Jesus prayed the Psalms, of that we are sure.  But in what way did Jesus pray those Psalms in which the psalmist confesses guilt and cries out for forgiveness?  Bonhoeffer’s answer to the question has stirred my affection for Christ.  Here are a few relevant quotations:

It is the incarnate Son of God, who has borne every human weakness in his own flesh, who here pours out the heart of all humanity before God and who stands in our place and prays for us….

Christ speaks of the guilt of all men, also about the guilt of David and my own guilt which he has taken upon himself, and borne, and for which he now suffers the wrath of the Father….

How can the sinless one ask for forgiveness?  In no way other than he can, as the sinless one, bear the sins of the world and be made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Not for the sake of his sins, but for the sake of our sins, which he has taken upon himself and for which he suffers, does Jesus pray for the forgiveness of sins.  He positions himself entirely for us.  He wants to be a man before God as we are.  So he prays the most human of all prayers with us and thereby demonstrates precisely that he is the true Son of God.

Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, 20-21, 37, 51-52

Christ Jesus, in taking upon himself our sin, also took upon himself our guilt and need for forgiveness.  Jesus prays in our place as the true man.

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Uppermost in Bonhoeffer’s mind on the Psalms is the idea — somewhat foreign to us — that the Psalms are now ours because they first belonged to Christ.  The pre-incarnate Christ inspired them (2 Sam 23:1; 2 Tim 3:16); Christ, while in the flesh, prayed them as his own prayers; and we understand them as pointing to Christ’s death, resurrection, and the spread of the gospel (Luke 24:44-47).

This stunning idea of course raises a question.  How exactly did Jesus pray for himself the psalms of guilt or of imprecation?  I’ll let Bonhoeffer answer those questions later this week.  But, for now, let’s get hold of the fundamental point:

All prayers of the Bible are such prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us, and through which he brings us into the presence of God.  Otherwise there are no true prayers, for only in and with Jesus Christ can we truly pray.

The prayers of David were prayed also by Christ.  Or better, Christ himself prayed them through his forerunner David.

It is really our prayer, but since he knows us better than we know ourselves and since he himself was true man for our sakes, it is also really his prayer, and it can become our prayer only because it was his prayer.

The Psalms are given to us to this end, that we may learn to pray them in the name of Jesus Christ.

Who prays the Psalms?  David (Solomon, Asaph, etc.) prays, Christ prays, we pray.

Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, 14-15, 19, 21

We pray in and with Jesus Christ or not at all.  Don’t hear that as a threat, but as a glorious invitation.  For when we pray in and with Jesus Christ, we are truly praying.

Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one’s heart.  It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty.  No man can do that by himself.  For that he needs Jesus Christ….

Only in Jesus Christ are we able to pray, and with him we also know that we shall be heard….

God’s speech in Jesus Christ meets us in the Holy Scriptures.

Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, 9-11

Bonhoeffer presses us with a crucial question in the opening chapter of his book on the Psalms.  The question is foundational for understanding how to pray.  Is it of primary importance that your prayer be heartfelt or that your prayer be heard by God?

Of course we want our prayer to be heartfelt.  But far more important is that our prayer be heard, regardless of our heart.  That’s actually good news to me, because my heart is rarely (ever?) what it ought to be.

For prayer to be heard, we must pray in and with Jesus.  And to know that we’re praying in and with Jesus, we must pray the Scriptures.

That’s why we have been given the Psalms.

Bonhoeffer’s little book on the Psalms is mind-stirring, heart-goading stuff.  Throughout this week I’ll post some quotes that jumped out at me.  Whether you end up agreeing with Bonhoeffer on every point or not, he will most certainly prod you in such a way that your reading of the Psalms will be enriched.  Let’s start with the quote, in its fuller form, that Pastor Aaron tweeted yesterday:

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.  If we were dependent entirely on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  But God wants it otherwise.  The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.

Bonhoeffer, Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible, 14-15