A Thankful Heart is a Praying Heart

January 19, 2023

One day while Martin Luther was sitting in a chair getting his haircut, his barber said, “Dr. Luther, how can I, an ordinary person, pray without being distracted by worldly thoughts and occupations?” Why did Luther’s barber ask this question?  Because he was thankful for what Christ had done for him. Besides securing the forgiveness of his sins, bringing him into the family of God, and giving him eternal life, Christ had purchased the privilege of prayer. And because of it, this barber wanted to be a better practitioner of prayer. He wanted to know how to handle diverting thoughts and an undisciplined spirit. Sometime later Luther responded to the question by writing a little tract on how to pray. 

He starts by saying, “First, when I feel that I have become cool and joyless in prayer because of other tasks or thoughts (for the flesh and the devil always impede and obstruct prayer), I take my little psalter, hurry to my room, or, if it be the day and hour for it, to the church where a congregation is assembled and, as time permits, I say quietly to myself and word-for-word the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and, if I have time, some words of Christ or of Paul, or some psalms, just as a child might do. It is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night. Guard yourself carefully against those false, deluding ideas which tell you, ‘Wait a little while. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this or that.’ Such thoughts get you away from prayer into other affairs which hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day.

Luther’s comments are very practical. Start your day with prayer and end it in like manner, so that you not only offer up ‘arrow prayers,’ as you undertake your normal duties, but also have seasons of prayer, specifically set aside. And before praying, it can be helpful to read Scripture or a devotional to prepare yourself for prayer. But you do it because the work of Christ has provided you with many blessings—one of which is prayer. You are grateful for Christ, which leads you to go to Christ with your petitions.

Paul had this kind of spirit in prayer. Phil. 1:3—I thank my God in all my remembrances of you. Col. 1:3—We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you. 1 Thess. 1:2—We give thanks to God always for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. Paul’s attitude in prayer, regardless of his circumstances, was gratitude. And one helpful thing about gratitude is that, if we are filled with it as we pray, we will be less given over to distraction. Luther told his barber, “He who prays must be like a good, industrious barber who has to keep his mind and eyes precisely upon his razor and hair and know whether to cut or trim, lest by too much gabbing or looking about aimlessly, he slashes someone’s mouth or nose, or worse, someone’s throat. Thus, every job, if it is to be done well, demands the full attention of one’s mind and members. As the saying goes: ‘One who is scatterbrained thinks of nothing and doesn’t do anything right.’ How much more, then, will not the heart demand single-minded concentration to produce serious prayer?” This kind of serious prayer is one motivated by gratitude because a thankful heart is a praying heart.  

—Pastor Clif