As today is the National Day of Prayer, I wanted to share some observations on prayer from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. The book focuses on the importance of fellowship in the church, but includes some helpful observations on the practice of prayer as well:
Beginning the Day with Prayer
“The early morning belongs to the church of the Risen Christ …” (We need) “to learn again something of the praise and adoration that is due the triune God at break of day, God the Father and Creator, who has preserved our life through the dark night and wakened us to a new day, God the Son and Savior, who conquered death and hell for us and dwells in our midst as Victor, God the Holy Spirit, who pours the bright gleam of God’s word into our hearts at the dawn of day, driving away all darkness and sin and teaching us to pray aright …” (p. 41)
“For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and His wakening word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before Him. Therefore, at the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought and the first word belong to Him to whom our whole life belongs.” (p. 43)
Those words:“distraction” and “empty talk” surely are directed at those of us who fill our first morning hours with the newspaper or talk tv/radio rather than God’s word and prayer! That first hour belongs to HIM!
Formal vs. Spontaneous, heart-felt prayer
“The use of formal prayers can, under certain circumstances, be a help even for a small family group. But often a ritual becomes only an evasion of real prayer. The wealth of churchly forms and thought may easily lead us away from our own prayer; the prayers then become beautiful and profound, but not genuine … the poorest mumbling utterance can be better than the best-formulated prayer.” (p. 65)
A Systematic Plan for Daily Prayer Requests
“At first there may be some monotony in the daily recurrence of the same petitions which are required of us … if it is possible to add to the number of daily recurring petitions, a weekly order or plan might be tried. If this is not possible in the common devotions, it is certainly a help in one’s personal prayer times.” (p. 64)
I can add my personal testimony here: I have found it very helpful to spread my requests for the week out in a systematic plan like Bonhoeffer suggests. This aids in avoiding monotony and also keeps the prayer time to a more manageable length. I pray different requests on different days, i.e., family on Monday, church requests on Tuesday, the sick on Wednesday, missionaries on Thursday, our nation and elected leaders on Friday, the lost on Saturday, and pastors and churches on Sunday – in addition to whatever other pressing requests which are on my heart for each day.
The Psalms and Prayer
“The Psalter is the great school of prayer. Here we learn what prayer means. It means praying according to the word of God, on the basis of promises. Christian prayer takes it stand on the solid ground of the revealed word and has nothing to do with vague, self-seeking vagarities.” (p. 47)
If your malady is not knowing how to pray as you ought, the prescription is to learn to pray from the word of God — especially the Psalms. They are songs, and essentially prayer-songs, directed to the Lord. If you find yourself lacking in prayer (I might indeed question who among us would not?!), you would do well to make this Book of Psalms your regular daily fare, until its words become ingrained in your soul, and find expression in the prayers you pray.