Pondering Prayer

by Tim Isbell

I wrote this post to help readers apply Martin Luther's teaching on pondering (or meditative) prayer. It's found in Timothy Keller's book: Prayer - Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.1 

This web page begins with a personal story and then provides a prayer framework for you to try.

The story

I meet individually with a few men and we work our way through Timothy Keller's book. Recently, two of us met for morning coffee at Panera Bread and talked about pondering prayer. It was intriguing enough that we decided to give the method a try.

Later that morning I was preparing for an upcoming meeting where I anticipated a "train wreck" - and saw no way to stop it. I expected more criticism than I thought I deserved and the perceived unfairness of that bothered me - too much. So I searched for an avoidance strategy but fell short.

A little later in that morning, I read some scripture in preparation to pray. My usual practice is to select something from the Revised Common Lectionary, which was preparing readers for Palm Sunday. I wasn't thinking about the upcoming meeting; I just wanted to try Luther's teaching. The lectionary included Isaiah 50, and verse 10 caught my eye: 

But watch out, you who live in your own light
and warm yourselves by your own fires.
This is the reward you will receive from me:
You will soon fall down in great torment. (NLT)

The lectionary readings also included the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, where he had to know he would experience the ultimate train wreck (Luke 18.28-40). And I read Paul's teaching in Philippians 2.5-11, telling readers to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus when he went to the cross.

A little pondering made it clear that Jesus did what he did during the Palm Sunday passage while living in God's light and not some light of human wisdom or strategy. Still more pondering led me to praise the Lord for this insight that could only come from him, and to thank him for such a powerful example of living in God's light as Jesus' Palm Sunday journey and Paul's description in Philippians. Soon I saw the need to repent/confess for over-focusing on some flack I might get in a meeting while the Lord I claim to follow endured far more, despite his complete innocence.

In just a few minutes, the Lord showed me that I was searching for a strategy for my difficult meeting while "living in my own light." In other words, I was looking for a smart, human strategy.

After sharing this with my wife, we prayed for God's light, the meeting, my role in it, and the other participants. And the meeting went remarkably well.

By now you're ready for Luther's framework for pondering prayer.

Pondering Prayer framework

  1. Read the scripture; ask God to help you understand its meaning for biblical times and for your life today.
  2. Ponder the scripture; look for how it can lead you to praise and/or thank God.
  3. Ponder it again; ask God to show you anything that might lead you to confess or repent of a behavior or attitude. Also, don't be surprised if, instead, God affirms something in you. The last sentence doesn't come from Keller or Luther; it's my add.2
  4. Ponder the passage one more time; let it lead you to prayers where you ask God for things.

Keller writes, "Those who have practiced this particular discipline of meditation know that as it proceeds it creates its own energy. It ingeniously forces you off the theoretical plane to consider what that biblical truth you are pondering should actually do to you and in you - how it should lead you to praise God, to repent and change your heart, and also what it should lead you to do in the world."

I continue to use Luther's framework, and find God remarkably present through it. I hope you will give Pondering Prayer a try, and let me know how it goes.




1The source document for this teaching is from Keller's book Prayer, chapter 6 (p 89-93). For my personal notes from Keller's entire book, click on Prayer by Keller.

2In talking about this addition with one of my other of my book-study partners, he remembered a C.S. Lewis quote along the same line. It's in The Weight of Glory: "It is written that we shall 'stand before' Him…The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God … to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son--it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But it is so.”

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