How to Pray the Ten Commandments


by Matthew C. Harrison

Here’s a little piece I wrote as a preface to a collection of biblical texts. It teaches Luther’s method of prayer, which interestingly encompasses both rote and free prayer! — Pastor Harrison



      Martin Luther wrote a little book on prayer for his barber, Peter. In it, he lays out his simple method of praying texts. It’s brilliant. I call it “I.T.C.P”:





      The method anchors prayer in the texts of Scripture or the catechism but allows the Holy Spirit to prompt thoughts via the Word, which may be chased more freely by the mind at prayer. . . .

      Luther explains his method, using the Ten Commandments:

I think of each commandment as, first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God demands of me so earnestly. Second, I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth, a prayer. 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. . . .

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” (Luther’s Works 43:200).

Luther’s advice to his barber, Peter, is brilliant. You can pray texts of the Bible, hymns, creed, catechism, etc. Start with the Ten Commandments!

3 thoughts on “How to Pray the Ten Commandments”

  1. This is a new one on me, praying the Ten Commandments. What a thoughtful and meaningful approach to teaching and inspiring others. In my experience as a Lutheran, I do not recall even hearing a sermon on the subject of the Ten Commandments. But perhaps I was absent that Sunday. Furthermore, we frequently hear loud complaints from Christians objecting to the Ten Commandments’ removal from public government buildings but most churches, I am pretty confident, do not have them posted anywhere on their own premises. Look around your church and discover for yourself. So thank your for the helpful reminder contained in Matthew Harrison’s Eleventh Commandment, “Don’t forget to pray the other ten!”

  2. A fine model for prayer, although it is difficult to offer thanksgiving for His Law which condemns me to cold, implacable death and eternal suffering. Thanksgiving for unmerited salvation is easy; thanksgiving for the need for that salvation is not.

  3. In the Small Catechism, Luther instructs us to say the Lord’s Prayer eight times a day: before the Morning Prayer, before and after each meal (3 meals x 2), and before the Evening Prayer. But your mileage may vary.

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