Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little booklet, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, is a real gem. After reading it I bought a copy for each of my older boys for them to read and to have their own copy.

Much could be said about it, and I may say more in later posts, but here I will focus on his comments about the formative value of the Psalms for prayer. Too often we tend to think any guide to praying makes our prayers less genuine.  Bonhoeffer counters this, stating

“…it is a dangerous error, surely very widespread among Christians, to think that the heart can pray by itself. . . . Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one’s heart.” (9)

Yet God has given us words to guide us in our praying. As we teach our children how to speak properly and how to phrase things to communicate respectfully and effectively, so also our heavenly Father has given us instruction in the Psalms on how to address Him properly.

Here are a few quotes from the booklet on this point:

“So we learn to speak to God because God has spoken to us and speaks to us.” (11)

“If we wish to pray with confidence and gladness, then the words of Holy Scripture will have to be the solid basis of our prayer.” (11-12)

“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.” (14-15)

“This is pure grace, that God tells us how we can speak with him and have fellowship with him.” (15)

God has seen fit to give us an inspired book of prayers and praises. We would do well to use it.

“Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church.  With its recovery will come unsuspected power.” (26)


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