A Little Help from Bonhoeffer on Prayer

Over the past few weeks, I have been reading through the fourteenth volume of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works series in English (DBWE). It is a trove of historical and theological information that takes the reader behind the scenes of Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship, as well as Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible. The volume is entitled, “Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937,” and includes documents from when Bonhoeffer led the Confessing Church’s seminary in the town of Finkenwalde. The seminary operated for only a few years before the Nazis closed it down in September of 1937. At the seminary, during its third and fourth sessions (out of five) Bonhoeffer offered lectures on confirmation instruction, which Bonhoeffer scholars call his “second attempt at a catechism” (see footnote 407).

Photo by Andreas Steinhoff,
via Wikimedia Commons
When preparing my sermon for this past Sunday, I found some help from Bonhoeffer’s “catechism." The lectionary readings included Luke’s account of the Lord’s Prayer. After struggling with how to interpret the passage, especially verses 9 and 10, I found the catechisms questions and answers on prayer to be particularly helpful, and I thought that I would share them with you. In what follows, the italics indicate the catechism questions. Bold is my emphasis.

Why should you pray?
Because I can take nothing for myself and must instead ask everything of God; because I want to thank God for all his gifts.

Why are you permitted to pray?
Because my Lord Jesus Christ has commanded me to do so and wants to be my intercessor.

For what should you pray?
For all things necessary for the body and soul, which the child asks of its father.

Which prayers are pleasing to God?
I should call on God alone in my prayer. For everything I ask, I should do so for Christ’s sake. I should believe with assurance that God hears me. I should pray with my heart rather than only with my mouth (Matt. 6: 5– 8). I should pray several times each day (in the morning, at midday, and in the evening). (1 Thess. 5: 17; Rom. 12: 12.) [—] John 15: 7; 16: 23– 24; Ps. 119.

How does God answer prayers?
By relieving us of and bearing all our care, trouble, and sin. All our prayers have been answered in the cross of Jesus Christ.

What does Christ instruct you to pray?
The Lord’s Prayer.

What gift does God give you in prayer?
God gives me the assurance that through Jesus Christ I am and will remain God’s own. [—] Rom. 8: 15– 16.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. Vol. 14, Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937. Translated by Douglas W. Stott. Edited by H. Gaylon Barker and Mark Brocker. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013. Kindle Edition.


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