Last month we introduced a little booklet written by Martin Luther for his friend and barber, Peter Beskendorf. The booklet is titled simply, How One Should Pray, for Master Peter the Barber.
Luther presents prayer as a discipline – as disciplined, at least, as barbering itself. “A good and attentive barber keeps his thoughts… on the razor and hair,” Luther reminds his friend, “and does not forget how far he has gotten with his shaving or cutting.” If he “wants to… let his mind wander,” Luther warns, “he is likely to cut his customer’s… throat. If anything is to be done well, it requires the full attention of all one’s senses….”
Luther offers his friend a practical plan, based upon his own routine. He takes a little piece of Scripture and prays it through “in a garland of four strands.” “I think of each [portion] as, first, instruction…. Second, a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.”
Strand One: Instruction
The garland begins with a strand of instruction. Luther expected to learn something as he sat down to pray. He would open the Bible or some page from the Catechism. And then he would listen – as a child might listen for the voice of a teacher at school.
As Luther prays, “the Holy Spirit preaches.” “Many times I have learned more from one prayer than I might have learned from much reading and speculation,” Luther reports. He finds that one word from the Holy Spirit “is better than a thousand of our prayers.”
This first strand is a simple exercise in meditative reflection, based upon the Bible. In our little fellowship, we often pray for unreached people groups and the effort to reach them. Our meditative reflection might run something like this…
God has a plan for all peoples (Genesis 12:1-3).
He desires to gather them around his throne (Revelation 7:9).
Jesus sends his followers to gather the peoples in (Matthew 28:16-20).
If I am his follower, I am sent, too.
Strand Two: Thanksgiving
The garland continues with a strand of thanksgiving. Now the Scripture becomes Luther’s “song book.” It enlarges his heart in thanksgiving.
This second strand establishes the horizon of prayer – and it is nothing less than the limitless grace of God. Thanksgiving sets the tone of prayer. It establishes the key. In thanksgiving, we see the baton at work in the sovereign hand of God. “How could we ever – in all eternity – thank him enough,” Luther sings.
As we pray for the people groups of the world, we find much to be thankful for. Praying through our second strand might run something like this…
God has reconciled the world to himself – and made us agents of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19).
When we share the good news, we participate in his plan for the world. He makes our feet beautiful (Romans 10:15).
We thank him for the privilege of joining in his mission!
Strand Three: Confession
Now Luther turns to confession: he learns to “confess and acknowledge [his] great sin and ingratitude.” This rustic strand holds the entire garland together. Luther acknowledges his sin – and is reminded again and again of the wonderful grace of God.
Confession establishes the evangelical basis of prayer. Our prayers are not “Christian” because of their sincerity, emotion, elegance, or wordiness. Christian prayer is based upon the grace of God for sinful hearts. Confession and forgiveness are its irreplaceable motor.
As we pray together for the peoples of the world, this strand might sound something like this…
It is not right to remain silent, once the good news has come (2 Kings 7:9).
It is not right to bury our gifts while the Master is away (Matthew 25:15ff.).
Yet the grace of God is sufficient. The love of Jesus Christ now controls us – not guilt, or sin, or inadequacy (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Strand Four: Petition
Finally, Luther advises his barber friend to voice his specific petitions.
Luther recommends that Peter may pray for his family and nation. He may pray for his children “that they turn out well and that they remain so.” Peter may pray that God would help him treat his fellows “in charitable ways,” and would grant him strength to resist the devil “when he entices us to be disobedient and rebellious.” Luther offers his friend many additional ideas, as well.
In our own prayer for the unreached, this final strand may lead us to pray specifically for issues like these…
The spread of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
Salvation for the lost (Romans 10:1).
Wisdom for rulers (1 Timothy 2:1ff.).
Help for missionaries (2 Corinthians 1:11).
Boldness in witness (Ephesians 6:19-20).
Love for one another (1 Thessalonians 3:11-12).
Faithfulness for the saints (2 Corinthians 13:7).
Deliverance for the persecuted (Acts 12:5).
The coming of the Kingdom of God (Luke 11:2).
There is nothing sacrosanct about this little outline. Luther confesses simply, “[this] is what I do personally.” “I only want to offer an example for those who may wish to follow it.” What do you think? Do you wish?