“The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart” (Bonhoeffer, Psalms, 15).
Most Americans pray. According to this article from the Washington Times (based on a Brandeis University study) 90% of Americans pray.
That sounds really good, doesn’t it? That means that a lot of people believe in God. And, they believe God hears them and (sometimes) answers prayer. If nothing else, a person who prays feels like their problems have an audience. This can give a person greater psychological stability.
But prayer isn’t always defined by talking to God about our problems. Some people believe that prayer is a matter of “unplugging” from the conscious mind and entering into direct communion with God. In some cases words are used as a mantra, or not at all. The mind is a hurdle which prevents one from a naked encounter with God.
For Martin Luther, however, prayer (oratio) is derived from the Scripture (Bible) which is a type of incarnation; the “Spirit-breathed” words of God. This is in contradistinction to the above examples which are both derived out of individualism and personal experience.
I think it is fair to say that Luther did advocate a type of experience. But the experience was the enlightenment of Scripture that only the Holy Spirit could lead one in:
This is the prayer that is modeled by David in Psalm 119: “Teach me, Lord, Lord instruct me, lead me, show me” (Psalm 119:26 et al)…Although he well knew and daily heard and read the text of Moses and other books besides, still he wants to lay hold of the real teacher of the Scriptures himself, so he may not seize upon them pell-mell with his reason and become his own teacher. For such practice give rise to factious spirits who allow themselves to nurture the delusion that the Scriptures are subject to them and can be easily grasped with their reason, as if they were Markolf or Aesop’s Fables, for which no Holy Spirit and no prayers are needed” (AE 34:286).
And, it is also to be noted that Luther didn’t reject reason. He rejected naked reason just as he rejected naked experience. Without the Holy Spirit guiding one in the reading of Scripture, one would inevitably be lost in the forest of speculation and man-centered faith.
As Koberle states:
“Prayer escapes the danger of disorder and confusion only when it is enkindled by the words of Scripture. From the Word proceeds its inner justification, as well as its life-giving power and the clearness of its petitions. A prayer that does not stick to Scripture will soon become poor in ideas, poor in faith, poor in love and will finally die” (Adolph Koeberle, The Quest for Holiness Ballast Press, 176-177).
So we can pray before reading Scripture, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (I Samuel 3:9). It is not in this submission we are right with God, or our naked experience, or what we understand from the Bible. Instead, we are made right with God by the Priest in Heaven who is constantly making intercession on our behalf. He is the one through whom we pray.
It is His death that makes prayers heard. “We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him”(John 9:31). And who is the one who has done His will? In all of human history it is Christ alone. He has done this on our behalf. Any confidence we have in being heard can only come from Jesus Christ; the sacrifice for all sin.
We therefore pray, In His Name. Amen.
Please see http://www.alts.edu/pastoral_formation.html as the source for the various quotes above.