Anthony Ross was a rugged Scot known for eloquent speech. But an illness took his voice.
He would never speak the same way again—but he was not totally devoid of words. He could still speak. Barely.
As a result, his words had more weight. People would come from hundreds of miles to confess to him and get his advice. Timothy Radcliffe did this; he had to wait for it. But it was worth it. Ross gave him one word:
Because that word came through such difficulty, authenticity and victory, it carried him for years.
I like that story because it shows the power of words in an age when we are skeptical about them. “Actions speak louder than words,” we are told. Quite often, yes. But when it comes to words that are real, true, to God, from the heart:
Prayers speak louder than words.
We want to use our words to pray, to build up. We want to grow. But when it comes to prayer we often feel like we’re a kid in a pit of colourful balls at the fair unable to get traction. Writer and pastor Max Lucado calls himself a “prayer whimp.”
Sometimes we can relate!
Today I share some advice from Martin Luther, the 16th century German theologian who had a massive impact on Christian thought. In a letter to his barber, Peter Beskendorf, he gave some advice on how to pray that endures.
First, he suggests praying twice a day—once in the morning, once at night. (Not to limit us, but this is a guide.) And it shouldn’t depend on our mood; we pray no matter what we “feel” like doing. This helps us resist urges to postpone prayer or “get down to” other work before praying.
The modern cancer is busyness.
Second, he suggests that this kind of prayer—a kind of contemplation—be based on the Bible. Choose a passage that you know well, something like the 10 Commandments.
Third, divide each command/clause/line into four parts as you move into the prayer:
1. Instruction (consider what God is teaching you as it relates to this line)
2. Thanksgiving (be thankful for how God has been active/generous in your life in this way)
3. Confession (confess before God how you have not fulfilled this command/principle/idea)
4. Pray/Help (ask God to assist you in living more faithfully as it relates to this command/principle/idea)
Fourth, he suggests dwelling on The Lord’s Prayer—after all, those are the words Jesus himself taught us to pray. Personally, I like to think that The Lord’s Prayer is a mission statement.
Last, pay attention for the Holy Spirit. When you sense the Spirit directing you, stop whatever else you’re doing, and pray for what God has put into your mind. There’s a reason for it.
(In case you’re not sure where to find the 10 Commandments or The Lord’s Prayer here they are):
|The 10 Commandments (Exodus 20: 1-17)||The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13)|
|1. You shall have no other gods before [the Lord]…||Our Father in heaven,|
|2. You shall not make for yourself an idol…||hallowed be your name,|
|3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God…||your kingdom come,|
|4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy…||your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.|
|5. Honor your father and mother…||Give us today our daily bread.|
|6. You shall not murder||Forgive us our debts,|
|7. You shall not commit adultery||As we also have forgiven our debtors.|
|8. You shall not steal||And lead us not into temptation,|
|9. You shall not give false testimony…||but deliver us from the evil one.|
|10. You shall not covet…|
Luther was a prayer warrior. His friend Veit Dietrich wrote, “There is not a day on which he does not devote at least three hours… to prayer.”
Yowza! That’s serious. I think I have a long way to go!
But no matter where we are in our journey, maybe Luther’s advice can span 500 years, reach into today, and help us take that next best step in our communion with God in a fresh and dynamic way.
It turns out that humans do have wings: They’re called knees. Words give flight.
As Oswald Chambers said, “Prayer is not preparation for the work, it is the work.” That might seem strange in a time when we often devalue words. But prayers speak louder than mere words. If they didn’t, would Jesus have taught us to pray, or that God answers?
So let’s take a page from Martin Luther.
“God does answer,” writes titan thinker Karl Barth. “He is not deaf, he listens and, moreover, he acts. He does not act in the same way whether we pray or not. Prayer has an influence on the action, on the very existence, of God.”