Martin Luther on Prayer

Every day we have praise to offer, sins to confess, thanksgivings to bring and supplications to ask.

Luther calls prayer ‘A labour above all labours, since he who prays must wage a mighty warfare against the doubt and murmuring excited by the faintheartedness and unworthiness we feel within us.’ Haven’t you found that to be true? Yet isn’t it puzzling on one level that prayer should be so challenging. After all, it doesn’t require any special equipment; you don’t have to go to a special place at a certain time of the day to do it; you don’t need another person to do it; you don’t need special training; you don’t need to speak out loud or get into a particular position to do it. You can pray sitting in an armchair in your living room or even lying in your bed (though I’m not suggesting that’s the best position in which to pray!). So why should it be so difficult? It can only be because of the spiritual battle going on behind the physical scenes.

 

No doubt we will hear a fair bit about Martin Luther in the coming months, but I don’t think he’s featured too much on Gentle Reformation so far, so perhaps I can share a few notes I recently came across on some points Luther made about prayer.

  1. Prayer is a duty

Luther understood prayer first and foremost as a duty, because God has commanded us to do it. It’s more than a duty, of course, but it is not less. The third commandment not only forbids us from using God’s name in an empty and meaningless way – it also requires us to praise the holy name of God and call upon it all our needs. Prayer is just as clearly and solemnly commanded as having no other gods, not murdering or stealing, and we need to have a greater sense of that than we do. Luther wrote, ‘From fact that prayer is so urgently commanded, we ought to conclude that we should by no means despise our prayers, but rather prize them highly.’ Even more strongly, Luther declared, ‘He who does not pray should know that he is no Christian and does not belong in the kingdom of God.’

I wonder do we take this reason seriously? My generation and younger (I’m 42) don’t have much time for duty by and large. People like to do what they want and not what they are told they have to do. But I wonder if that isn’t that quite a modern notion – a luxury that previous generations knew nothing of. I’m not for a moment suggesting (or rather, Luther isn’t) that duty is the only factor in our praying, but on those days when we have little or no desire to pray, surely this consideration should be enough to bring us to our knees: the Lord commands it.

  1. Prayer is the hardest work of all

Luther calls prayer ‘A labour above all labours, since he who prays must wage a mighty warfare against the doubt and murmuring excited by the faintheartedness and unworthiness we feel within us.’ Haven’t you found that to be true? Yet isn’t it puzzling on one level that prayer should be so challenging. After all, it doesn’t require any special equipment; you don’t have to go to a special place at a certain time of the day to do it; you don’t need another person to do it; you don’t need special training; you don’t need to speak out loud or get into a particular position to do it.

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