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

In Christ, I Am Not My Problems

addiction-28I was talking to a buddy the other day about the benefits and drawbacks of programs like AA and NA for dealing with addiction. While there is no denying the efficacy and overall benefit of the programs, my buddy struggled with the fact that so often people in the program are trained to identify themselves with their problems. Of course, that only solidifies the addiction’s grip on our life and imagination because we live out of our perceived identities.

Paul David Tripp, again, cuts to the heart of why creating an identity beyond our problems and sins is so crucial for actually overcoming them:

In the press of everyday life, it is easy to forget who we are. As we try to replace old behaviors with new ones, it is easy to take our eyes off our status as children of God. In fact, the longer we struggle with a problem, the more likely we are to define ourselves by that problem (divorced, addicted, depressed, co-dependent, ADD). We come to believe that our problem is who we are. But while these labels may describe particular ways we struggle as sinners in a fallen world, they are not our identity! If we allow them to define us, we will live trapped within their boundaries. This is no way for a child of God to live!

There is a radical difference between saying, “I am a depressed person,” and saying, “I am a child of God ‘in Christ’ and I tend to struggle with depression.” The second statement does not pretend the war isn’t raging, but it is infused with hope. It says, “Yes, I wrestle with depression every day, but I am not alone. I do not rest on my own strength and wisdom. I have come to understand that my Creator and Savior is also my Father. I am beginning to grasp how rich I really am because of my place in his family, and I am learning to live out of the riches he has provided, rather than the poverty of the identities I used to assign myself.” It is never a waste of time to remind people of who they are in Christ. Doing so stimulates hope, courage, and faith. —Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, pp. 260-261

Instead of identifying ourselves primarily in terms of our struggles, the Biblical call is to constantly remember who we are in Christ and the great resources that come with being a part of the family of God. It is only as we are reshaped in light of the Gospel by the power of the Spirit that we are able to become the kind of people who, yes, struggle, but in Christ are defined by his victory, not our failure.

Soli Deo Gloria

3 Cruddy Reasons No Christian Should Ever Use to Deny Aid to the Poor

generous justiceThe other day I wrote a piece in which I outlined 3 ways Christians could reasonably disagree on what to do about helping the poor politically. It was essentially an explication of how someone could look at all of those Bible verses about helping the poor, believe them, want to put them into practice, and yet still find themselves voting against politicians and policies that attempt to enact long-term redistribution and aid to the poor via governmental programs. It was a plea for mutual understanding between economically left-leaning and right-leaning Christians, especially for the former not to assume bad-faith motives such as greed or heartlessness on the part of the latter in their voting patterns. Again, often-times these patterns are rooted in legitimate concern for the poor and a genuine difference of opinion on what is actually helpful to them.

Unfortunately, these good-faith reasons aren’t the only ones that people, even Christians, use to justify their voting, or even their giving patterns. Often-times there is a deeply un-Christian sensibility that informs our attitudes towards aid to the poor, rooted more in American, middle-class self-righteousness than in the Gospel or sound political theology. It’s easily spotted when the subject of taxes or charity comes up–certain platitudes and memes are tossed about having to do with “rights” and having “earned” our way of life, so on and so forth, implying that the poor simply deserve their lot and not our help. To a certain extent, I get it. There’s biblical warrant for connecting work with wages, property rights, etc.  Still, these truths often get used to justify callousness and are turned into opportunities for spiritual-economic pride that just cut plainly against the grain of Scripture.

Now, I originally planned to write a more substantial post in which I dealt with a number of these attitudes myself, but I ran across a brilliant quote by Robert Murray M’Cheyne that about sums it up:

Now, dear Christians, some of you pray night and day to be branches of the true Vine; you pray to be made all over in the image of Christ. If so, you must be like him in giving…”Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor”

Objection 1 – “My money is my own.”
Answer: Christ might have said, “My blood is my own, my life is my own”…then where should we have been?

Objection 2 – “The poor are undeserving”
Answer: Christ might have said, “The are wicked rebels…shall I lay down my life for these? I will give to the good angels.” But no, he left the ninety-nine, and came after the lost. He gave his blood for the undeserving.

Objection 3 –“The poor may abuse it.”
Answer: Christ might have said the same; yea, with far greater truth. Christ knew that thousands would trample his blood under their feet; that most would despise it; that many would make it an excuse for sinning more; yet he gave his own blood.

Oh Dear Christians! If you would be like Christ, give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and poor, the thankless and the undeserving. Christ is glorious and happy and so will you be. It is not your money I want, but your happiness. Remember his own word, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

-quoted in Generous Justice, Timothy Keller, pg. 108

Note, you may still hold that governmental redistribution of economic goods is unwise, stretches beyond the government’s actual scope of authority, and is actually unhelpful for the poor–that’s fine. But God forbid that ever bleeds into an overall attitude of disregard for the poor. Objections like these should never be at the heart of any Christian who has received and understood the Gospel. The Gospel is about a God who saves by sheer grace, giving freely of himself to the undeserving. That needs to sink down deep into our minds, our souls, and reshape the way we approach even our own heart-motives for taking the economic positions we do.

If you don’t think the government should be the main source of aid, then make sure you are giving yourself, either directly, or through a church body. If you’re arguing for what you deem to be a wiser fiscal policy, beware that any of these creeping self-righteous attitudes infect your logic and your rhetoric, especially if you’re going to talk about your Christian ethics in other areas of political concern. The bottom-line with everything is: when it comes to the poor, don’t forget the Gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria

What Marriage Is All About


Note the emotional tenor conveyed by the underline and punctuation. My wife is an expressive writer.

It’s February now, so thoughts of romance and love are in the air. As I think about my sweet McKenna, I’ve realized that great moments have not been lacking in our marriage. She’s kinda the best for all sorts of reasons–one of which is her ability to constantly surprise me.

This was easily one of my favorites so far.

Admittedly I’ve only been at it a year and a half, but waking up to find this lovely little note on a Sunday morning (right before I had to get ready for church) was a humorous chance to be what I’m supposed to be as a husband–a sacrificial servant who dies to himself for the sake of his wife. (Eph. 5) And there was joy in that.

Obviously, killing one cockroach in the morning before work isn’t an extreme “death to self” moment. Yes, it was a truly GINORMOUS beast and put up a serious fight. At most though, I had to simply swallow the inconvenience of time wasted on a busy Sunday morning. Still, most of the time love looks like the little things. Yes, the dates, the romance, the big decisions, and all of the normal things that we focus on in a marriage are key, important, and foundational. And so is taking out the trash when she asks you the first time and cleaning up beard trimmings in the sink, even when you’d rather just sit down and watch TV, or read a book–without whining.

In the end, it’s through the little acts of daily faithfulness and service that we honor God in our marriages.

As we look towards Valentine’s Day this month, a word to husbands: yeah, plan out the big date. Make it romantic–you know, put on nice clothes and stuff. Buy the flowers–make ’em classy. Try going to a restaurant that doesn’t wrap its food in foil. And while you’re at it, kill a bug or two, make sure your towel isn’t on the floor, vaccum something–seek out the joy of serving her. I’m not great at this, but by the grace of God, I want to get better.

Soli Deo Gloria

Your Preaching Ministry is Only As Good As Your Praying Ministry

Another awesome beard.

Another awesome beard.

Young ministry-types like myself, especially in the Reformed tradition, are usually pretty concerned about the quality of their preaching. We study, we prep, we exegete, we outline, and practice, making sure that our sermons are sharp, sound, and culturally-relevant (well, some of us on that last one). There’s one key piece that’s often lacking in our zealous preparation–an area that God’s been convicting me about recently–the prayer prep.

J.C. Ryle has some convicting comments on that oversight. Commenting on Mark 6:30-34, here writes:

These words are deeply instructive. They are a bright example to all ministers of the Gospel, and to all laborers in the great work of doing good to souls. All such people should daily do as the apostles did on this occasion. They should tell all their work before Christ, and ask him for advice, guidance, strength, and help.

Prayer is the main secret of success in spiritual business. It moves him who can move heaven and earth. It brings down the promised aid of the Holy Spirit, without whom the finest sermons, the clearest teaching and hardest work are all alike in vain. It is not always those who have the most eminent gifts who are most successful laborers for God. It is generally those who keep closest communion with Christ and are most constant in prayer. It is those who cry with the prophet Ezekiel, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live” (Ezekiel 37:9). It is those  who follow most exactly the apostolic model, and give their “attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Happy is the church that has a praying as well as a preaching ministry! The question we should ask about new ministers is not merely “Can they preach well?” but “Do they pray much for their people?” –The Gospel of Mark, pg. 90

Pastors, preachers, laborers for the Gospel in all forms, the message is clear: pray. Study, prep, practice, and strive as best you can to develop yourself as a minister and counselor of the Gospel. Don’t abandon the very necessary disciplines it takes to grow into the call God has placed on your life, but realize that without prayer, you’re trying to accomplish a spiritual work by purely human effort, trying to minister the Word in a way that effectively denies the Gospel of grace you’re supposed to be preaching. Let’s be blunt and say that this is folly. Remember, salvation “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”(Rom. 9:16) Instead, pray and seek to “move him who can move heaven and earth”, and wait expectantly with faith, looking for God to breath life into dry bones. He’s done it before.

I mean, you’re here aren’t you?

Soli Deo Gloria