Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
We appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
Stories for the Journey: Martin Luther’s “A Simple Way to Pray”
One of Luther’s oldest and best friends was his barber, Peter Beskendorf, known throughout the town as Peter the master barber. [By 1535, when this selection was written,] he had known Luther for eighteen years or more. The barber was also known and respected by the university professors and had been a “surgeon” to Prince Joachim of Anhalt.
We may imagine when Peter Beskendorf went about his trade that, in the fashion of barbers, he carried on many a conversation with Luther who, swathed in lather, could not reply at the moment.
Luther appreciated that the barber was a serious and devout man and later, in response to a request for a simple way to pray that an ordinary man could use, Luther wrote a thirty-four-page book dedicated to “a good friend … for Peter, the master barber.” In it Luther outlined a method for personal devotions which he used himself and recommended to anyone as a pattern for developing a personal discipline of devotions.
Luther’s suggestions are based on the structure and content of his Small Catechism, which be regarded as one of his chief accomplishments as an author. A Simple Way to Pray reveals a lifelong use of the catechism, not as a textbook of doctrine, but as a daily resource for prayer.
“A Simple Way to Pray For a Good Friend”
How One Should Pray, For Peter, the Master Barber
Dear Master Peter: I will tell you as best I can what I do personally when I pray. May our dear Lord grant to you and to everybody to do it better than I! Amen.
First, I take my little psalter, hurry to my room, or, if it be the day and hour for it, to the church where a congregation is assembled and, as time permits, I say quietly to myself and word-for-word the 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.
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. It is surely evident that a real master composed and taught it.
It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, “Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.” Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day.
A good and attentive barber keeps his thoughts, attention, and eyes on the razor and hair and does not forget how far he has gotten with his shaving or cutting. If he wants to engage in too much conversation or let his mind wander or look somewhere else he is likely to cut his customer’s mouth, nose, or even his throat. Thus if anything is to be done well, it requires the full attention of all one’s senses and members, as the proverb says, “Pluribus intentus, minor est ad singula sensus”—“He who thinks of many things, thinks of nothing and does nothing right.” How much more does prayer call for concentration and singleness of heart if it is to be a good prayer!
If I have had time and opportunity to go 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 God demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.
These are the Ten Commandments in their fourfold aspect, namely, as a school text, song book, penitential book, and prayer book. They are intended to help the heart come to itself and grow zealous in prayer.
I do not bind myself to [certain specific] words or syllables [when praying], but say my prayers in one fashion today, in another tomorrow, depending upon my mood and feeling. I stay however, as nearly as I can, with the same general thoughts and ideas. It may happen occasionally that I may get lost among so many ideas in one petition that I forego the other six. 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.
Nothing can be said here about the part of faith and Holy Scriptures [in prayer] because there would be no end to what could be said. With practice one can take the Ten Commandments on one day, a psalm or chapter of Holy Scripture the next day, and use them as flint and steel to kindle a flame in the heart.
A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
Lenten Round Robin 2005
Stories for the Journey
Text: “A Simple Way to Pray” by Martin Luther
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
When we think of Martin Luther, we usually imagine him as the courageous reformer, standing up to the powers of the world in the name of God and the Gospel. Or perhaps we remember him as the provocative teacher and author who wrote enough pages in his lifetime to fill two wide bookshelves. Maybe we conjure up in our mind the image of a monk driven nearly insane in his guilt, only to find relief in the free gift of God’s grace. Reformer, author, teacher, monk…we use these and many more words to describe Martin Luther. But how many remember that beyond any of these other things, Luther was always a pastor first and foremost.
As concerned as he was with huge, worldwide causes, Luther’s heart really lay in the personal, one-to-one ministry he was called from the beginning to do. He cherished his pulpit, and preached from it faithfully. He baptized the people of Wittenberg into Christ’s church, and he buried them when their days in the church on earth came to an end. In between, he married them, counseled them, scolded them, encouraged them, lived with them, played with them, struggled with them, loved them, prayed for them, and everything else you would expect from a A1 pastor. For all of his fame around the world, Dr. Luther was plain old Martin, or even just Pastor, when he walked the streets of Wittenberg. The people knew and loved him. The feeling was mutual.
Which is why “A Simple Way to Pray, for a good friend” rings so true to me. Here was Dr. Martin Luther, who had written to kings and popes, answering the simple, honest question of his friend, the barber: “How should an ordinary man like me go about my prayers?” Rather than brushing Peter off, or giving him a quick word or two to chew on before escaping out the barbershop’s front door, Luther took Peter’s friendship and question seriously enough to devote a book of 35 pages to it, not only describing how Luther himself prayed, but giving Peter page after page of examples just to encourage him. Luther wrote an answer for Peter, and the warmth and honesty of his reply won people over – the little book became a bestseller, and no doubt a great chorus of voices were lifted up in renewed prayer that year.
We ordinary people here in the fields of North Dakota can turn to Martin Luther as our very own pastor, just like his friend Peter the master barber did. His words about prayer ring just as true today as ever. When Luther describes the importance of keeping focused while praying – and the difficulty in doing so! – we know exactly what he’s talking about, so that his encouragement to keep at it is medicine from a doctor who shares our own frailties. When Luther recommends that we pray at the same time each day, lest we lose our prayers in a sea of excuses, we chuckle in acknowledgement – the great reformer had the same troubles with putting off prayer that we ourselves struggle with each day. When Luther advises us to pray briefly and frequently, we are reminded of all the times we fell asleep while trying to pray a long, drawn out prayer, and we see the truth in his words.
In short, when Pastor Luther writes about prayer, our ears perk up, because we can tell from the way he talks that he is a man who takes prayer very seriously. Not only that, but he knows that as a pastor, he’s responsible for helping God’s people pray to the heavenly Father who loves them so very much. It’s his job to teach them to open their mouths, to help them find words, and to trust in God when words fail them. Martin Luther’s pastor’s heart touches us just the same way it must have touched Peter the barber, and we are moved to pray, confident that our dear pastor will help us.
This Lent, as you journey with your brothers and sisters toward the cross, carry along in your pocket that small little book on prayer Martin Luther wrote for his favorite barber. It will make a fine companion for you, teaching you and encouraging you to explore in your own words the mystery of prayer. The God of the universe listens to your prayers. He’s commanded you to lift your voice up to him. In the depths of his love he promises to listen to every last word you utter – and to answer you.
And in case you’re overwhelmed by the awesome thought of addressing the one and only Ruler of all, God has mercifully inspired some of his greatest students to be pastors to you, sharing with you words and ideas to loosen your tongue a bit when you come to your Father in heaven.
O Lord, grant us a deep and abiding love of prayer. Give us faithful pastors who will help us to come to you. Forgive us when our prayers fall short of your glory, and stir up your Spirit in our hearts to pray for us when we forget to pray ourselves. Help us to pray more and more, until, like the apostle, we live in a world of ceaseless prayer – one in voice with Martin and Paul and Peter the barber, and all your saints and angels. Hear our prayers, for the sake of your dear Son Jesus, for we pray in his name and his name only. Amen.