PSALMS: Learning To Pray In The Name Of Jesus, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Prayer Book of the Bible

Learning To Pray In The Name Of Jesus Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Now there is in the Holy Scriptures a book which is distinguished from all other books of the Bible by the fact that it contains only prayers.  The book is the Psalms.  It is at first very surprising that there is a prayerbook in the Bible.  The Holy Scripture is the Word of God to us.  But prayers are the words of men.  How do prayers then get into the Bible?  Let us make no mistake about it, the Bible is the Word of God even in the Psalms.  Then are these prayers to God also God’s own word?  That seems rather difficult to understand.  We grasp it only when we remember that we can learn true prayer only from Jesus Christ, from the word of the Son of God, who lives with us men, to God the Father, who lives in eternity.  Jesus Christ has brought every need, every joy, every gratitude, every hope of men before God.  In his mouth the word of man becomes the Word of God, and if we pray his prayer with him, the Word of God becomes once again the word of man.  All prayers of the Bible are such prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us, and through which he brings us into the presence of God.  Otherwise there are no true prayers, for only in and with Jesus Christ can we truly pray.

If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible and especially the Psalms, therefore, we must not ask first what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ.  We must ask how we can understand the Psalms as God’s Word, and then we shall be able to pray them.  It does not depend, therefore, on whether the Psalms express adequately that which we feel at a given moment in our heart.  If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart.  Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray.  If we were dependent entirely on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  But God wants it otherwise.  The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.

Thus if the Bible also contains a prayerbook, we learn from this that not only that Word which he has to say to us belongs to the Word of God, but also that word which he wants to hear from us, because it is the word of his beloved Son.  This is pure grace, that God tells us how we can speak with him and have fellowship with him.  We can do it by praying in the name of Jesus Christ.  The Psalms are given to us to this end, that we may learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ.

In response to the request of the disciples, Jesus gave them the Lord’s Prayer.  Every prayer is contained in it.  Whatever is included in the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer is prayed aright; whatever is not included is no prayer.  All the prayers of Holy Scripture are summarized in the Lord’s Prayer, and are contained in its immeasurable breadth.  They are not made superfluous by the Lord’s Prayer but constitute the inexhaustible richness of the Lord’s Prayer as the Lord’s Prayer is their summation.  Luther says of the Psalter: It penetrates it, so that it is possible to understand one on the basis of the other and to bring them into joyful harmony.  Thus the Lord’s Prayer becomes the touchstone for whether we pray in the name of Jesus Christ or in our own name.  It makes good sense, then, that the Psalter is often bound together in a single volume with the New Testament.  It is the prayer of the Christian church.  It belongs to the Lord’s Prayer.


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