The last book Bonhoeffer published in his lifetime was “The Prayerbook of the Bible.” He writes this book while in prison for his participation in a plot to kill Hitler, and the subject of the book is the Psalms. Remember, the Psalms of the Old Testament are Jewish literature. You can bet that the Nazis weren’t all that thrilled with publishing books celebrating Jewish literature. Apparently he was unaware that such material had to be submitted to the Board for the Regulation of Literature before publication. Bonhoeffer was sticking it to The Third Reich at the same time he was teaching Christians how to come closer to Christ Jesus.
I read about Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on prayer in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, a book I received from my parents last Christmas.
In this book, Bonhoeffer suggests that we naturally wish, hope, sigh, lament and rejoice—but we should not confuse these things with prayer. Unlike these internal and natural impulses, prayer is supernatural in that it must be initiated from outside of us, by God. For this reason, he encourages Christians to pray the Psalms as Christ did. Our own prayers would travel to heaven along with those of Christ.
Metaxas points out that praying the Psalms was much too Jewish for the Nazis, and probably too Catholic for the Protestants, who don’t go for recited prayers, but Bonhoeffer was insistent that Christians must pray the Psalms.
Because of this publication of this little book, he Bonhoeffer was forbidden to publish anything again.
Whether you accept Bonhoeffer’s imperative on the praying of the Psalms, it is important to understand that prayer is a supernatural activity. My problem is that I usually forget this and do what comes naturally: “wishing, hoping, sighing, lamenting and rejoicing” (Metaxas 368).
Praying with the Psalms—which means praying with Christ (as well as the historical Church)—will at least externalize the source of my own prayers and once again remind me that my ability to approach God at all is his gift of grace.