5 centuries ago Martin Luther’s barber asked him how to pray. Luther responded with a 40 page letter entitled A Simple Way to Pray that has been read and practiced by Christians ever since. Last night I shared one of Luther’s methods for meditating on God’s word with our church. It’s called garland prayer.
As a garland is made by intertwining multiple strands of greenery, Luther teaches us to weave a 4 strand prayer. Here’s a simplified, and somewhat modified, outline of Luther’s method:
1. Find a Quiet Regular Place for Morning and Evening Prayer
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,
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 so hold your attention and involve you that nothing comes of prayer for that day.
2. Begin with a Prayer of Acknowledgement
… kneel or stand with your hands folded and your eyes toward heaven and speak or think as briefly as you can:
O heavenly Father, dear God, I am a poor unworthy sinner. I do not deserve to raise my eyes or hands toward You or to pray. But because You have commanded us all to pray and have promised to hear us and through Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, have taught us both how and what to pray, I come to You in obedience to Your Word, trusting in Your gracious promises. I pray in the name of my Lord Jesus Christ together with all Your saints and Christians on earth as He has taught us
I’ll typically begin my time of reading and meditation by echoing this prayer. I am usually sitting and I open my hands. There’s nothing super spiritual about opening my palms to God. It’s just a cue to my heart that I am opening myself up to receive from God whatever he chooses to give me.
3. Read Slowly
as time permits, I say quietly to myself and word-for-word the Lord’s Prayer, 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.
This is where meditation begins. You must read slowly, word for word. And do not just read. Taste. See. Hear. Meditation is sensing with the mind. Theophan the Recluse defined prayer and meditation like this, “To meditate is to descend with the mind into the heart, and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever present all seeing, within you.” George Muller encouraged us to not let our Bible reading become like water flowing through a pipe.
4. Practice Garland Prayer
I divide each commandment into four parts, thereby fashioning a garland of four strands. That is, I think of each commandment as first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer.
Luther applies the garland concept specifically to the Ten Commandments, but it can be applied to any passage. When you read the passage ask two simple questions to find the instruction:
- What does this teach me about God/Christ?
- What does this say about who I am or who I should be?
Here’s an example of taking a short passage and practicing the garland method:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Instruction: Our Father. Jesus doesn’t say, “My Father.” He says, “Our.” Now what does that mean? It means that we aren’t just saved as individuals. We’re saved into a family. We have brothers and sisters in Christ.
Thanksgiving: Thank you God, that you’ve given me a family. I don’t have to be alone in this world because of what you’ve done!
Confession: Forgive me God, some of my brothers and sisters irritate me. I don’t like being around them, and I certainly don’t feel like loving them in your name. Jesus died for me just as much as them. Forgive me.
Supplication: Make me more aware and thankful for my family in you. Change my heart towards that family member I can’t stand. Give me an opportunity to serve them in love
5. When Your Heart Begins to Flood with Goodness, Stop. Do Not Move On.
If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, listen in silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit Himself preaches here, and one word of His sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers.
6. Proceed with Vocal Prayer
Having devoted yourself to meditating on God’s Word, then move on to normal, vocal prayer. Pray through your requests.
When you practice this method your Bible reading will cease being like water running through a pipe.