Home > Brian's Blogs, Prayer > Prayer and the Barber, part 2

Prayer and the Barber, part 2

Martin Luther tells his barber that he should make prayer the first and the last thing he does every day.  That’s nice, but what does it look like?  What should we be praying?  Here is where I think Martin Luther’s answer is both surprising and challenging.

Luther says,

“First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer because of other tasks or thoughts (for the flesh and the devil always impede and obstruct prayer), I take my little psalter, hurry to my room, or, if it be the day and hour for it, to the church where a congregation is assembled, and as time permits, I say quietly to myself and word-for-word the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and, if I have time, some words of Christ or Paul, or some psalms, just as a child might do.”

What??  No prayer list?  No personal requests?  No fancy acronyms?  What in the world is Luther praying?

The answer is simple: Luther is praying Scripture.  Throughout the rest of the letter Luther emphasizes praying the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6 and Luke 11), the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5), the Apostle’s Creed (a confession based upon the truths of Scripture), the words of Christ (the Gospels), the words of Paul, or the Psalms.

Why does Luther emphasize praying the Scriptures?  Perhaps this section provides the answer:

“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 idea in one petition [of the Lord’s Prayer] 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.”

I find it amazing that Luther does not primarily view prayer as an activity in which we tell God things or ask things of God.  That is how we often spend our time in prayer, but that isn’t how Luther spent his time in prayer.  Rather, Luther viewed prayer as a time to connect with God, dare I say it: hear from God!  Although the language of “hearing from God” can make most of us evangelicals nervous, who among us will argue that we have “heard from God” when we are reading God’s Words in Scripture?

Prayer is not a time to only talk to God, but to talk to God and to listen to God.  For this reason, prayer and the Bible go hand in hand.  Those of us who want to grow in our relationship with God don’t need to spend more time asking God for more stuff, we need to spend time in prayer with God’s Word.

In the next few posts I’ll outline how Luther prays these portions of Scripture…

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  1. Kenneth England
    April 14, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    I never heard it put quite like this before but it sounds reasonable

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