At one time in the life of Luther, there was a critical moment in the affairs of the Reformation. Bitter persecution prevailed with extraordinary power, and threatened every one. They were the dark days when faith could only cling. There were but few friends to the reformers, and these were of little strength. Their enemies were every where strong, proud, arrogant.
But Luther relied on his God, and at this moment, with his favorite hymn in his heart, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” he went to the Lord in prayer, and prayed that omnipotence would come to the help of their weakness. Long he wrestled alone with God in his closet, till like Jacob he prevailed. Then he went into the room, where his family had assembled, with joyous heart and shining face, and raising both hands, and lifting his eyes heavenward, exclaimed, “We have overcome, we have overcome.”
This was astonishing, as there was not the slightest of news which had yet been heard to give them hope of relief. But immediately after that, the welcome tidings came that the Emperor, Charles V., had issued his Proclamation of “Religious Toleration in Germany.” In Luther’s prayer was fulfilled the remarkable promise of Proverbs:
The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; he turneth it whithersoever he will.
Dr. Martin Luther has shared with us some of his insights on prayer, especially praying thru the Lord’s prayer. There’s more in his book A Simple Way to Pray by Martin Luther, but first – you can also pray thru the Ten Commandments!
If I have more time than the Lord’s Prayer requires, I do the same thing with the Ten Commandments. By taking each one piece by piece, I can more readily concentrate upon it prayerfully. I divide each commandment into four parts, thinking of it in terms of a wreath made of four strands. For example, I approach every commandment as a lesson in itself, as it is meant to be. I ask myself, what does the Lord God expect of me? Second, I find in it a source of thanksgiving, then an opportunity for confession, and finally an occasion for prayer.
Dr. Martin Luther was one who spoke his mind. What did he think about people who “pray” the Lord’s Prayer?
This, in brief, is how I go about praying the Lord’s Prayer. Like a child, I still suckle at it, and, like an old person, who cannot be satisfied, drink from it and eat of it. It is the best prayer, even better than the Psalms (which I dearly love). So it is because the Master himself composed and taught it. How shameful it is, then, to say the least, that a prayer from such a Master be treated so carelessly by so many who thoughtlessly rattle it off. Many undoubtedly pray the Lord’s Prayer a thousand times a year. And though they might pray it their way a thousand years, they haven’t benefited one little bit from it! To conclude: Together with the name and Word of God, the Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr on earth. For everyone tortures and abuses it; few joyfully use it correctly for comfort.
Pray: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Then say: “Dear Lord God, Father, you know that the world, though it cannot wholly blot out your name nor root out your kingdom, still goes about night and day with spiteful pranks and tricks, employing distortion, inventing plots, and practicing intrigues, all directed with evil intent and purpose against your name, your Word, your kingdom, and your children. For that reason, dear Lord God, Father, convert and restrain them. Convert those who shall know your gracious will, that together with us they may obey you and, beyond that, gladly and patiently bear every evil, cross, and adversity, which we recognize as coming from your perfect and gracious good will. Restrain those, however, who will not refrain from doing harm in their anger, their raving, their hate, and their ill will. Bring to nothing their counsel, evil plots, and underhanded practices, to their own shame, as it says in Psalm 7. Amen.”
Dr. Martin Luther’s advice on prayer contains much help for the believer. He shared with his friend Peter how to use the Lord’s Prayer.
Pray: “Hallowed be thy name.”…
Indeed, Lord God, dear Father, hallowed be your name, both within us and throughout the world. Destroy and wipe out the abomination, idolatry, and heresy of the Turks, the pope, and all false teachers and fanatics, who blaspheme your name, erroneously picturing you in a wretched and outrageous manner, while enthusiastically presenting their own ideas as your Word and the church’s law. Actually, under pretense of your name, they deplorably use the devil’s lies and trickery to mislead very many poor souls everywhere. And on top of that, believing that they are doing you a divine service, they kill, shed innocent blood, and persecute.
“Dear Lord God, convert and restrain such people. Convert those who shall be converted, that they with us and we with them may bless and praise your name, both in holding fast to pure doctrine and living respectable, holy lives. But restrain those who are unwilling to be converted from abusing, dishonoring, and profaning your holy name, and from misleading our poor people. Amen.
We’ve been looking at practical advice on prayer from Dr. Martin Luther. How should we start our day?
It is good practice to begin and end the day with prayer. In this connection it is well not to entertain a deceptive idea such as this: “Wait a while, I’ll pray a little later. But first I’ll have to do this or that.” Such thoughts divert us from praying. Instead, all our attention is given to the thing at hand. And nothing comes of praying….
We must see to it that we do not lose the habit of prayer and deceive ourselves into thinking that other kinds of things are more important, when they are not. Then we might become careless and lazy, cold and indifferent when it comes to praying. The devil is neither lazy nor lax in our midst. Besides, our flesh is not too eager and desirous but is disinclined to the spirit of prayer.
Martin Luther was a man used by God to bring the truth of justification by faith to the world. In seminary, one of the exam questions asked if the Reformation would have happened without Martin Luther. The more I thought about it, the more I realized while there may have been a Reformation, it would have looked totally different. Not just because of Luther, but because of the providential arrangement of circumstances. Wycliffe was burned posthumously. Tyndale was burned at the stake. Hus and Savanarola as well. Luther might have as well – except for Frederick III. Frederick III had one of the largest collections of relics in the world – over 19,000 items able to reduce time in Purgatory by almost 2 million years – and yet risked it all to protect a man who would reject the very idea of Purgatory.
Near the end of Luther’s life, a long-time friend Peter the Barber asked Dr. Luther for advice on how to pray. A drunken Peter tried to disprove his son-in-law’s boast of invincibility, and ended up killing him. Thru Luther’s lobbying, Peter was exiled instead of executed, and lived in constant despair over his foolish actions. Peter asked for help from Dr. Luther, and in particular, how to pray. This is excerpted from the Northwestern Publishing House edition.
First of all, when I realize that because of other duties or thoughts I have grown cold and neglectful when it comes to praying (for our flesh and the devil resist and hinder prayer), I take my little hymnal and hurry to my room.