suggests help limit the pacing ideas or business that can distract us from prayer.

luther            Luther does admit that there will be causes of emergency when the Lord’s work may have to come before a chance to pray. But, Luther instructs that in these cases we be mindful of God’s word and turn our action into prayer through the act of blessing. Likewise, Luther encourages us to meditate on our prayer and corresponding scripture through out the day and because “one must unceasingly guard against sin and wrong-doing, something one cannot do unless one fears God and keeps his commandment in mind.” Luther asks that we keep a habit of prayer, because if not, “we become lax and lazy, cool and listless toward prayer.” Furthermore, “the Devil that oppresses us is not lazy or careless, and our flesh is to ready and eager to sin and is disinclined to the spirit of power.”

After his opening statements regarding the importance of prayer Luther begins his break down of prayer. He has a simple four step process for prayer. First, one must humble themselves and acknowledge their place before God; “O Heavenly Father, dear God, I am a poor unworthy sinner.” Your opening may very, but it is important to acknowledge your place and humble yourself because it prepares your heart for the rest of the prayer. You become prepared in multiple ways, because you are reminded of God’s power, beauty, and love. Luther concludes his opening, “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 Son Jesus Christ have taught us both how and what to pray, I come to you in obedience to your word, trusting in your gracious promise.”

Second, Luther recites the passage from the bible. This part can also be a section from a catechism or a hymn, but Luther suggests use of the holy scriptures. He recites the whole passage word for word from the bible ( like the Lord’s Prayer, ten commandments, or a whole psalm). This allows structure and focus as this is what we will be praying from.

Third, Luther states a section of the passage and prays through it by expounding upon it. Luther explains his method of expounding by using the ten commandments; “I divide each commandment into four parts, as I form a garland of four strands.” He continues, “that is I think of each commandment as, first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God commands of me so earnestly. Second I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth a prayer (petition).”

He gives a more specific example of his expounding methods by using the first commandment:

  1. He firsts states his instruction; “here I consider that God expects and teaches me to trust him sincerely in all things and that it is his most earnest purpose to be my God.”
  2. He then turns the commandment into a thanksgiving; “I give thanks for his infinite compassion by which he has come to me in such a fatherly way and unasked, unbidden, and unmerited, has offered to be my God, to care for me, and to be my comfort, guardian, help and strength in every time of need.”
  3. Luther, then confesses his sins regarding this area; “ I confess and acknowledge my great sin and ingratitude for having so shamefully despised such sublime teachings and such a precious gift throughout my whole life, and for having fearfully provoked his wrath by countless acts of idolatry.”
  4. Finally he petitions to God; “preserve my heart so that I shall never become forgetful and ungrateful, that I may never seek after other gods or other consolation on earth or in any creature, but cling truly and solely to you, my only God.”

After you conclude expounding upon sections of the scripture (as many as time permits or you’d like), you end the prayer with an Amen. However, make sure you speak the Amen firmly. Be confident that God has heard you: “do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, ‘very well, God has heard my prayer; this is certainty and truth.’” Luther reminds us that Amen means “this is truth” and, therefore, our Amens should be said with a conviction that what you have prayed is true.

Soli Deo Gloria