Last year I stumbled across a little book by Martin Luther called A Simple Way to Pray. The story behind the book is that Luther’s barber, Master Peter Beskendorf, asked him the simple but important question – how do I pray? Of course, Master Peter’s question resembles that of the disciples in Luke 11. After hearing Jesus pray, one of His disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). It was clear to this disciple, probably along with all the rest, that their prayer life was weak and in need of help. Jesus responded by teaching them what came to be known as The Lord’s Prayer. We could make the case that the Lord’s prayer, along with Jesus’ prayer in John 17, are among the greatest in all of Scripture.
Well, Luther’s advice to Master Peter was to take the Lord’s Prayer (along with the 10 Commandments and the Apostles Creed) and expand on it. Take, for example, the first line, “Father, hallowed be your name.” Meditate on the thought, Luther would say, of God as your heavenly Father. Along with that, think of the greatness and sacredness of the name of God. Luther writes, “Yes, Lord God, dear Father, hallowed be thy name, both in us and throughout the whole world…..Convert those who are still to be converted that they with us and we with them may hallow and praise thy name, both with true and pure doctrine and with a good and holy life. Restrain those who are unwilling to be converted so that they be forced to cease from misusing, defiling, and dishonoring thy holy name and from misleading the poor people. Amen.”
As you can see, Luther takes one small portion of the prayer and greatly expands on it, with the central theme remaining the sacredness of God’s holy name. He then moves on to the next part of the prayer, still following the same method. Just as an as an aside, Luther was legendary for his prayer life. Often rising at four in the morning, Luther would spend an hour or two in prayer in order to kick-start his day. If you are struggling in your prayer life (and I think we would all say our prayer life needs some improving), then you would be wise to follow Luther’s advice. What is great about this method is it can be applied to tons of different passages of Scripture. We can go beyond the Lord’s Prayer or the 10 Commandments to many other parts of Scripture. The Psalms are a great place to go, but I would also recommend the New Testament epistles. Paul, in particular, has several prayers in his New Testament letters. Of late, I have been meditating on Colossians where Paul includes a moving and powerful prayer at the beginning of the letter.
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Colossians 1:9-10). The prayer continues for a few more verses – be sure to look it up.
In using Luther’s method we could proceed in the following manner. “Lord, help me to pray without ceasing. Give me a heart for prayer. Give me great joy in communing with you throughout the day. And Father, help me to pray often for my fellow Christians in the same way that Paul did.” We would then continue with the next part of the prayer. “Lord Jesus, fill me with the knowledge of your will. Thank you that you have revealed yourself to me that I might know how to walk and live. May I always live in obedience to your will, being led by your Spirit at all times. And Lord, fill me with all spiritual wisdom and understanding. I want to be wise beyond my years. I want to live a life that is worthy of you, but I know I can’t do it on my own – Lord help me! Oh, that I would live in such a manner that is pleasing to you.”
Obviously when you use this method of prayer you can personalize it. You can pray in your own way, but what is great is that you have a template to work from. One of the benefits of using Scripture is that it allows you to pray in a focused and powerful manner. Many people struggle with distraction in their prayers. They have a hard time staying focused, but in praying God’s Word, I can almost guarantee you will be less distracted.
If you can take away anything from this post that will help your prayer life, I would be delighted. There is nothing greater than communion with God, but please understand that you can experience improvement in your prayer life. In teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus helped the disciples to grow in their prayer life (along with millions of others down through the ages), and I think Luther’s advice continues to be relevant to us today. Using this method of praying God’s Word is an effective way to stay sharp in our prayer lives. Why not give it a try?