Martin Luther on Prayer & Meditation

I just finished Tim Keller’s new book on prayer. It is at one theological, practical, and pastoral. Overall it was a great book. However, there were a few chapters that really stuck out to me. One of those chapters was a chapter where Keller covers Augustine’s, Luther’s, and Calvin’s theology of prayer through the examination of letters that they wrote to laypeople on the nature of prayer.

Martin Luther

Keller tells the story of Luther’s barber, Peter Beskendorf, who asked Luther to give him a simple way to pray. Luther sent him a letter with “rich but practical set of guidelines for prayer.”

First, Luther suggests that one should pray twice a day. Once in the morning, before anything else is accomplished, and once at night. Morning and evening prayer is a discipline that must be cultivated whether we feel like praying or not.

Second, Luther suggests that we should “focus our thoughts and warm our affections for prayer.” In order to do this he suggest contemplation or meditation upon scripture. He advises Peter Beskendorf to begin his prayer by contemplating the word…

I want your heart to be stirred and guided…rightly warmed and inclined toward prayer.

After advising contemplation Luther describes how to do it. He says:

I divide each biblical command into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands. That is I think of each commandment at first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second I turn into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.

Keller says that “this turns every biblical text into ‘a school text, a song book, a penitential book, and a prayer book.”

Practically this means that first we must figure out what the text is saying. Second, we must ask how this text leads us to praise and thank God; third we ask God how this text leads us to repent of and confess sin; finally we ask God how this text prompts us to appeal to God in petition and supplication.

So the next time you do your “quiet time” try Luther’s Four – Text method! I would love to hear how it works out!


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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