There once was a time when barbers asked theologians for advice how to pray. In 1535 Martin Luther wrote a small booklet to his good friend and barber Peter Beskendorf in response to his request for a simple way to pray. In it Luther describes and illustrates how to pray-read the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles Creed, using them “as flint and steel to kindle a flame in the heart.” He was by no means imposing a rigid method of prayer, but as a guide, pointed the way toward a living encounter with God. In fact, he instructs Peter to break off his prayers—not feeling constrained to finish praying the whole section—and listen if the Spirit begins to “preach” within:
If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, listen in silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit himself preaches here, and one word of his sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers. Many times I have learned more from one prayer than I might have learned from much reading and speculation.
This is the anointing of the Spirit that John talks about in his first epistle (1 John 2:27), and this is really the goal of devotional prayer, aka the prayer of fellowship. We should not be afraid to stop, to muse, to listen, and to enjoy the Lord’s rhema word in our prayer. In our prayer of fellowship with the Lord, the emphasis is on basking, not asking. This kind of instant speaking from the Spirit is the dispensing of divine life, light, and love, and is even more important than receiving outward answers to our prayers. In this experience of prayer we gain God, not merely something from God.
At the end of his section on the Lord’s Prayer, Luther chides those who abuse this prayer:
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. It is the very best prayer, even better than the psalter, which is so very dear to me. It is surely evident that a real master composed and taught it. What a great pity that the prayer of such a master is prattled and chattered so irreverently all over the world! How many pray the Lord’s Prayer several thousand times in the course of a year, and if they were to keep on doing so for a thousand years they would not have tasted nor prayed one iota, one dot, of it! In a word, the Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr on earth (as are the name and word of God). Everybody tortures and abuses it; few take comfort and joy in its proper use.
1. Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, 43:209
2. Ibid., p. 198
3. Ibid., p. 200
We don’t have to finish the prayer, we can just bask in the Spirit’s response in us.