At the start of this week when we celebrate the Reformation, we remember Martin Luther as the man who made his mark on history by changing the Christian church. We honor him as a creative pastor who delighted in innovation. It might come as a surprise, then, to learn that when it came to prayer his practice was strictly back-to-basics—he prayed the Lord’s Prayer himself and counseled others that this was the one prayer they needed.
William R. Russell delves into Luther’s love for the Lord’s Prayer as part of his exploration of the reformer’s life of prayer in Praying for Reform: Luther, Prayer, and the Christian Life (Augsburg Fortress, 2005; www.augsburgfortress.org). An ELCA pastor, Russell teaches church history at the McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta.
The book includes Luther’s writings. From his Personal Prayer Book (1522):
“I am convinced that when a Christian rightly prays the Lord’s Prayer at any time or uses any portion of it as he may desire, his praying is more than adequate. What is important for a good prayer is not many words, as Christ says in Matthew 6 [:7]
, but rather a turning to God frequently and with heartfelt longing, and doing so without ceasing [I Thess. 5:17
In his Simple Way to Pray for a Good Friend
(1535), Luther writes about his beloved prayer: “To this day, I nurse the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and as an old man eat and drink from it and never get my fill.”
Russell’s commentary provides the context for these writings, as he explains the place prayer held in Luther’s entire life and in his life’s work as a reformer. Here is an excerpt (pages 22-23):
“Prayer, for Luther, is a conscious, intentional act. At the same time, prayer is a constant reality. Christian prayer is living in and out of the relationship established with believers by God in Jesus Christ. Even neglecting the practice of prayer communicates something to God—that is, such neglect is a sort of prayer. Sometimes prayer involves conscious conversation. Sometimes prayer involves faithful and focused action in the world. From this standpoint, the entire Christian life is, for Luther, prayer. It involves conscious listening and responding to God’s Word. Prayer also involves living out one’s calling in the world.”