Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Luther's simple way to pray

It says something about the kind of man Martin Luther was that he took the time to write a long letter on prayer to his barber. I've been wanting to read this for some time so was happy to find out about this new translation by Lutheran pastor Matthew Harrison.

A Simple Way to Pray is organized around a template consisting of The Lord's Prayer, The Ten Commandments and the Apostles' Creed. With those texts as foundation Luther explains his personal method of praying that can be described by the acronym ITCP -- Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession and Prayer. Before bringing our requests to God (P) we rehearse what he's said to us in his Word (I), thank him for who he is and what he's done (T), and acknowledge our sin (C).

Luther actually writes out prayers one could say, but makes clear they are only an example of what Spirit-guided prayer could be. This is like one of those road maps that only shows the major interstate highways, leaving it to the traveler to discover the exits and side roads. I believe Luther strikes a balance between prayer that's tethered to God's Word, but doesn't become rote and formal, like the "empty and idle babbling" Luther says he experienced a lot of during his time "under the Pope."

Here Luther warns against unfocused, distracted prayers using an analogy that would have been familiar to his correspondent.

Just as a good diligent barber must keep his thoughts and eyes precisely on the razor and the hair, and not forget where he is while cutting hair, even though he may be chatting a great deal, he will be concentrating carefully, so that he keeps a close eye on where the razor is so he doesn't cut somebody's nose, or mouth, or even slice somebody's throat.
Therefore, it's very clear that if a person is going to do something well, it requires him to focus and concentrate, as the old saying goes: pluribus intentus minor est ad singula sensus, that is, "a person engaged in various pursuits, minds none of them well." So, if this is true about other things in our life, how much more does prayer require the heart to be completely focused if it is to pray a good prayer?

Luther goes on to lament the fact that the Pater Noster (Our Father) is prayed by some thousands of times without devotion. For this reason he writes that the Lord's Prayer is the "greatest martyr on earth." While Luther was writing with Rome in his sights it's easy to see that unfocused prayer is a problem for Christians of all traditions. I plead guilty! May we come to prayer with the cry of the Psalmist on our lips: "Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name!"

1 comment:

Bill said...

pluribus intentus minor est ad singula sensus

That notion has been on my mind lately and this phrase captures it perfectly.

Good post. Over the years my prayer life has been all over the map. Spirit-guided prayer is probably not a one-size-fits-all practice. And I surely been guilty of a lot of unfocused prayer.