Saturday, April 09, 2005
Martin Luther On Prayer
Luther was not only a brilliant theologian but also a man of deep piety The following selection, compiled from three sources, demonstrates his in¬sight into the subject of prayer. He was deeply influenced by the writings of St. Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux. Luther?s faith was lively, earthy, and practical; his logic was powerful; and his leadership skill unparalleled. As you read the following devotional selection you will be sitting at the feet of one of the most influential men in the history of the Church. More impor¬tantly, his experience of God was deep and abiding.
EXCERPTS FROM TABLE TALK, 'EPISTLE SERMON, FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT,' AND 'TREATISE ON GOOD WORKS'
Prayer and Supplication
By "prayer" we understand simply formal words or expressions as, for instance, "the Lord's Prayer and the psalms" which sometimes express more than our request. In "supplication" we strengthen prayer and make it effective by a certain form of persuasion; for instance, we may entreat one to grant a request for the sake of a father, or of something dearly loved or highly prized. We entreat God by his Son, his saints, his promises, his name. Thus Solomon says, "Jehovah, remember for David all his affliction." And Paul urges, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God"; and again, "I ... entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ."
There is no Christian who does not have time to pray without ceasing. But I mean the spiritual praying, that is; no one is so heavily burdened with his labor, but that if he will he can, while working, speak with God in his heart, lay before Him his need and that of other men, ask for help, make petition, and in all this exer¬cise and strengthen his faith.
What to Expect from Prayer
We should pray by fixing our mind upon some pressing need, desiring it with all earnestness, and then exercise faith and confidence toward God in the matter, never doubting that we have been heard. St. Bernard said, "Dear brothers, you should never doubt your prayer, thinking that it might have been in vain, for I tell you truly that before you have uttered the words, the prayer is already recorded in heaven. Therefore you should confidently expect from God one of two things: either that your prayer will be granted, or, that if it is not granted, the granting of it would not be good for you."
Praying in Faith
Prayer is a special exercise of faith. Faith makes the prayer acceptable because it believes that either the prayer will be answered, or that something better will be given instead. This is why James says, "Let him who asks of God not waver in faith, for if he wavers, let him not think that he shall receive anything from the Lord." This is a clear statement which says directly; he who does not trust will receive nothing, neither that which he asks nor anything better.
Laying the Need - Not Prescribing the Answer
From this it follows that the one who prays correctly never doubts that the prayer will be answered, even if the very thing for which one prays is not given. For we are to lay our need before God in prayer but not prescribe to God a measure, manner, time, or place. We must leave that to God, for he may wish to give it to us in another, perhaps better, way than we think is best. Frequently we do not know what to pray as St. Paul says in Romans 8, and we know that God's ways are above all that we can ever understand as he says in Ephesians 3. Therefore, we should have no doubt that our prayer is acceptable and heard, and we must leave to God the measure, manner, time, and place, for God will surely do what is right.
What a Great Gift We Have in Prayer
No one can believe how powerful prayer is and what it can effect, except those who have learned it by experience. It is important when we have a need to go to God in prayer. I know, whenever I have prayed earnestly, that I have been heard and have obtained more than I prayed for. God sometimes delays, hut He always comes.
It is amazing that a poor human creature is able to speak with God's high Majesty in heaven and not be afraid. When we pray, the heart and the conscience must not pull away from God because of our sins and our unworthiness, or stand in doubt, or be scared away. When we pray we must hold fast and believe that God has heard our prayer. It was for this reason that the ancients defined prayer as an Ascensus mentis ad Deum, "a climbing up of the heart unto God. "