Editor's 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.

Starting Soon: The 2020-21 Renovaré Book Club

An inten­tion­al way to read for trans­for­ma­tion not just infor­ma­tion. Runs Sep­tem­ber 2020 through May 2021.

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