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  

Praying Christ’s Prayers in the Psalms – D. Bonhoeffer

How is it possible for a man and Jesus Christ to pray the Psalter [That is, the book of Psalms] together? It is the incarnate Son of God, who has borne every human weakness in his own flesh, who here pours out the heart of all humanity before God and who stands in our place and prays for us. He has known torment and pain, guilt and death more deeply than we. Therefore it is the prayer of the human nature assumed by him which comes here before God. It is really our prayer, but since he knows us better than we know ourselves and since he himself was true man for our sakes, it is also really his prayer, and it can become our prayer only because it was his prayer.

Who prays the Psalms? David (Solomon, Asaph, etc.) prays, Christ prays, we pray. We – that is, first of all the entire community in which alone the vast richness of the Psalter can be prayed, but also finally every individual insofar as he participates in Christ and his community and prays their prayer. David, Christ, the church, I myself, and wherever we consider all of this together we recognize the wonderful way in which God teaches us to pray.

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.20-21)

Warfare Prayer and Our Need of “All-Prayer”

SpiritualWarfare-Borgman&VenturaTonight we gathered again for fruitful fellowship and discussion with our Sunday night discussion group. We are coming to the end of our study of spiritual warfare using the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical & Balanced Perspective by Brian Borgman & Rob Ventura (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014). This valuable book is basically an exposition of Ephesians 6:10-18, the classic NT passage on the Christian’s spiritual battles against his spiritual enemies.

This evening we focused on the final verses of this section, covering the apostle’s appeal to prayer as a fitting conclusion to our calling to stand while putting on the whole armor of God. Chapter 11 is titled “Warfare Prayer” and the authors give a detailed and profitable explanation of v.18 where Paul writes, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.”

The following is part of that exposition:

…Why does Paul focus on prayer so much in this letter?

Clinton Arnold provides a simple, straightforward reason: ‘Prayer is the essence of spiritual warfare and the most important means by which believers are strengthened by God.’ There is a grammatical connection between verses 14 and 18: ‘stand…praying.’ The command in verse 14 is to stand. Putting on each piece of the armor explains how we stand in warfare. That is, we are to stand by putting on the armor. However, when we get to verse 18, we learn that we stand by putting on the armor, and we stand by praying.

Prayer is not a seventh piece of the armor but the means by which each piece is effectively employed. No doubt, Paul mentions prayer last for the sake of emphasis. The passage that begins with ‘be strong in the Lord’ (v.10) ends with ‘praying always with all prayer and supplication’ (v.18). Prayer is the critical component of our warfare, saturating each piece of our armor.

…We can only appropriate the armor through prayer. The armor of God does not consist of literal pieces we can put on; rather, it consists of spiritual truths that the Christian appropriates through prayer. Prayer imparts effectiveness to the armor and employs God’s strength, enabling us to stand [Kindle ed., location 1435-1453].

And the authors end with these fine words:

As trembling pilgrims know, the weapon ‘all-prayer’ is most needful. [The chapter began by referring to Christian’s need of “all-prayer” as he walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress.] The soldier of Christ employs prayer in applying the armor. Once we put the armor on with prayer, it continues to be a fundamental weapon in our warfare, as we, in reliance on the Spirit, constantly call to our heavenly headquarters for help, both for ourselves and our fellow soldiers [location 1541].