Martin Luther was a monk in the early 1500s. He wrote a theses, nailed it to a church door and the Protestant Reformation began. Luther has often been pointed to as a champion of spiritual disciplines. He read and read and read and read and read…and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed. I once heard a story that Luther was going to have such a busy day that instead of his normal 3 hours of prayer he got up an hour earlier to have 4 hours of prayer to be ready. With stories like this who needs the Devil, just whisper stories like this in my ear a few times a day and I will thoroughly believe that I am the worst Christian on the planet. I will berate myself for being lazy about reading and praying. I will loath the fact that I am not more committed and I might even doubt that I am a Christian at all.
But then, hopefully…the very verses with which the Reformation began will ring through the hollow, cold, frightened corridors of my mind and yell, “The righteous shall live by faith!” (Romans 1:17) Then by the grace of God I will remember that it is not how many times a day I fall to my knees in prayer or how often I open the pages of my Bible that saves me, but it is the sacrifice of Jesus Himself that saves me. He was perfectly disciplined, perfectly obedient, perfectly righteous in all He did and that righteousness has been credited to me by grace, through faith…apart from what I do. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
I don’t do The Weekly R.E.A.P.ing or the Thirteen:Seven Faith, or any number of other studies, reading plans, or other disciplines to gain God’s favor or grace. I do them BECAUSE He has shown me undeserved favor and grace. I do them BECAUSE He knows me and I want to know Him more. And when I fail at those disciplines I don’t have to doubt His love for me or doubt that I am His…I simply must confess that I have failed, ask Him to help me do better, and pick up right where I left off.
So the next time you hear a wonderful story about the faithfulness of some great saint remember, they were people just like us, they failed all the time, but by God’s grace they persevered to the end. And while we’re on the subject here’s a story about Martin Luther from his own words, in a letter to his friend Philipp Melanchthon:
“You extol me so much … Your high opinion of me shames and tortures me, since – unfortunately – I sit here like a fool and hardened in leisure, pray little, do not sigh for the church of God … In short I should be ardent in spirit, but I am ardent in the flesh, in lust, laziness, leisure, and sleepiness … Already eight days have passed in which I have written nothing, in which I have not prayed or studied; this is partly because of temptations of the flesh, partly because I am tortured by other burdens.” (Luther’s Works, vol. 48, p. 256.)
Luther was a “hero” of the faith and the stories of his faithfulness in the spiritual disciplines are to be looked up to and even imitated, but he was not perfect. His and other great saint’s successes and failures ought to encourage us to keep “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)
May we trust only in the finished work of Christ. May we live by faith.
May we learn to follow.