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When asked by his barber and good friend, Peter Beskendorf, for some practical guidance on how to prepare oneself for prayer, Luther responded by writing this brief treatise, first published in the spring of 1535. After 500 years, his instruction continues to offer words of spiritual nurture for us today.
Posted October 12, 2000
A Simple Way to Pray is an excerpt from volume 43 of the American Edition of Luther's Works. In that sense nothing new is in this book; that does not mean the book is worth little. Luther explains and shows how on can pray The Our Father (Lord's Prayer), the Ten Commandments, and the Creed. Surely, anyone can repeat these, but Luther entreats the reader to approach each Commandment (or petition) as a fourfold garland: a schoolbook, a hymnal, a penitential book, and a book of prayer. For example, for the 5th Commandment, 'You must not murder,' Luther writes: [Garland 1] Here I learn, first of all, that God desires me to love my neighbor, so that I do him no bodily harm . . . that I am obliged to assist and counsel him in every bodily need. [Garland 2] I give thanks for such ineffable love, providence, a faithfulness toward me by which he has placed this mighty shield and wall to protect my physical safety. [Garland 3] I confess and lament my own wickedness and that of the world, not only that we are so terribly ungrateful for such fatherly love and solicitude toward us-but what is especially scandalous, that we do not acknowledge this commandment and teaching, are unwilling to learn it, and neglect it as though it did not concern us or we had no part in it. [Garland 4] I pray dear Father to lead us to an understanding of this his sacred commandment and to help us keep it and live in accordance with it. This is an abbreviated version of each garland, for Luther writes more in depth on each fourfold area. I found myself praying some of what Luther wrote as I read it, realizing that I do not pray as I would like. I this era when many do not pray, or pray ineffectually, this book teaches us the hows and the why. In the same way that children must be taught to speak properly, so, too, must the Christian be taught-for Jesus Himself gave the Our Father for that very purpose. Prayer is a result of what God has done for us, for without God's mercy and granting of faith, what person would have the desire to pray to the one, true God? Prayer is never a work that one does for God. God speaks to us in His Word, and we speak to Him in prayer. This little book can easily be read in one sitting; yet, one may want to reread it often! The book's only fault, which is minor, is that the translation seems wooden and stilted to the modern ear. For instance, Pg. 32 reads: 'It seems to me that if someone could see what arises as prayer from cold and unattentive heart he would conclude that he had never seen a more ridiculous kind of buffoonery.' See how much crisper this translation reads from By Faith Alone: 'If it were possible to see into a person's heart, nothing would be more ridiculous than seeing the thoughts of a cold, undevoted heart in prayer.' Because of this sometimes wooden translation style, this book garners four stars instead of five. Nonetheless, do not let the awkward turn of a phrase keep you from buying, reading, and rereading this book. This book has value to any Christian desiring to learn how to pray better; 'It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night.' (Pg. 18) In your grace and mercy, dear Father, make this so.
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