Martin Luther’s Haircut
I’m a typical man: I like to get my haircuts over and done with as quickly as possible. As far as visits to the barbers are concerned, my sympathies are with Martin Luther when he was a monk: his haircut would have been short, simple, and easily done. But when the light of the gospel broke through, and Luther left his monastic past and married his beloved Katie, his haircuts inevitably took more time. And one of the consequences was that Luther made friends with his barber, Peter Beskendorf, a friendship that bore the most beautiful fruit.
Because in 1535 Luther was having his haircut and shave, when Peter asked him how he could pray. And so the great reformer Martin Luther went home, put aside all his profound works of theology, put aside his letters to princes and kings, and wrote A Simple Way to Pray: for Master Peter the Barber. It’s only a little book, really an extended letter. But of all Luther’s works it is perhaps the most helpful for us today.
A Simple Way to Pray is a beautifully simple book. Luther tells Peter how he himself prayed. Every morning and evening, and if he felt spiritually cold, he would take a passage from the Bible, maybe the Lord’s Prayer or the Ten Commandments or one of the Psalms, or the Apostles’ Creed, and turn it into prayer. He would first recite it aloud. Then he would go through the passage line by line, and do four things with it. First he would turn it into instruction, and consider what the Lord was saying to him. Second, he would turn it into thanksgiving, and thank the Lord for what he had seen in the text. Third, he would turn it into confession, and repent of whatever sins the text had revealed to him. Fourth, he would turn it into petition, and let the text prompt and guide his requests, both for himself and for others. Matthew Harrison uses the letters ITCP to help us remember Luther’s method: Instruction, Thanksgiving, Confession, Petition. Anyone can do this: all it needs is a quiet place and a Bible. Here is how Luther prayed the first commandment:
The First Commandment: You Shall Have No Other Gods
I do so in thoughts or words such as these: “I am the Lord your God, etc. You shall have no other gods before me,” etc. Here I earnestly consider that God expects and teaches me to trust him sincerely in all things and that it is his most earnest purpose to be my God. I must think of him in
this way at the risk of losing eternal salvation. My heart must not build upon anything else or trust in any other thing, be it wealth, prestige, wisdom, might, piety, or anything else.
Second, I give thanks for his infinite compassion by which he has come to me in such a fatherly way and, unasked, unbidden, and unmerited, has offered to be my God, to care for me, and to be my comfort, guardian, help, and strength in every time of need. We poor mortals have sought
so many gods and would have to seek them still if he did not enable us to hear him openly tell us in our own language that he intends to be our God. How could we ever-in all eternity-thank him enough!
Third, I confess and acknowledge my great sin and ingratitude for having so shamefully despised such sublime teachings and such a precious gift throughout my whole life, and for having fearfully
provoked his wrath by countless acts of idolatry. I repent of these and ask for his grace.
Fourth, I pray and say: “O my God and Lord, help me by thy grace to learn and understand thy commandments more fully every day and to live by them in sincere confidence. Preserve my heart so that I shall never again become forgetful and ungrateful, that I may never seek after other gods or other consolation on earth or in any creature, but cling truly and solely to thee, my only God. Amen, dear Lord God and Father. Amen.”
A Simple Way to Pray is also a beautifully biblical book. Rather than praying for what we think is best, or wondering what we should say, following Luther’s way means that we let God guide us, and pray for what he thinks is most important. That gives us great assurance that God will answer our prayer.
Matthew Harrison introduces Luther’s way of prayer here:
A Simple Way to Pray is widely available on the internet as a pdf, in both German and English:
And finally, RC Sproul has written a beautifully illustrated children’s book with the story of Luther and Peter:
We think of Luther and the other Reformers as great theologians and preachers: but they were also great men of prayer. This little gem of a book shows us why.