Martin Luther’s Influence on My Prayer Life

I was once interviewed about my co-edited book Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (2011). The interviewer asked me this question: Which one of these godly men has influenced your prayers the most. Here’s my reply:takinghold-3d


Allow me to give you two: Martin Luther (one from the Reformers) and John Bunyan (one from the Puritans). These two men have profoundly shaped my spirituality, particularly my prayer life. For example, they taught me to maintain the priority of prayer. Luther once said, “I have so much scheduled for tomorrow I must pray for that I must arise an hour earlier to have an extra hour alone with God” (p. 224). Similarly, Bunyan wrote, “You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed” (p. 231). How often we do the opposite and only set apart a little time to pray because we are too busy in our work. May we capture the prayer life of Luther who “Even in the busiest periods of the Reformation,” says Andrew W. Kosten, “averaged two hours of prayer daily” (p. 24). And how true that we accomplish little because we do not pray to God for help. This is basically the point of James: “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). I am more and more convinced that behind the effectiveness of these men in the ministry was their powerful prayer life.

John Bunyan Martin Luther Prayer

Five Kinds of Hearers of God’s Word

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22-25)

1. Mr. Blind. He is blind and thus unable to see the spots on his face in a mirror. Others see his flaws but he cannot see them because of his spiritual blindness. He is so blind that he calls evil good and good evil. He is living in sin and is not bothered by his sinful life.

2. Mr. Afraid. He knows that he has some spots on his face but is afraid to look at them in a mirror. He is like a person who knows that he has a health problem but is afraid to see a doctor for a checkup. Mr. Afraid cannot accept reality; he tries to avoid the truth. He does not want to be confronted by God’s Word.

3. Mr. Self-righteous. He looks at his face in a mirror and notices some spots but he does not do anything about his face. He is self-deceived. He deceives himself by thinking that he is good when in fact he is bad. He thinks that he is good enough to go to heaven. When corrected to change his wicked behavior, he reasons, “I don’t need to change. My neighbor does, but not me.”

4. Mr. Pessimistic. He looks at his face in a mirror and sees his blemishes and thinks that they are too great to be washed. Mr. Pessimistic knows that he is a sinner, but he thinks that his sins are too great to be forgiven. He dwells on his misery. He despairs, saying, “I am too sinful to be saved.” Mr. Pessimistic needs to learn from the German reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546):

Because you say I am a sinner, I will be righteous and saved….I fly to Christ who has given himself for my sins. Therefore, Satan, you will not prevail against me when you try to terrify me by telling me how great my sins are….On the contrary, when you say I am a sinner, you give me armor and a weapon against yourself…for Christ died for sinners….You do not terrify me but comfort me immeasurably

The Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne reminds us, “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”

5. Mr. Wise. He looks at his face and sees his spots in a mirror and cleanses his face. That is, upon noticing his sins through God’s Word, he comes to God for forgiveness. He prays with the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” James says that this kind of person will be blessed (v. 25).

Which kind of hearer are you?

Note: This post is a slightly edited excerpt from the message, “Be Doers of God’s Word,” delivered on February 10, 2013 at Dutton URC.

Bible Martin Luther Robert Murray M’Cheyne

When you pray, do you always pray to the Father in the name of the Son?

While I normally offer my prayer to the Father, in the name of Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit, sometimes I address my prayer to the Spirit and sometimes to the Son. The German Protestant Reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) said that when we pray to Jesus, we “need not worry that the Father and the Holy Spirit will be angry on this account. They know that no matter which Person [we] call upon, [we] call upon all three Persons and upon the One God at the same time. For [we] cannot call upon one Person without calling upon the others, because the one, undivided divine Essence exists in all and in each Person.” In his treatise Communion with God (1657), the Puritan theologian John Owen (1616-1683) encouraged us to fellowship with each person of the Trinity. Indeed, our prayer should be trinitarian. In our prayer, we can say with the Puritan pastor Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) “I don’t know which Person of the Trinity I love the most, but this I know, I love each of them, and I need them all.”    


To learn more how to pray, see these books:

Co-edited with Joel R. Beeke, Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011).

The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality (Mountain Home: Ark.: BorderStone Press 2012)

John Owen Martin Luther Prayer Samuel Rutherford

Prayer—“the hardest work of all”

Studying the subject of prayer has made me more aware of two basic truths: first, because of my indwelling sin, my soul acts unfriendly toward prayer; and second, because of my indwelling sin, I absolutely need the Holy Spirit’s assistance in order for me to pray.

Prayer is such a difficult work that it requires strong discipline. Martin Luther (1483-1546) is not exaggerating when he declares that prayer is “the hardest work of all.” I am not embarrassed to admit that sometimes I find it more enjoyable to play basketball than to pray to God. Sometimes prayer becomes more of a burden than a joy to me. Writing in his treatise I Will Pray with the Spirit (1662), John Bunyan (1628-1688) understands what I mean here when he says:

May I but speak my own experience, and from that tell you the difficulty of praying to God as I ought; it is enough to make you poor, blind, carnal men, to entertain strange thoughts of me. For, as for my heart, when I go to pray, I find it so loath [unwilling] to go to God, and when it is with him, so loath [unwilling] to stay with him, that many times I am forced in my prayers; first to beg of God that he would take mine heart, and set it on himself in Christ, and when it is there, that he would keep it there (Psalm 86:11). Nay, many times I know not what to pray for, I am so blind, nor how to pray, I am so ignorant; only (blessed be grace) the Spirit helps our infirmities [Rom. 8:26].    

Michael Haykin, commenting on this quote, notes, “From personal experience, Bunyan well knew the allergic reaction of the old nature to the presence of God. So were it not for the Spirit, none would be able to persevere in prayer.” Since my indwelling sin makes me unfriendly and even ignorant towards the necessity of prayer, I desperately need the help of the Spirit. Why? Because in the words of Bunyan, a “man without the help of the Spirit cannot so much as pray once; much less, continue…in a sweet praying frame.”

O my blessed Holy Spirit give me more grace to pray!




Holy Spirit John Bunyan Martin Luther Prayer

Martin Luther on Prayer and Reformation

Even in the busiest periods of the Reformation Luther averaged two hours of prayer daily.

—   Andrew W. Kosten

Not only was Martin Luther (1483–1546) the great Protestant Reformer, he was a great man of prayer as well. As he explains, prayer was foundational for his soul’s well-being: “Prayer includes every pursuit of the soul, in meditation, reading, listening, [and] praying.” Andrew Kosten suggests that “to know…Luther at his best, one must become acquainted with him as a man of devotion.” Thus, to some degree, to study Luther and his theology apart from his spirituality in general and his practice of prayer in particular is to miss the context of his whole personality both as a Reformer and theologian. After showing that prayer is an important key to understanding Luther as a Reformer and theologian, this chapter will address Luther’s basic theology of prayer, his trinitarian emphasis in prayer, and his personal prayer life.


Click here to read my entire article.

Martin Luther Piety Prayer Reformer Spirituality