Adolf Schlatter (1852-1938), was one of Germany’s premier Biblical Theologians, but is lesser known to Western readers. In 1923 he wrote the following about prayer – and may we continue to be ready learners in this age:
“Since prayer is that act by which we turn our will to God, prayer is the very essence of religion… Prayer is the most direct expression of faith… Faith is God’s gift; so too is that prayer that proceeds from faith. Precisely through believing prayer we overcome arrogance that would gladly place itself above God.”
Despite the theological and geopolitical turmoils in the Germany of his day, and despite the academic tendency toward the arrogance of modernity in the age of “enlightenment,” he was most articulate about the relationship between prayer, gratitude, and humility (a right understanding of who we are to God):
“Prayer involves gratitude, because we receive from God… since our work rests on God’s work, adoration precedes both gratitude and supplication. It is essential for prayer that it does not merely focus on us and our concerns, it must rather be concerned with God’s work and intention…
Through gratitude, our experience arrives at its intended goal for both our thinking and our willing. Gratitude ensures that we will properly assess what we experience, because when we are grateful we do not merely see the gift. Rather, through the gift we have regard for the giver… through gratitude we become mindful of the one who brought it to pass. An event that moves us to gratitude has become to us a revelation of God. To the extent we can give thanks, God in his working stands revealed to us. Gratitude is also a bulwark guarding our desire from the ravages of unchecked selfishness. For it prevents us from exploiting what we receive for mere personal enhancement…”
Therefore he comments that the prayer-less person is deluded, “since he steadily demands that nature hark to his will, for no other reason than that he wants it to… Ingratitude devalues the good things God entrusts us with and makes us superficial.” In contrast to mere demanding-ness, humble prayer sees something that nagging-want cannot:
“In the denial of what we petition we experience that God stands over us and is greater than our thinking and willing. But that does not jeopardize the complete integrity of the promise to answer prayer, since that promise would be invalid only if our prayers found a lesser kindness in God than we had given him credit for. What we find, however, is always the opposite, even when our request goes unmet: God exceeds what we presumed, with grace vaster and richer that we expected.”
God always imparts to us “the highest good that far transcends whatever value might have been inhered” in our prayer. But the most important prayer, Schlatter says, “is the one that makes us partake of God… Nothing is greater, nothing mightier, than our person-to-person bond with God.”
Thus we join with the Psalmist who prays:
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.
Those who want to kill me will be destroyed;
they will go down to the depths of the earth.
They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals.
But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced.
For a personal glimpse into Adolf Schlatter see