“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” -Martin Luther
In 1535, Martin Luther wrote “A Practical Way to Pray.” In this theological essay, Luther breaks down his philosophy of prayer highlighting things like when one should pray, what one should pray, and how one should pray. When I pray, I often try to say too much, try to be super eloquent, or even approach prayer with an unprepared heart. Here’s what Luther says about how we ought to pray:
- Make sure your heart is ready
“It is of great importance that the heart be made ready and eager for prayer,” writes Luther. He also writes, “It is now clear to me that a person who forgets what he has said has not prayed well.” It’s so easy to fall into the habit of uttering haphazard prayers to God, especially if you’re trying to cram prayer time into your busy day.
Personally, I know I’m extremely guilty of praying to God when my mind is in a hundred different places, or even when I’m multitasking. I don’t think Luther is trying to discourage Christians from directing their hearts and minds to God throughout the day, but he is trying to emphasize the importance of preparing your heart for intentional, focused prayer.
Some things that Luther suggests in order to prepare your heart for prayer include reading through the Ten Commandments or going through the Lord’s Prayer. Ultimately, Luther identifies reading Scripture as the best way to prepare your heart for prayer.
- Prayer should be the first and last part of your day
Practically speaking, making prayer the first and last part of your day is important simply because you might forget to do it otherwise.
Luther writes, “Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, ‘Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.’ Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day.”
- Use your own words
While he outlines a way to pray through the Lord’s Prayer in his essay, Luther also writes, “You should also know that I do not want you to recite all these words in your prayer.”
“I want your heart to be stirred and guided concerning the thoughts which ought to be comprehended in the Lord’s Prayer,” he writes. “These thoughts may be expressed, if your heart is rightly warmed and inclined toward prayer, in many different ways and with more words or fewer. 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.”
Through his emphasis on setting aside intentional prayer time and purposefully preparing your heart for prayer, Luther is trying to show us the beauty and power of prayer. Each time we pray it is a new and unique encounter with God. Thus, by mindlessly saying the same words every time you are cheating yourself of the full experience of what prayer is—deeply and intimately communicating with God.
Luther’s essay “A Practical Way to Pray” emphasizes setting aside intentional time to pray, purposefully preparing your heart for prayer, and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide your words.
Try focusing on these three prayer ideas this week and see how your prayer life changes.