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Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Praying the Psalms: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I read this passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book "Life Together" and decided to share it with everyone because it explains a quandary that I found myself in at one time when I started off trying to read the Psalms as prayers.  I love how Bonhoeffer explains the quandary which so many can relate to and the explanation that makes the understanding of the dilemma make sense almost at once. He starts off with a question so many have asked at one point of another:

How can God's Word be at the same time prayer to God?

The question brings with it an observation that is made by everybody who begins to use the psalms as prayers. First he tries to repeat the psalms personally as his own prayer. But soon he comes upon passages that he feels he cannot utter as his own personal petitions. We recall, for example, the psalms of innocence, the bitter, the imprecatory psalms, and also in part the psalms of the Passion. And yet these prayers are words of Holy Scripture which a believing Christian cannot simply dismiss as outword and obsolete, as "early stages of religion."...He can read and hear them as the prayer of another person, wonder about them, be offended by them, but can neither pray them himself nor discard them from the Bible.

The practical expedient would be to say that any person in this sitaution should first stick to the psalms he can understand and repeat, and in that case of the other psalms he should learn quite simply to let stand what is incomprehensible and difficult...this difficulty indicates the point at which we get our first glimpse of the secret of the Psalter. A psalm that we cannot utter is a prayer, that makes us falter and horrifies us, is a hint to us that here Someone else is praying, nor we; that the One who is here protesting his innocence, who is invoking God's judgment, who has come to such infinite depths of suffering, is none other than Jesus Christ himself. He it is who is praying here, and not only here but in the whole Psalter.

...Even if a verse or a psalm is not one's own prayer, it is nevertheless the prayer of another member of the fellowship; so it is quite certainly the prayer of the Man Jesus Christ and his Body on earth. ...The Psalter is the great school of prayer.
                                              ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p.45

Here is how Ambrose, a 4th century bishop of Milan viewed the Psalms.

"Yes, a psalm is a blessing on the lips of the people, a hymn in praise of God, the assembly's homage, a general acclamation, a word that speaks for all, the voice of the church, a confession of faith in song. It is the voice of complete assent, the joy of freedom, a cry of happiness, the echo of gladness. It soothes the temper, distracts from care, litens the burden of sorrow. Day begins to the music of a psalm. Day closes to the echo of a psalm."

So, when we read the Psalms and come across passages that we think have nothing to do with ourselves, we shouldn't skip over them!  Or merely think of them as something that has no application to ourselves and that should be perceived from simply a historical viewpoint.We should be reminded that the Psalms speak for all our brothers and sisters, including ourselves. Even if we are having a great day and then come across a Psalm that speaks of being in despair and surrounded by one's enemies..it is a reminder of the persecution of others in the body of Christ...others that need our prayers.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for bringing us safely into this new day. May we be guided by Your Holy Spirit to communicate with love and understanding to those we encounter. Help us, in our cluttered lives, to find time for simple devotion. To feast upon the  spiritual manna, the bread of Life, that is Your Word. Help us to open our hearts to greater depths of love as we grow deeper in our relationship with You. Help us to shine Your light into a world that desperately needs it. May our prayers be like incense, rising up to you as fragrant offerings of devotion.

We love You and give You all glory ,honor and praise.

In Jesus' precious name,



  1. Psalms is my safe-haven place to go when I am deeply troubled. I always find peace there.

  2. The psalms I like a mantra the more you repeat the more it is entered into your subconscious. And that is a wonderful thing!

    Yet If you changed His to My and Yours to Ours would it not mean the same?
    And I Love Me and give Me all glory Honour and Praise...would it not feel better?

    Cheers from me

  3. Amen Mary..I agree...when I need restoration and comfort the Psalms are always a wise place to turn to...they always have a way of bringing peace with them :)


    Thanks for your comment :)...Though I don't necessarily agree with your conclusion. I meditate and understand the use of mantras, however when it comes to praying the psalms, I believe there is great value in reflecting upon each word's meaning and worth and to lift the words up of the Psalm as a prayer offering in petition for one's self, others one knows and the church as a whole, as the body of Christ.

    I believe God made all of mankind precious and life is sacred, however I would not find any comfort in giving myself all honor and praise...perhaps it might feel better to some...to think highly of themselves...but I know my limitations. I have seen my human frailty of both body and spirit and I know I am nothing without the help of my God. I find my identity in Christ and my strength in Him. And for that to happen God has to be infinitely more as we are humanely finite. God is what holds the whole world together...we are but dust. To accept our limitations and the limitless nature of God does our self image no harm..for we are made in God's image and have the blessed opportunity of getting to actually know at a personal level the author of all creation. To walk with Him, giving Him all honor and praise...is a blessed way to encounter is presence.

    Just my thoughts on your comment :) I love discussion and thank you for your views even when they differ :)
    ~love and light

  4. I enjoy them too. yet i agree to disagree and that is a good thing Jessica

    Thank you. I bless you!

  5. I'm not a religious person as I often find myself questioning too much but because of my son and his participation of Chapel Choir I am spending more and more time in churches and cathedrals listening to not only the singing but also to the sermons and prayers and I find it very soothing.

    I don't think I will change my views but it is wonderful to be exposed to them and that's why I enjoy reading your thoughts and how passionately you express yourself.

  6. My favorite Psalm prayer: Create in me a clean heart oh Lord and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free spirit….

    Then it’s Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits….
    Great post on praying the Psalms.

  7. Debra's favorite Psalm prayer is sung as part of the Lutheran liturgy - it is also one of my favorites. I've read "Life Together" and think it would be wonderful material for a church study group.

  8. Thank you for your comment Sarah :) I'm glad you enjoy this blog. I like the fact that others that might believe differently still can find this blog encouraging and find something they can relate to in it or enjoy.

    We go to a more contemporary church...but I do love to visit some of the older cathedrals in our area when we can...I love the stained glass windows...the ancient and reverent kind of feel that beautifully cut stoned, the smell of incense and stained glass gives.


  9. Thank you for sharing your favorite psalm prayer with us Debra :) ...That is definitely a beautiful one that has spoken much to my heart in the past. The psalms are a beautiful source to go to for prayer, glad you enjoyed this post :)

    ~ many blessings

  10. Ginny...that would be a great idea for a church study group! I know I got a lot of the book but it certainly would be ideal to read as a group.
    ~many blessings :)

  11. Great post, from a great book. All Christians should read 'Life Together' and grow in their understanding of God and His Word. Thanks Jessica :-)