Martin Luther’s Quiet Time (Walter Trobisch)

What was Martin Luther’s quiet time like?  How did this great sixteenth century reformer spend time with God each day? 

Two useful booklets provide a starting point to answering these questions.  Luther’s own booklet ‘A Simple Way to Pray’ which is a letter he wrote to his barber Peter Beskendorf answering his question “Dr Luther, how do you pray?”  The second booklet ‘Martin Luther’s Quiet Time’ was written by Walter Trobisch and contains comments on the answer Luther gives about how to pray and shows how what Luther wrote can be used to aid a Christian in their quiet time. 

What does Luther do when he prays?  He begins with the Ten Commandments and then “Out of each commandment I make a garland of four twisted strands.  That is, I take each commandment first as a teaching, which is what it actually is, and I reflect upon what our Lord God so earnest requires of me here.  Secondly, I make out of it a reason for thanksgiving.  Thirdly, a confession and fourthly, a prayer petition.” 

After he had finished praying the Ten Commandments, he takes the Lord’s Prayer and does the same thing.  And if he had “time and leisure” after the Lord’s Prayer, he takes the Apostle’s Creed, statement by statement, praying it the same way.  Luther did these things to ‘warm up the heart’ before studying the Bible.  In ‘A Simple Way to Pray’ Luther shows his barber how to pray through each of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostle’s Creed, writing out for him the ‘garland of four twisted strands’. 

Walter Trobisch explains how “What Luther says about prayer can be applied to our Bible study and provides us with a tremendously helpful method for making a Bible passage meaningful to our personal life.” 

He suggests that as we read the Bible verse by verse, we “make out of each verse a garland of four twisted strands.”  By changing the order Luther gives, Trobisch says that quiet times can be enriched by asking four questions about a text: 

  1. What am I grateful for? (Thanksgiving)
  2. What do I regret? (Confession)
  3. What should I ask for? (Prayer concerns)
  4. What shall I do? (Action) 

He also reminds us of the warning Luther gives: “Don’t take too much upon yourself lest the spirit should get tired”.  Trobisch writes “It may be more fruitful to take a passage of a few verses and shake each verse like the branches of a tree until some fruit falls down.  This will change Bible study from a boring duty to an exciting adventure.” 

If your quiet time has gone quiet, or it’s become a bit stale, both Luther’s way of praying, and Trobisch suggestions about how this method can be used to study the Bible might just be what you need to kick start it again.  Both booklets are worth a read and neither takes very long to do so.