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What We Can Learn from Martin Luther

I’ll confess. I have been wrong once or twice in the past. [I can hear you thinking: You mean, the past 30 minutes or so? And you would be right. But that’s beside the point.] While in seminary, my church history professor taught us about Martin Luther.  As in the Lutheran Church.  [My teacher also had such a strong German accent that one of our Asian students wrote an entire essay on “The Face of Martin Luther” rather than the faith of ML. Again, beside the point.] He told us that Martin Luther is believed to have said something to the effect of “I have such a busy schedule today that I must spend at least 5 hours in prayer.” Some sources say 3 hours, but I remember 5 hours.

At first I was disbelieving. Then I felt embarrassed – I mean, at the time I struggled to get 5 hours of sleep a night, much less 5 hours of prayer. Then I realized what explained it all: Martin Luther had a wife.

Seriously. He was a monk at one time, but after being excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church for his heretical teachings, at the age of 41 he married a former nun and they went on to have 6 children over the next several years. So, his to-do list might have looked like this:

  1. Pray for 3(5) hours.
  2. Start the Lutheran church.

Mrs. Luther’s to-do list would have looked much different, I imagine, living in the 16th century with 6 kids and a husband that prayed that much. And, if Martin and Kathy (a.k.a., Katharina) had lived in our time, I’ll bet his prayer life would have been a little more streamlined, what with all those other denominations competing for members and blog posts to write and such. I mean, who has time for that much prayer? And by that, I mean actually setting aside daily time for praying alone, not while driving, eating, checking email, and all the other IMPORTANT stuff we do.

I don’t like to admit this, but I was wrong and Martin Luther was right. Even about the “I have so much to do that if I don’t pray while doing nothing else, I will never get it all done.”

Several years ago, I set up a small prayer area in our downstairs bedroom. There is a little bedside table that serves as a small altar. My prayer shawl is draped over the back of the chair. Almost every morning, I sit in that chair and pray. I grow quiet. I open myself to the Holy. Sometimes I name specific people and situations, but I try to let go of those pretty quickly because God can handle them better when I’m not muddling things up with lots of words. Sometimes I doze (I call it holy resting). Some days I feel little, but many days I experience such a sense of God’s presence that it is overwhelming. It has become a vital part of my life. And without it, I cannot do all the things I need to do. Not because I get it all done so much faster, but because that time in prayer helps me to let go of the legions of things I think I should get done, and focus on the things that I really need to do. That God really needs me to do. Like breathe. Be present with my loved ones. Do the good work God has given me to do. Sleep. Take care of myself. Appreciate all of God’s good gifts in my life. And then take care of the rest of the stuff that makes our lives work: meals, cleaning, all that fun stuff! At first, I only sat for 10 minutes or so. Now I spend more time, depending on my day. I can’t really explain the difference this practice makes, only that it makes my life more peaceful and joyful.

I invite you to try this just for a week. Find a quiet place. Open your mind and heart to God’s presence. Use words if you must. You may find that Martin Luther was a pretty smart guy after all, even if his face was strange enough to warrant an essay.