Petition for Help in Praying the Psalms

We have taken this short stroll through the Psalter [that is, the book of Psalms] in order to learn to pray a few psalms a bit better. It would not be difficult to arrange according to the Lord’s Prayer all the psalms mentioned. …But this alone is important, that we begin to pray the psalms with confidence and love in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

After which the author concludes this brief section with a quote (prayer) from M. Luther:

‘Our dear Lord, who has given to us and taught us to pray the Psalter and the Lord’s Prayer, grant to us also the spirit of prayer and of grace so that we pray with enthusiasm and earnest faith, properly and without ceasing, for we need to do this; he has asked for it and therefore wants to have it from us. To him be praise, honor, and thanksgiving. Amen.’

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferTaken from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in one of the closing sections, “Petition for the Spirit of Life”  (p.63).

“If we would order our prayers aright, let us always begin with pleading that the Lord would be pleased to preserve this sacred community [that is, the church].” ~ J. Calvin

JCalvinPic6. Pray ye for the peace of Jerusalem.

David now exhorts all the devout worshippers of God to make supplication for the prosperity of the holy city. The more effectually to stir them up to such exercise, he promises that, in this way the divine blessing will descend upon them. The reason why he was so deeply concerned about the prosperity of Jerusalem was, as we have formerly stated — and he again repeats the same thing at the end of the Psalm—because the welfare of the whole Church was inseparably connected with that kingdom and priesthood.

Now as each of us in particular, were the whole Church to be involved in ruin, must necessarily perish miserably, it is not surprising to find David recommending to all the children of God to cultivate this anxious concern about the Church. If we would order our prayers aright, let us always begin with pleading that the Lord would be pleased to preserve this sacred community. Whoever, confining his attention to his own personal advantage, is indifferent about the common weal, he not only gives evidence that he is destitute of all true feeling of godliness, but in vain desires his own prosperity, and will profit nothing by his prayers, since he does not observe the due order.

Similar is the drift of the promise which is added immediately after: They shall prosper that love thee; which, however, may be read in the form of a wish, May those who love thee prosper But the sense in either case is almost the same. Farther, although the Hebrew verb שלה, shalah, which the Prophet here uses, signifies to live in quietness or peace, yet as the Hebrew noun for peace, from which it is derived, is employed by him generally for a joyful and happy condition, I have no doubt that he here announces in general to all the godly who have the well being of the Church near their heart, that they shall enjoy the blessing of God and a prosperous life.

…Hence we learn that the curse of God rests upon all such as afflict the Church, or plot and endeavor by any kind of mischief to accomplish its destruction.

Taken from Calvin’s Commentary on the Book of Psalms, in particular Psalm 122:6. Found on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library website.

Praying the Imprecatory Psalms

Psalms-prayer-book-Bonhoeffer…The question is therefore: Can the imprecatory psalms be understood as God’s word for us and as the prayer of Jesus Christ? Can we as Christians pray these psalms?

…The enemies referred to here are enemies of the cause of God, who lay hands on us for the sake of God. It is therefore nowhere a matter of personal conflict. Nowhere does the one who prays these psalms want to take revenge into his own hands. He calls for the wrath of God alone (cf. Romans 12:19). Therefore he must dismiss from his own mind all thought of personal revenge; he must be free from his own thirst for revenge. Otherwise, the vengeance would not be seriously commanded from God. This means that only the one who is himself innocent in relation to his enemy can leave the vengeance to God.

The prayer for the vengeance of God is the prayer for the execution of his righteousness in the judgment of sin. This judgment must be made public if God is to stand by his word. It must also be promulgated among those whom it concerns. I myself, with my sin, belong under this judgment. I have no right to want to hinder this judgment. It must be fulfilled for God’s sake and it has been fulfilled, certainly, in wonderful ways.

And here Bonhoeffer reminds us of the curse of God due us as sinners and how God dealt with us who were His enemies – something we also need to remember when praying for God’s wrath to be revealed against His and our foes:

God’s vengeance did not strike the sinners, but the one sinless man who stood in the sinners’ place, namely God’s own Son. Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God, for the execution of which the psalm prays. He stilled God’s wrath toward sin and prayed in the hour of the execution of the divine judgment: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do!’ No other than he, who himself bore the wrath of God, could pray in this way. That was the end of all phony thoughts about the love of God which do not take sin seriously. God hates and redirects his enemies to the only righteous one, and this one asks forgiveness for them. Only in the cross of Jesus Christ is the love of God to be found.

Quoted in Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the fifteenth section, “The Enemies” (pp.56-60), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

Praying with the Psalms as Guilty Sinners and Innocent Saints – D. Bonhoeffer

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferIn connection with his treatment of the “penitential Psalms” (That is, prayers for repentance), D. Bonhoeffer writes:

The Christian will find scarcely any difficulties in the praying of these Psalms. However, the question could arise as to how one is to think about the fact that Christ also prays these Psalms with us. How can the sinless one ask for forgiveness? In no way other than he can, as the sinless one, bear the sins of the world and be made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Not for the sake of his sins, but for the sake of our sins, which he has taken upon himself and for which he suffers, does Jesus pray for the forgiveness of sins. He positions himself entirely for us. He wants to be a man before God as we are. So he prays also the most human of all prayers with us and thereby demonstrates precisely that he is the true Son of God.

And then, in connection with the prayers of the saints in which they declare their innocence, he writes:

But the question is not which possible motives may stand behind the prayer, but whether the content of the prayer itself is appropriate or inappropriate. And here it is clear that the believing Christian certainly has to say not only something about his guilt but also something equally important about his innocence and his justification. It is characteristic of the faith of the Christian that through God’s grace and the merit of Jesus Christ he has become entirely justified and guiltless in God’s eyes, so that ‘there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). And it is characteristic of the prayer of the Christian to hold fast to this innocence and justification which has come to him, appealing to God’s word and thanking for it.

So not only are we permitted, but directly obligated – provided we take God’s action to us at all seriously – to pray in all humiliation and certainty: ‘I was blameless before him and I kept myself from guilt’ (Psalm 18:23)…. With such a prayer we stand in the center of the New Testament, in the community of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Quoted in Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the twelfth section, “Guilt” (pp.50-55), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

Praying with the Psalms for Our Earthly Needs

psalm37-25As the petition for daily bread includes the entire sphere of the necessities of physical life, so the petition for life, health, and visible evidences of the friendliness of God belong necessarily to the prayer that points to the God who is the creator and sustainer of this life. Bodily life is not disdainful. Precisely for its sake God has given us his fellowship in Jesus Christ, so that we can live by him in this life and then also, of course, in the life to come. For this reason he gives us earthly prayers, so that we can better recognize him, praise him, and love him.

…Therefore we need not have a bad conscience when we pray with the Psalter for life, health, peace, and earthly good if we only recognize, as do the Psalms themselves, that all of this is evidence of the gracious fellowship of God with us, and we thereby hold fast to the fact that God’s gifts are better than life (Psalm 63:3 f.; 73:25 f.).

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted in Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the twelfth section, “Life” (pp.40-42), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

Praying the Passion Psalms with the Messiah – D.Bonhoeffer

Book of Psalms

God’s holy history [cf. our previous post on the section “Holy History”] comes to fulfillment in the sending of the Messiah. According to Jesus’ own interpretation, the Psalter has prophesied of this Messiah (Luke 24:44). Psalms 22 and 69 are known to the church as the passion psalms.

Jesus himself prayed the beginning of Psalm 22 on the cross and so clearly made it his prayer. Hebrews 2:12 places verse 22 in the mouth of Christ. Verse 8 and verse 18 are direct predictions of the crucifixion of Jesus. David himself may have once prayed this Psalm in his own song. If so, he did this as the king, anointed by God and therefore persecuted by men, from whom Jesus Christ would descend. He did it as the one who bore Christ in himself.

But Christ himself used this prayer and for the first time gave it its full meaning. We can thus pray this Psalm only in the fellowship of Jesus Christ, as those who have participated in the suffering of Christ. We pray this Psalm, not on the basis of our fortuitous personal suffering, but on the basis of the suffering of Christ which has also come upon us.

But we always hear Jesus Christ pray with us, and through him that Old Testament king; and repeating this prayer without being able to experience it or consider it in its deepest sense, we nevertheless walk with the praying Christ before the throne of God.

Quoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the tenth section, “The Messiah” (pp.36-37), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

Praying the Holy History Found in the Psalms – D. Bonhoeffer

Psalms 78, 105, 106 tell us about the history of the people of God on earth, about the electing grace and faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness and the ingratitude of his people. …How ought we to pray these Psalms?

Then after giving a brief summary of Psalm 106 and how that can guide us in praying these historical Psalms, Bonhoeffer gives us concrete help:

We pray these Psalms when we regard all that God does once for his people as done for us, when we confess our guilt and God’s grace, when we hold God true to his promises on the basis of his former benefits and request their fulfillment, and when we finally see the entire history of God with his people fulfilled in Jesus Christ, through whom we have been helped and will be helped. For the sake of Jesus Christ we bring thanksgiving, petition, and confession.

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the ninth section, “Holy History” (pp.34-35), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

Pentecost 2018: The Spirit as Teacher

Pentecost-John14-16On this Pentecost Sunday 2018 we post another prayer/devotional from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by A.Bennett (Banner of Truth, 1975).

This one is titled “The Spirit As Teacher,” and is a fitting prayer for us to make personally and collectively as we remember our Lord’s gift of the Holy Spirit to His church and people.

O GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT,

That which I know not, teach thou me,
Keep me a humble disciple in the school
of Christ,
learning daily there what I am in myself,
a fallen sinful creature,
justly deserving everlasting destruction;
O let me never lose sight of my need of a Saviour,
or forget that apart from him I am nothing,
and can do nothing.
Open my understanding to know
the Holy Scriptures;
Reveal to my soul the counsels and works
of the blessed Trinity;
Instil into my dark mind the saving knowledge
of Jesus;
Make me acquainted with his covenant undertakings
and his perfect fulfilment of them,
that by resting on his finished work
I may find the Father’s love in the Son,
his Father, my Father,
and may be brought through thy influence
to have fellowship with the Three in One.
O lead me into all truth, thou Spirit of wisdom
and revelation,
that I may know the things that belong unto
my peace,
and through thee be made anew.
Make practical upon my heart the Father’s love
as thou hast revealed it in the Scriptures;
Apply to my soul the blood of Christ, effectually,
continually,
and help me to believe, with conscience
comforted, that it cleanseth from all sin;
Lead me from faith to faith,
that I may at all times have freedom to come
to a reconciled Father,
and may be able to maintain peace with him
against doubts, fears, corruptions, temptations.
Thy office is to teach me to draw near to Christ
with a pure heart,
steadfastly persuaded of his love,
in the full assurance of faith.
Let me never falter in this way.

 

“The Psalter impregnated the life of early Christianity.” ~ D. Bonhoeffer

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferIn many churches the Psalms are read or sung every Sunday, or even daily, in succession. These churches have preserved a priceless treasure, for only with daily use does one appropriate this divine prayerbook.

…Therefore, wherever we no longer pray the Psalms in our churches, we must take up the Psalter [the book of Psalms] that much more in our daily morning and evening prayers, reading and praying together at least several Psalms every day so that we succeed in reading through this book a number of times each year, getting into it deeper and deeper. We ought also not to select Psalms at our own discretion, thinking that we know better what we ought to pray than does God himself. To do that is to dishonor the prayerbook of the Bible.

In the ancient church it was not unusual to memorize ‘the entire David.’ In one of the eastern churches this was a prerequisite for the pastoral office. The church father St. Jerome says that one heard the Psalms being sung in the fields and gardens in his time. The Psalter impregnated the life of early Christianity. Yet more important than all of this is the fact that Jesus died on the cross with the words of the Psalter on his lips.

It is at this point that the author makes that powerful point I quoted when we began this series on his book: “Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”

Quoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the fifth section, “Congregational Worship and the Psalms” (pp.25-26).

Singing Our Prayers in the Psalms

PsalmistDavidThe Psalms were probably most often sung antiphonally. They were particularly well suited for that through the verse form, according to which the two parts of a verse are so connected that they express in different words essentially the same thought. This is called parallelism.

This form is not accidental. It encourages us not to allow the prayer to be cut off prematurely, and it invites us to pray together with one another. That which seems to be unnecessary repetition to us, who are inclined to pray too hurriedly, is actually proper immersion and concentration in prayer. It is at the same time the sign that many, indeed all believers, pray with different words yet with one and the same word. Therefore, the verse form in particular summons us to pray the Psalms together.

Psalms-prayer-book-BonhoefferQuoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the second section, “Who Prays the Psalms?” (pp.23-24)

Published in: on March 25, 2018 at 10:37 PM  Leave a Comment