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TEXT: Luke 18:1
SUBJECT: Luther on Prayer #1
Tonight, with the Lord's help, we'll start a new Puritan study using the book of a man who was not a Puritan-but was the forerunner of the movement and without whom Puritanism is hard to imagine. The man is Dr. Martin Luther.
If you know his the story at all, you know he was a great man-a very great man. No one had more courage or patience than he; and no one worked harder and with less concern for fame and money than Luther did. He was a great man.
But the man's greatness was supported by something better than greatness. And that is sincere, deep, and lasting piety. Luther was a great man, but more than that, he was a good man. He was a first-rate scholar, preacher, and reformer, but most of all he was a saint.
This means he was committed to prayer. He "prayed without ceasing". Now it's your turn and mine. Every believer knows he ought to pray and many of us are ashamed of ourselves for how little we pray and how feeble the prayers are we manage to get out.
If you feel this way, you have to know, you're not alone: the disciples of Christ were brought up in Judaism and trained to pray from infancy, and yet even they had to say,
"Lord, teach us to pray".
Which He did by giving them the Lord's Prayer as a model for their own daily devotions. One day, while getting a haircut, Martin Luther got the same request. It came from his barber and old friend, Peter Beskendorf.
Beskendorf, it seems, was a very devout man and highly intelligent, and yet he had a hard time keeping up his prayer life. Luther felt for the dear man and wrote him a letter explaining how to pray better. In print, the letter is about thirty pages long! That's how much Luther loved his barber and how much he wanted to help his prayer life.
This is the booklet we're going to study for the next few weeks, the Lord willing. Published in 1535, it's called A Simple Way to Pray, for a Good Friend.
You can get the whole thing in Luther's Works Volume 43 or a very fine short version with comment titled Martin Luther's Quiet Time, edited by Walter Trobisch. If you like to read, get the book; if you don't like to read, get the booklet.
Luther has a lot to say on the subject-and some of it is quite detailed. But before he gets to that, he lays down some general principles for keeping up a good, warm, prayer life. We have just one quote tonight-but it's so packed, we could spend a dozen sermons on it. Here's the quote:
"It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business in the morning and the last in the evening. Guard yourself against such false and deceitful thoughts that keep whispering: `Wait a while, in an hour or so I will pray. I must first finish this or that'. Thinking such thoughts we get away from prayer into other things that will hold us and involve us till prayer comes to naught. We have to watch out so that we may not get weaned from prayer by fooling ourselves that a certain job is more urgent, which it really isn't, and finally, we get sluggish, lazy, cold, and weary. But the devil is neither sluggish nor lazy around us".
MAKE A SCHEDULE
He begins by saying that good praying requires a schedule. When it comes to anything else worth doing, we know this. If a man wants to get in shape, he has to work out. But unless he has a certain time blocked off for exercise, he won't do it-at least not very well. The same is true of work: If you could set your own hours-with no one to answer to-how many hours a week would you work? You'd like to think you're self-motivated and would do a good job without a schedule, but would you? Very few of us would. Schedules provide the discipline (or pressure) to get things done.
What's true of work and exercise is-if anything-even more true of your prayer life. Unless you have set times to pray (Luther says morning and night are best), you won't much get into the habit of prayer and, frankly, you won't pray very much or very well.
Other things are scheduled-and pretty much kept to: work, vacation, cooking, cleaning, even time for TV! Why should prayer be left off the list? I know what our excuse is: prayer is not like working or cooking or exercising. It's more spiritual than these other things. That's true, of course, which means we ought to schedule it more carefully than other things-and not less!
Let me give you an illustration. My father has been church treasurer for more than fifty years. During that time he has seen two kinds of "givers": disciplined and emotional. The emotional giver will get worked up for a special need or at powerful sermon and make a big splashy gift. The disciplined giver is less excitable, but he simply tithes every week. In almost every case, the boring, consistent tither will give far more in a year than the most enthusiastic impulse giver!
I'm an emotional person and have often prayed with tears and laughter and all kinds of excitement. But emotions have not carried my prayer life over the years, for-no matter how hard I try-I can't keep them up for long. No one can. Thus, you ought to commit yourself to praying-no matter how you feel-at certain times of the day and stick to it.
REMEMBER THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER
The next thing to do is to remember the importance of prayer. Luther knew his barber-and everyone else-have other things to do. And some of these "other things" are highly important. But he denies that they are more important than the habit of prayer.
He allows for emergencies, of course, but emergencies, by their very nature, are rare and not foreseeable. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, do you think the Priest or Levite should have postponed his religious duties to help a dying man? Of course he should have! The Lord "Desires mercy and not sacrifice".
But setting aside emergencies, nothing is more important than praying-nothing at all! This means other things can wait. We all assent to this, but do we put it into practice? Or, when the demands of life pile up, do we lay aside prayer in favor of other things?
Some interruptions are unavoidable. The mother is trying to pray in the morning, when her little boy comes in vomiting. Should she send him away till her devotions are over? Not at all. But other interruptions are the result of bad planning. The same mother is praying one morning when her little boy comes in saying, "Mom, my school clothes are all dirty!" They didn't get dirty that morning. Had the mother paid attention to the laundry, the interruption wouldn't have occurred and she could have finished her prayers in peace.
Nothing is easier to neglect or put off than prayer. Yet, the fact of the matter is, you can get to heaven without answering the phone or washing the breakfast dishes by eight. What you can't do is get to heaven without prayer. Arthur W. Pink said somewhere,
"A prayerless Christian is a contradiction in terms. What breath is to the body, prayer is to the soul. The body without breath is dead and the soul without prayer is also dead".
Most people are ruled by circumstances. As disciples of Christ, we're to submit to a higher Lordship. If prayer is more important than other things, you ought to arrange your time as though it is.
When other things barge into your prayer time-and take it over-Luther says it won't be long till you're weaned from it. That is, like a baby gets used to not having his mother's milk-and then doesn't want it-so the believer gets used to not praying-and soon finds it a burden or a chore and pretty much gives it up.
RESPECT THE DEVIL
The last thing we'll touch on tonight is the devil's work in hindering our prayers. Luther knows that we're prone to get sluggish and lazy in our devotion, but then reminds us that "The devil is neither lazy nor sluggish around us".
Have you ever tried to box? I did once-and I sure didn't' like it. Training was hard, but sort of fun. Jumping rope, hitting the bag, shadow boxing, and so on. But the reason these things were fun-I found out later-is because I had no opponent. My left jab and right uppercut are very impressive when there's no one punching back!
But when I got in the ring I found boxing far less fun and a lot more painful! Somebody else was hitting back!
Apply this to your prayer life: If there were no one there to oppose you, it would take little effort to pray. I suppose Adam and Eve found praying as easy as breathing or eating or sleeping or other things we do every day. But there is someone there to oppose you-Satan! He does everything in his power to get you to put off prayer (intending to do it later) or to mumble through your prayers without thought, love, or faith or to start thinking of other things when you're at your devotions.
I hate yard work! Yet I've found that the minute I start praying seriously, it occurs to me that the lawn needs mowing! The devil is behind this!
If Satan is trying to keep you from praying, you need to do what? You need to resist him and that takes real, concentrated effort.
SUMMARY AND CLOSE
Martin Luther was a Doctor of Theology. He knew the Bible in Greek and Hebrew; he was an expert in doctrine, and well-trained in Church History. But when he told his barber how to pray, he went to his own example. This is how he prayed. And Luther was one of the Church's greatest men of prayer. What did he think was key to a good prayer life? Thus far, we've looked at three things, things easy to remember and things you ought to put into practice-starting tonight! They are:
So, how's your prayer life? If it's not so good, why don't you learn from a man who prayed well? Follow Dr. Luther as he follows the Lord. And the love of God be with you. Amen.
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