Introductory Note:

Eberhard Arnold was a German author, philosopher and theologian known for his founding of the Bruderhof community and his opposition to Hitler. He was also a significant influence on several of his contemporaries, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Martin Niemöller, and Paul Tillich.

Earlier this year Plough Publishing released a new edition of the Eberhard Arnold classic The Prayer God Answers (written in 1913 and revised by the author in 1929). Renovaré’s own Richard Foster contributed a reflective response to Arnold’s winsome and challenging invitation to be people who pray. It’s our privilege to share a small portion of that Foster response here.

Renovaré Team

Excerpt from The Prayer God Answers

The Perpetual Flame of Devotion: Why Pray?

Arnold begins his essay with a profoundly basic question about prayer: Why pray? The question is well and good, and instinctively we are looking for the standard answers. Religious obligation perhaps. Or seeking material things. Or desperate personal need. Or even the yearning of the human heart to experience God. These reasons for praying we understand, and even expect. 

But right here Arnold turns the whole matter on its head and plunges us into the mystery of God’s unfathomable love. The opening paragraph immediately turns us toward this mystery: God is life, rich and over flowing life. He is love, and he wants to draw all of us into his life and into his love. Time and again he seeks to lift us into the realm where his life rules.” 

Next, Arnold piles phrase upon phrase to describe this incomprehensible love of God’s heart.” He exclaims in utter amazement, How indescribably great is the love of God!” We bow in doxology, knowing that the whole nature and character of God is goodness, kindness, mercy, abundant life, and strengthening love.” 

So we are drawn into prayer not by obligation or by need or by desire but by divine Love. God seeking. God waiting. God wooing. God pursuing. This emphasis upon the loving heart of God seeking us out is, of course, drawing from a long and deep biblical tradition about prayer. 

One personal life-altering experience in the summer of 1990 may help to unpack this critical teaching. I was working on a book on prayer. Of course, it wasn’t a book then, just thousands of notes scrawled on scraps of paper and napkins and anything else I could find. I didn’t even have a title for the book. The library staff at the university where I was teaching at the time had provided me with a room for my research. They had also given me a key to the library building so I could go in anytime, day or night. 

Over that summer I had worked in perhaps three hundred books on the topic of prayer. Classical books, contemporary books — books, books, and more books. My mind was swimming with all the definitions of prayer and all the debates about prayer. I had gotten so lost in Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle that I didn’t know which room was which! 

I will never forget that July night. There I was in the library completely alone. Everyone had left hours ago. It was late. I had read too much, studied too much. I was experiencing overload. How in one book can anyone deal with all the intricacies and all of the difficulties of prayer? There was no way. I threw up my hands, ready to abandon the project. 

Then something happened, something that even today, many years later, I have difficulty explaining. The only way I know how to describe it is that I saw” something. What I saw was the heart of God, and the heart of God was an open wound of love. Then, as best as I can discern it, I heard the voice of the true Shepherd (not outwardly but inwardly) saying, I do not want you to abandon the project. Instead, I want you to tell my people, tell my children, that my heart is broken. Their distance and preoccupation wounds me. Tell them, tell my children, to come home.” 

That was all. But it was enough. The word was so clear and so true to the human condition. You see, we have been in a far country. It’s been a country of noise and hurry and crowds. It’s been a country of climb and push and shove. And God is inviting you and me to come home: home to where we belong, home to that for which we were created, home to the loving heart of God … 

… So why pray? Not out of obligation. Not out of a desire to get” things from God. Not in the hopes of enhancing our standing in the religious community. No, we pray because God in his amazing grace calls to us, seeks us out, and urges us to respond to a love that will not let us go. This is why we pray.

Excerpted from The Prayer God Answers with permission from the publisher.