A simple way to pray
Jeffrey D. Enderle
Learning to swim can be traumatic enough. But in the captivating memoir The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls tells of her father’s no-nonsense way of getting her to swim. He simply tossed her in the pool. If the desire to live was strong enough, he figured, she’d figure out a way to keep her head above water and eventually learn to swim.
God’s people sometimes feel similar sensations after repeated encouragements to read the Bible and do devotions. At times we just want to tiptoe around the edge of the pool. We stare apprehensively into the water and stay perched safely on the outside.
Thankfully, God promises to work through his Word: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10,11).
We also have practical encouragement to jump into our devotions on God’s Word. Five hundred years ago, Peter the Barber was an average Christian who took seriously the encouragement to make devotional practices an essential part of his daily routines. A personal friend to Martin Luther, he was frustrated by attempts to engage in this unfamiliar task, and so he appealed to Luther for guidance. Luther wrote the little booklet A Simple Way to Pray to help his friend.
Unsurprisingly, Luther encouraged devotional habits that make prayer a priority. He instructed his friend to make devotions his first activity every day. He also suggested that finding a private, quiet place would be beneficial.
But what should one do during that study? Start with something simple and familiar such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, any part of the catechism, or even any part of Scripture as a basis for your devotions.
Luther’s suggestions came from his own personal experiences. He suggested that you fashion “a garland of four strands” based on your topic for the day. Those four strands mean you think of the Scripture passage or portion of the catechism in four ways:
- Consider what your reading teaches you.
- Discover what in your reading makes you thankful.
- Think what leads you to repent and seek God’s forgiveness.
- Respond to the Lord with a prayer on what you have learned.
This is the time of year when lots of children start to feel cooped up. Parents look for appropriate ways to allow them to burn off some energy without risking their health and safety. Swimming lessons provide a great opportunity to play and learn at the same time. Toddlers can jump into the shallow end with certified swim instructors within arm’s reach. More advanced swimmers can work out to improve their skills.
Devotions don’t have to be complicated or intimidating. Jump in. Start with Scripture. It can be something simple and familiar. Using Luther’s four strands can help you get going:
- See what God is teaching you in Scripture.
- Respond to God in thanksgiving.
- Confess your shortcomings.
- Offer requests to God based on Scripture.
Whether we tiptoe into the shallow end or dive into the deep end, God promises to work powerfully in the lives of his children through his Word.
This is the first article in a ten-part series on ways to enrich your personal devotional life.
Author: Jeffrey D. Enderle
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019