As God’s dearly loved people through Christ Jesus, we desire to rely on God and relate to him intimately – so, we seek to be a prayerful people. But prayer does not always come easy. In fact, it’s a discipline we all have to develop and persevere with constantly. There is no shame in admitting that you need encouragement, even tactics, to help you pray every day.
In 1535, Martin Luther’s barber asked for suggestions regarding prayer. Luther replied with what we now call A simple way to pray. It’s practical, instructional, and challenging, but also pastorally sensitive (not driving its reader to despair with unattainable burdens).
6 Encouragements To Help You Pray
Reading Luther’s work sparked these six encouragements. God-willing these encouragements will result in you reading A simple way to pray, and even more so, actually praying!
1. Some Noble Scaffolding to Start With
One of the great difficulties of prayer, besides the action, is what to say. Luther teaches us to pray through the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), and the Apostle’s Creed.
One of the great difficulties of prayer, besides the action, is what to say.
So, for instance, he takes the 6 petitions of the Lord’s Prayer and expands on them. Likewise, the Ten Commandments are divided into four elements: what it teaches us, what we can give thanks for, what we can confess and what we can pray for. Then the Apostle’s Creed comes under three headings: the Father and creation, the Son and redemption, the Spirit and sanctification. A great framework to help you pray.
2. It’s Good to Pray Morning & Evening
‘It is good to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. 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.’
God graciously gives us each day and we live it as his children under his care. In our mornings, we need to feed ourselves before God in prayer more than we need to check email, update social media, or – dare I say it – drink coffee. And more than going to bed with our heads and hearts filled with the latest worldview from a TV series, we need a head and heart that has come to the Father of our world in prayer.
3. We’re Too Busy NOT to Pray
It is reported that once when asked regarding his plans for the following day, Luther replied:
‘Work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.’
I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.
Reread the quote under point 2 and perhaps like me you will be reminded of all the times life has been too busy for you to stop and pray. Let the clamour of our world stop for a moment as we sit before our Father as his little child. We all need reminding that, contrary to what we feel most times, prayer is not inactivity! It is to be engaged in activity before God, and of the kind that echoes into eternity.
4. Our Prayers Don’t Have To Be Long
By the time Luther has shown us how to pray the Lord’s Prayer and the 10 Commandments, he encouragingly notes:
Good prayer should not be lengthy or drawn out, but frequent and ardent.
‘Take care, however, not to undertake all of this or so much that one becomes weary in spirit. Likewise, a good prayer should not be lengthy or drawn out, but frequent and ardent. It is enough to consider one section or half a section which kindles a fire in the heart.’
Frequent and ardent rather than long – God is not won over by our eloquence or the length of our prayers but delights in hearing the simple requests of his children.
5. We Should Aim For Concentration in Our Prayers
‘They jump from one thing to another in their thoughts and when it is all over they do not know what they have done or what they talked about […] Thus if anything is to be done well, it requires the full attention of all one’s senses and members, as the proverb says […] “He who thinks of many things, thinks of nothing and does nothing right.” How much more does prayer call for concentration and singleness of heart if it is to be a good prayer?’
Ruthlessly kill those distractions that attempt to steal your attention and more so, your heart.
I don’t imagine Luther stands against prayers on the go, or prayers fired off in the middle of busyness. But putting that aside for one moment, how much more do we need to hear those words in our age of technological distraction? Technology has, as Nicholas Carr remarks in The Shallows, made our brains shallow. I wonder if it’s done the same to our prayers? We pray, but our undisciplined thoughts and minds wander. We allow the beeping of notifications to interrupt us. ‘Train my hands for battle’ say a Psalm (Psalm 144:1). But perhaps, to help you pray you need to train your mind, and ruthlessly kill those distractions that would attempt to steal your attention and more so, your heart.
6. Memorising Really Does Help You Pray
Luther at one point remarks that he says quietly to himself and word-for-word the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and if he has time, some words from the Bible. Yes, as he notes, he often has his little book of the Psalms or such with him. But still, I was struck by the fact that Luther has already hidden these passages in his heart. And I was encouraged to likewise have the Lord’s prayer, the 10 Commandments, and some prayers of the New Testament and Psalms tucked away for easy access to fuel my prayers.
So there we go. Six encouragements from Luther’s A simple way to pray. I’ll leave Luther with the last word:
‘[…] we must be careful not to break the habit of true prayer and imagine other works to be necessary which, after all, are nothing of the kind. Thus at the end we become lax and lazy, cool and listless towards prayer. The devil who besets us is not lazy or careless, and our flesh is too ready and eager to sin and is disinclined to the spirit of prayer.