“Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his
disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’.”
People’s response to our book offering of Beside Still Waters: 50 Daily Prayer Retreats confirms for me how much people want to know about prayer. We all sense that prayer is important, yet we often struggle with it. Such was the case with Peter Beskendorf, Martin Luther’s barber. One spring day in 1535 Luther sat in Peter’s barber chair when Peter asked him about prayer. Peter had seen a connection between Luther’s spiritual depth and his devotion to prayer. So Peter asked Luther if he would teach him how to pray.
Luther promptly responded to his barber’s request by writing the booklet, A Simple Way to Pray. In the new age of Guttenberg, Luther’s booklet went “viral”, going through four editions in just the first year. Now, almost 500 years later, many Christians regard it as their favorite book on prayer. It is one of mine.
Luther grounded his “simple way” of praying in Scripture. In replying to his barber he compared prayer to “a garland of four twisted strands” that we lovingly present to our God our Father. Each of those “four twisted strands” is woven from a question we ask of any line from the Bible:
- What INSTRUCTION is there in this text?
- What cause for THANKGIVING is there in this text?
- What CONFESSION is evoked?
- What PETITION is appropriate?
Luther wanted Peter to take his answers to those four questions and weave them into prayer he presented to God. Luther illustrated for Peter how he frequently used The Ten Commandments as grist for his praying. Starting with the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3), Luther said he would pray something like the following:
THE FIRST STRAND – INSTRUCTION
“Here I earnestly consider that God expects and teaches me to trust him sincerely in all things and that it is his most earnest purpose to be my God. I must think of him in this way at the risk of losing eternal salvation. My heart must not build upon anything else or trust in any other thing, be it wealth, prestige, wisdom, might, piety, or anything else.”
THE SECOND STRAND – THANKSGIVING
“Second, I give thanks for his infinite compassion by which he has come to me in such a fatherly way and, unasked, unbidden, and unmerited, has offered to be my God, to care for me, and to be my comfort, guardian, help, and strength in every time of need. We poor mortals have sought so many gods and would have to seek them still if he did not enable us to hear him openly tell us in our own language that he intends to be our God. How could we ever-in all eternity-thank him enough!”
THE THIRD STRAND – CONFESSION
“Third, I confess and acknowledge my great sin and ingratitude for having so shamefully despised such sublime teachings and such a precious gift throughout my whole life, and for having fear- fully provoked his wrath by countless acts of idolatry. I repent of these and ask for his grace.”
THE FOURTH STRAND – PETITION
“Fourth, I pray and say: ‘O my God and Lord, help me by thy grace to learn and understand thy commandments more fully every day and to live by them in sincere confidence. Preserve my heart so that I shall never again become forgetful and ungrateful, that I may never seek after other gods or other consolation on earth or in any creature, but cling truly and solely to thee, my only God. Amen, dear Lord God and Father. Amen’.”
Luther reminded Peter that, just like “a good and attentive barber keeps his thoughts, attention, and eyes on the razor and hair,” so he will want to stay focused on God’s Word as he prays. Luther encouraged Peter to “let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night”. It is truly a simple way to pray! Now all that’s needed is to do it! It’s a way of praying that has made a big difference in a lot of lives. I pray it will in yours!
Grace and peace,