‘Lord, Teach Us to Pray!’ So spoke the disciples to Jesus. In making this request, they confessed that they were not able to pray on their own, that they had to learn to pray. The phrase ‘learning to pray’ sounds strange to us. If the heart does not overflow and begin to pray by itself, we say, it will never ‘learn’ to pray. But it is a dangerous error, surely very widespread among Christians, to think that the heart can pray by iteslf. For then we confuse wishes, hopes, sighs, laments, rejoicings – all of which the heart can do by itself – with prayer. And we confuse earth and heaven, man and God. Prayer does not simply mean 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.
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. We must ask how we can understand the Psalms as God’s Word, and then we shall be able to pray them. 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. No 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 [“Give us this day our daily bread.”]. But God wants it otherwise. The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.
Thus if the Bible also contains a prayerbook, we learn from this that not only that Word which he has to say to us belongs to the Word of God, but also that word which he wants to hear from us, because it is the word of his beloved Son. This is pure grace, that God tells us how we can speak with and have fellowship with him. We can do it by praying in the name of Jesus Christ.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Prayerbook of the Bible