Praying the Ten Commandments with Martin Luther

Have you ever wondered what Martin Luther’s prayer life was like?

I recently stumbled upon one of his letters that reveals some of the methods that he used in prayer. This letter was written to an interesting person in his life: his personal barber!

Luther begins the letter by wishing that his barber and others like him would be able to pray even better than he does. He then discusses how prayer can sometimes become joyless and emotionally dry. I found it encouraging that even Luther struggled with prayer sometimes!

Then he lays out three methods of prayer:

1. Praying the Lord’s Prayer

2. Praying through the Ten Commandments

3. Praying through the Creed

Let’s take a look at the second one.

Praying the Ten Commandments

The first thing Luther tells us to do is to free ourselves from distractions. Practically speaking for us today, that means taking time out of our busy schedules, taking a deep breathe and turning off the noise of technology around us.

Luther then divides each of the commandments into four parts for prayer. Here’s my summary of each point:

1. Instruction– pondering what God intends us to do

2. Thanksgiving– praising God for His goodness revealed through the commandment

3. Confession– acknowledging our sin

4. Prayer– asking God to help us obey Him

To give us a better idea of what this looks like, let’s see how he prays through the commandment, You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Luther writes,

“First, I learn that I must keep God’s name in honor, holiness, and beauty; not to swear, curse, not to be boastful or seek honor and repute for myself, but humbly to invoke his name, to pray, praise, and extol it, and to let it be my only honor and glory that he is my God and that I am his lowly creature and unworthy servant. Second, I give thanks to him for these precious gifts, that he has revealed his name to me and bestowed it upon me, that I can glory in his name and be called God’s servant and creature, etc., that his name is my refuge like a mighty fortress to which the righteous man can flee and find protection, as Solomon says. Third, I confess and acknowledge that I have grievously and shamefully sinned against this commandment all my life. I have not only failed to invoke, extol, and honor his holy name, but have also been ungrateful for such gifts and have, by swearing, lying, and betraying, misused them in the pursuit of shame and sin. This I bitterly regret and ask grace and forgiveness, etc. Fourth, I ask for help and strength henceforth to learn this commandment and to be preserved from such evil ingratitude, abuse, and sin against his name, and that I may be found grateful in revering and honoring his name.”

Applying The Ten Commandments

This method of prayer has several practical applications.

First, praying through the Ten Commandments helps us to confess our specific sins to God.

Second, this reminds us that God is holy and requires perfect righteousness. When we reflect on this, we more readily throw ourselves upon the mercy of Christ.

Third, we are naturally led into a time of thanksgiving and praise. Jesus has saved us by His great mercy, despite the fact the we sin against Him and fall short of His glory everyday!

In closing, Luther gives us some advice about this method:

“They [the Ten Commandments] are intended to help the heart come to itself and grow zealous in prayer. Take care, however, not to undertake all of this or so much that one becomes weary in spirit…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.”

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