Book Review: Psalms – The Prayer Book of the Bible
Author: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Publisher: Augsburg Fortress ISBN: 9780806614397
“God’s speech in Jesus Christ meets us in the Holy Scriptures. 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. For here we know that Jesus Christ, the Word of God, teach us to pray. The words which come from God become, then, the steps on which we find our way to God.” And, claims Bonhoeffer, there is no better place to find these steps than in the Prayer Book of the Bible, the Psalms.
This is a tiny book, seriously. It’s like a dwarf star in content though. There is much “bang for the buck” where it involves depth of teaching about the Prayer Book of the Bible. The first few chapters, Bonhoeffer lays out the design and form of the Psalms. He shares this thought regarding our learning to pray with these songs, hymns, and prayers:
“If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible and especially the Psalms, therefore, we must not ask first what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ.”
This thought might be a bit controversial or even contrary to the individualistic approach that most modernistic Westerners come to the Bible and its interpretation. Bonhoeffer goes on, adding to his thought above:
“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.”
The next eleven short chapters are spent detailing and classifying the types of prayers included in the Psalms. Bonhoeffer arranges these prayers according to the subjects dealt with in the following manner: the creation; the law; holy history; the Messiah; the church; life; suffering; guilt; enemies; and the end. Bonhoeffer states that, “It would not be difficult to arrange these subjects according the Lord’s Prayer and show how the Psalter is totally absorbed in the prayer of Jesus.”
The final two chapters, Bonhoeffer uses strong words of encouragement to motivate his reader to begin praying the Psalms always and regularly beginning in the morning at the first order of the day. He writes; “The entire day receives order and discipline when it acquires unity. This unity must be sought and found in morning prayer. It is confirmed in work. The morning prayer determines the day. Squandered time of which we are ashamed, temptations to which we succumb, weaknesses and lack of courage in work, disorganization and lack of discipline in our thoughts and in our conversation with other men, all have their origin most often in the neglect of morning prayer.”
For those who are not familiar with the person Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there is a short biographical sketch of his life at the end of this book. This is a wonderful insight into the value of the Psalms as well as a view into the value this great theologian placed upon them as a prayer lifestyle. Psalms: the Prayer Book of the Bible is a small, but weighty little book…immeasurably full of insight and wisdom. A must read.