Monday, July 13, 2009

Luther: I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer

A recent email asks,

I know you love chasing sources for Luther quotes. I know he's widely quoted as saying "I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer", but I can't find a source for it. I thought I'd flick you an email to see if you've ever tried tracking a source for this one down. Have you?

If you Google search it, you'll get numerous hits, some citing the quote as follows:

Work, work, from morning until late at night. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer. – Martin Luther

I don't like reinventing the wheel. Someone else actually did a good review of Luther on prayer: Martin Luther on Prayer. This webpage notes some of the sources using the quote :

Marva J. Dawn, Morning by Morning (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 242. A variant appears on page 280 of John R. Rice’s Prayer: “Martin Luther said that he had so much work to do for God that he could never get it done unless he prayed three hours a day!” Neither author cites a source for this saying.

The entire article is worth reading, as the author presents a detailed look on Luther's view on prayer. It's probably the case that Luther did not utter this saying, but it would in fact be in harmony with his view of prayer.

It's not just Protestants that recognize Luther's profound attitude on prayer. German Catholic historian Anton Fischer puts forth an image of Luther as a “man of prayer."

“Fischer makes a distinction in Luther between the fighter and the man of prayer. The former, to his mind, is the concern of only a part of Christianity; all Christian denominations can, how ever, lay a claim to the second. In so far as he was a man of prayer, Luther was truly ecumenical. Even a Church rich in believers who are devoted to prayer (he means the Roman Church, of course) has much to learn from him.

And what can Luther teach all Christians about prayer? Two essential truths. The first is that prayer has only one valid criterion—the Word and the Holy Spirit who reveals Himself through Scripture. Luther drew all his strength from the Bible and took all his instruction about prayer from the Bible. In the same way, all believers are exhorted to nourish themselves on the Old and New Testaments, if they wish to pray effectively; there they too will meet with God. The second truth is that the Pater noster constitutes the very heart of the Christian life, and for this reason should be pronounced with the reverence and fervour due to Christ's own words. If it is said in the spirit of the great masters of prayer like St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assist and Martin Luther (so Fischer ends his article), the Lord's Prayer can bridge the gap which really separates Roman Catholics and Protestants.”

Source: Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, 38-39.

James Atkinson similarly states:

“Anton Fischer, drew attention to Luther's spirituality by describing him as a man of prayer, and showed that this is a matter of some ecumenical significance: The praying Luther belongs to us all. He is a truly ecumenical man. He has something to say and to give to all Christian communities. Luther's first emphasis on prayer was to meet God in his Word by the operation of the Holy Spirit, and this is common to us all, Fischer argues. He even goes on to say that the Pater Noster is at the heart of our prayer life, and that if we could use Christ's own words of prayer in the spirit of such great masters of prayer as St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and Martin Luther, the Lords Prayer could bridge the gap that separates Roman Catholics and Protestants. That Fischer would put Luther in the company of Augustine and Francis is indicative of progress indeed” [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic, 22].


L P said...


Thank you for featuring this.

This is so true. Luther was a prayer "warrior" so to speak.

Luther if his Large Catechism is a guide, is so into prayer. When I read his LC III, his preface on the Lord's Prayer I honestly can say I walk away wanting to pray. He grounds it in the Gospel, that God is for you even though you are such as sinner as you are. You walk away with a positive attitude towards God and a sense of gratitude and joy - it is a very prayer motivating exposition on prayer.

Luther has something to teach on this issue which will enrich the modern cafe latte Evangelicals out there.