In our Systematic Theology class last week we talked about Christian spiritual practices. It was quite interesting. Having had a background in Catholicism, I feel quite comfortable with spiritual practices. However, spiritual practices seem to get a leery eye from Lutherans, from what I learned. Although that seems to be changing – that’s a healthy change. Spiritual practices can really assist in our communing with God, especially with listening to God.
At any rate, we had a guest professor and he introduced us to Martin Luther’s spiritual practices. Luther actually wrote a small booklet on prayer to a close friend of his – his barber. His barber had asked Luther to teach him how to pray better. And Luther being Luther, he wrote as a way to answer.
You can read one translation of the piece – “A Simple Way to Pray” – in the link above. It’s a short piece, but very good. (Only 10 pages).
Here’s the summary version. Luther says that this method works for him, but you need to figure out your own method for yourself and go with it. Luther also says there are days when he doesn’t feel like praying and/or doesn’t have much time – so he only gives a little time. In other words, be realistic and flexible. That’s what prayer is about – being honest and open with God and some days its going to be short and testy and other days, it will be long and peaceful. Great insight Luther.
The prof had these seven takeaways from the booklet:
- The value of prayer is communication and communion with God. Both meditative and contemplation – petition and quiet reception from God.
- Memorization and repetition are important. This internalizes the prayer.
- The habit of prayer – This is positive – healthy practice. It keeps us going when we are not in the mood.
- Affection for the Lord’s prayer and the Psalms.
- Each person is responsible for our own growth. Prayer forms are the means, not the end. And ordered life in God – it requires time.
- I have learned much from one prayer, than from a ton of reading. Time in prayer shapes our theology. Our felt experience informs our theology. – Theology of the heart.
- Joy and centrality of the prayerful life.
If you want to learn Luther’s specific method, I would encourage you to take a little bit of time to read the booklet – it’s an easy read and you might just find something to assist you with your own prayer life. In other words, I’m not going to give you the specifics of what Luther did. You’d likely read them and say “Oh that’s neat” and then never do anything with them again. Instead, if you are really interested in developing your prayer life, read the booklet, not to copy Luther, but to learn from him. See what speaks to you. You may not incorporate anything from his method, but it might spark something else. Or you might find Luther’s method as a great starting point and go from there and adapt things to fit your situation. Have fun with it.
I know this much, if it becomes work, stop. It shouldn’t become drudgery and something that you just can’t wait to get over with. Enjoy!