Monday, March 19, 2012

Luther's Suggestions for Prayer

I have heard messages on prayer wherein helps were given to organize prayer and keep ones mind on track.  The most well-known is based on a summary pattern in the Lord's Prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Adoration (or ACTS).

Recently, a resource for prayer came to my attention via podcast interview (I forget which).  Martin Luther was asked by his barber, Peter Beskendorf, for help with prayer.  Dr. Luther produced an open letter for a broader audience.  His suggestions came from the basics of what a Christian should know: Lord's Prayer, Ten Commandments, and Apostle's Creed.  He recommended using each petition, commandment, or doctrine as a basis of forming prayer.

The Ten commandments section has an interesting method that might be used in a devotional way for any portion of scripture.  Here is how Luther explains his pattern using the first commandment as an example:
If I have had time and opportunity to go through the Lord's Prayer, I do the same with the Ten Commandments.  I take one part after another and free myself as much as possible from distractions in order to pray.  I divide each commandment into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands.  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 demands of me so earnestly.  Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.

I do so in thoughts or words such as these: "I am the Lord your God, etc.  You shall have no other gods before me," etc.  Here I earnestly 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.  I must think of him in this way at the risk of losing eternal salvation.  My heart must not build upon anything else or trust in any other thing, be it wealth, prestige, wisdom, might, piety, or anything else.

Second, 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.  We poor mortals have sought so many gods and would have to seek them still if he did not enable us to hear him openly tell us in our own language that he intends to be our God.  How could we ever―in all eternity―thank him enough!

Third, 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.  I repent of these and ask for his grace.

Fourth, I pray and say: "O my God and Lord, help me by your grace to learn and understand your commandments more fully every day and to live by them in sincere confidence.  Preserve my heart so that I shall never again 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 thee, my only God.  Amen, dear Lord God and Father.  Amen."
To his credit, Luther gave an admonition to not approach the matter of prayer, especially when using the Lord's Prayer for a pattern, of vain repetition:
You should also know that I do not want you to recite all these words in your prayer.  That would make it nothing but idle chatter and prattle, read word for word out of a book as were the rosaries by the laity and the prayers of the priests and monks.  Rather do I want your heart to be stirred and guided concerning the thoughts which ought to be comprehended in the Lord's Prayer.
Neither did he wish that the pattern be held slavishly:
These thoughts may be expressed, if your heart is rightly warmed and inclined toward prayer, in many different ways and with more words or fewer.  I do not bind myself to such words or syllables, but say my prayers in one fashion today, in another tomorrow, depending upon my mood and feeling.  I stay however, as nearly as I can, with the same general thoughts and ideas.  It may happen occasionally that I may get lost among so many ideas in one petition that I forego the other six.  If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, 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 learned more from one prayer than I might have learned from much reading and speculation.
The whole tract is freely available.  It can be found by searching for either title: How One Should Pray or A Simple Way to Pray.

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