4 Ways Martin Luther Encourages Pastors to Pray
As I continue in pastoral ministry, I learn more and more that prayer is my most essential work. Any real, spiritual, eternal fruit from my life and church will come from God. Too often we have not, because we ask not.
And yet, though I’ve learned that prayer is a non-negotiable, I’ve also learned that I must fight to stay faithful in prayer. After all, others won’t know if I’m not praying. Nobody will complain if I give up secret prayer every day. Therefore, I need regular encouragement, instruction, and inspiration to keep from sliding into prayerlessness.
Thankfully, I often find the encouragement I need in the writings of Martin Luther. As a fellow pastor, Luther provides a treasure of wisdom and insight on prayer. Here are just a few of the many jewels.
1. Pray as a justified sinner.
Luther warned that we must not think our goodness gains us a hearing with God, or that our prayers merit God’s favor. To the contrary, he writes, “We are worthy of nothing for which we ask, nor have we earned it.” Luther understood he was a sinner, but he was just as convinced that God had declared him righteous in Christ. A justified sinner’s prayer flows from “the spirit of grace, which says: ‘I have lived my best; therefore I implore Thee not to regard my life and my conduct, but Thy mercy and compassion promised me in Christ, and because of this to grant me the fulfillment of my prayer.’”
2. Remember: you are in a fight against the devil and human weakness.
Luther knew that we not only should pray, we must pray:
We who would be Christians must surely expect to have the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies and must expect that they will inflict every possible misfortune and grief upon us. For where God’s Word is preached, accepted or believed, and bears fruit, there the holy and precious cross will also not be far behind.
We must never think we are strong enough to overcome the devil’s opposition on our own. For “such is life that one stands today and falls tomorrow.” Luther’s purpose in talking about the devil and human weakness was to drive people away from self-reliance and toward God: “We are far too weak against the devil and all his might and forces arrayed against us, trying to trample us underfoot.” Since this is true, “There is nothing for us to do on earth but to pray without ceasing against this archenemy. For if God did not support us, we would not be safe from him for a single hour.” That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one.”
3. Don’t despair or try to escape. Instead, lean into your needs.
Pastors are regularly presented with needs we feel helpless to meet, problems we’re inadequate to solve, and weaknesses that won’t go away. If we’re not careful, these challenges can drive us to discouragement and tempt us to escape.
Luther suggested a different approach. Rather than despair or escape, our needs ought to make us prayerful:
We must feel our need, the distress that drives and impels us to cry out. Then prayer will come spontaneously, as it should, and no one will need to be taught how to prepare for it or how to create the proper devotion. . . . For we are all lacking plenty of things: all that is missing is that we do not feel or see them.
4. Use the Bible as a prayer guide.
Finally, Luther taught people how to pray from and through and based on the Bible. In his little book, A Simple Way to Pray, he encouraged people to use the Ten Commandments as a guide for prayer. He wrote of his own personal prayer time as an example, explaining how he meditated on each commandment, moving from prayerful reflection, to confession, and then to petition for God’s help to obey.
While Luther warned against the rote recitation of memorized prayers, he also frequently taught Christians to use the Lord’s Prayer to prompt and guide their prayers. His goal was a spontaneous and continuous prayer life, shaped by immersive meditation on the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and other Scriptures. “Behold, you could repulse the devil and all his false suggestions by basing your prayer on these three things: God’s command, His promise, and the manner and words Christ Himself taught.”
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 Luther, Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Book of Concord, 358.
 Luther, “Sermons on the Gospel of St. John,” LW 24:88; WA 45:541.3–9.
 Luther, Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Book of Concord, 448–49.
 Luther, Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Book of Concord 453, 455.
 Ibid., 444, 455–56.
 Ibid., 444.
 Ibid., LW 24:387, 388; WA 46:79.28ff, 46:81.1-4.