Martin Luther’s Four Strand Garland: A Way to Read the Bible Prayerfully

Centuries ago, Martin Luther created a method of praying through the 10 Commandments (see my previous post here). In Teresa A. Blythe’s book, 50 Ways to Pray, she borrows this method from Luther and applies it to reading the Scriptures.

When Luther prayed through the 10 Commandments, he went through four different stages for each commandment: Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession and Prayer/Petition. Here is a simple summary of each of the four steps:

1. Instruction– asking God what truth or lesson He is trying to teach you through the commandment.

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

3. Confession– acknowledging your sin and how you have broken the commandment.

4. Prayer/petition– asking God for help to keep the commandment.

In the same Martin Luther applied these stages to the 10 Commandments, there is a natural transition to apply this same method to rest of the Bible.

The Method

1. Choose a passage of Scripture and read through it.

2. Look for any words or phrases where God may want to give you instruction about something.

3. Read through the passage again and look for something to thank God for.

4. Read through the passage again and find which word or phrase leads you to confession of your sin.

5. Read through the passage one last time, being attentive to what God leads you to pray for, whether it be interceding for someone else, praying for help to practice what you have learned, or just simply being with God.

Let’s see an example from my own devotional reading of Luke 5:1-11, where Jesus was teaching a crowd from Simon Peter’s boat.

Instruction

In this story, Peter and others had been fishing for hours with no luck of catching any fish. After he finished teaching, Jesus tells Peter to put his net into water. Peter reluctantly responded:

“Master, we toiled night and day and took nothing. But at your word I will let down the nets.”

Peter did what Jesus said even when it didn’t make sense and seemed like a waste of time. So the Lord’s lesson for me was to listen to Jesus and trust His timing even when it seems foolish and unproductive. 

Thanksgiving:

To everyone’s surprise, they began to catch more fish than they could handle: 

“Their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.”

This may not be as obvious as the previous step, so how can I be thankful for Peter catching a bunch of fish two thousand years ago? Here the Lord reminded me of a related promise in Scripture: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). 

God did something that was way beyond what Peter was expecting, and there have been many times in my own life where God went above and beyond my wildest dreams. So I began to praise God for those special times where He showed His love to me in extravagant, unexpected ways.

Confession:

Upon witnessing this, Peter fell down before Jesus and exclaimed, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Often times you may read a command in Scripture and confess how you fall short of it, but other times you see how people respond to their own sinfulness. Peter realized he wasn’t worthy to even be in Jesus’ presence. In response to this my prayer turned into, “Lord, I am a sinful man and not worthy to be called your Son. Please have mercy on me and accept me in spite of myself.”

Prayer/Petition:

Often my prayer requests organically arise from the first three steps. In this case, I asked that God would help me believe that He would do something unexpected again in my life. But there were also other phrases in the passage that the Lord brought to my attention. For example, the text says that the crowds “pressed in upon Jesus to hear the Word of God.” So I asked God to help me to have the same desire for His Word. 

Another thing that jumped out at me was Jesus’ loving response, “Do not be afraid.” He was gentle and reassuring in response to Peter’s confession. So I asked God to change my view of Him. Not to see Him as always disappointed me after I fall, but to see Him as a Father who will receive me mercifully when I come to Him in repentance. 

Closing Thoughts

The great thing about these four steps is that you can do them in any order. The thing that I love the most about this method is that it is a more interactive way of combining the Scriptures and prayer. I have found in my own life that when I read the Bible prayerfully, I am much more receptive to hear from God and follow what He says.

What are your thoughts? Comment below!

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