Leadership Devotion- January & February 2017

We need to pray not what we feel like praying, but what God wants us to pray.
God wants us to pray as Jesus did, that His will be done, not our will.

~ Martin Luther ~

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Martin Luther, it has been said, was haunted by the desire to be found by a loving and merciful God.  A study of Luther’s prayer reveals a childlike simplicity and love for God blended with streams of joyful trust and surrender to God.  He simply, fervently expresses the needs of his heart and conscience.  He earnestly cries out to God for comfort, help and grace.

Luther was a man passionate about prayer, about the regular, daily practice of being in conversation with God.  One of the most profound (and profoundly simple) things he ever wrote on the topic of prayer was a short book penned in response to his local barber's request.  In the year 1535, after knowing Luther for many years, Peter Beskendorf (the local Wittenberg master barber) asked Luther to teach him to pray “in a simple way that an ordinary person could use.” 

After warming his heart by reading a psalm or two, Luther’s method for prayer involved praying through the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments and Apostle’s Creed. He graciously gave a caution about this method, encouraging the reader to “Take care not to undertake… so much that one becomes weary in spirit.”

This is a summary of the “Simple Way to Pray”; I encourage you to take it up in this year of Reformation Commemoration.

First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer because of other tasks or thoughts (for the flesh and the devil always impede and obstruct prayer), I take the Psalms, hurry to my room, and I say quietly to myself and word-for-word the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, the Creed, and, if I have time, some words of Christ or of Paul, or some psalms, just as a child might do.

When your heart has been warmed by such recitation to yourself (of the Ten Commandments, the words of Christ, etc.) and is intent upon the matter, kneel or stand with your hands folded and your eyes toward heaven and speak or think as briefly as you can:

“O heavenly Father, dear God, I am a poor unworthy sinner. I do not deserve to raise my eyes or hands toward You or to pray. But because You have commanded us all to pray and have promised to hear us and through Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, have taught us both how and what to pray, I come to You in obedience to Your Word, trusting in Your gracious promises. I pray in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ together with all Your saints and Christians on earth as He has taught us.”

Finally, mark this, that you must always speak the amen firmly. Never doubt that God in His mercy will surely hear you. Do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, Very well, God has heard my prayer; this I know as a certainty and a truth. That is what amen means.  Occasionally I may get lost among so many ideas in one petition that I forgo the other six.  To this day I suckle at the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and as an old man eat and drink from it and never get my fill.

After praying through the Lord’s Prayer, I do the same with the Ten Commandments. I divide each commandment into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands. That is, I think of each commandment as first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be and consider what the Lord demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.  If you have more time, or the inclination, you may treat the Apostle’s Creed in the same manner and make it into a garland of four strands.  It is enough to consider one section or half a section, which kindles a fire in the heart.

Like everything worth doing, prayer takes practice and intentional commitment.  May we lean further into our vocations as beloved children of God, as messengers of the good news of Christ, as [  fill in the blank  ] as we dedicate ourselves to prayer in the way of Jesus.

Christ's peace,

Pastor Brian Julin-McCleary
American Lutheran Church, Fairbury