Karl Barth On Prayer

As I’ve slowly worked my way through Barth’s massive Church Dogmatics this year one of the spiritual disciplines I’ve been able to return to half way consistently is that of prayer. Coming out of a strong charismatic tradition I had felt a certain aversion to prayer for some time, because it felt like a return to the, somewhat angsty, faith of my teenage years. Though I had a certain thirst for God then, my path to finding Him was full of guilt and striving after something that felt unattainable. I felt a pressure to feel something that I suspected I wasn’t feeling. Though I talked a big game as far as the grace of God was supposed to go, deep down I was about as Pelagian as they come: work work work, pursue pursue pursue, try try try.  The reason revival tarried was because I wasn’t on my knees long enough. Prayer was like a witches brew; an assortment of magical ingredients including rocking back and forth, forced emotion (hopefully tears because surely that’s the Spirit), clinched fists, and most important of all – time to simmer. Five minutes of prayer was for babies. Twenty minutes of prayer was for small children. Thus it was one hour of prayer or bust. Of course, I found one hour of prayer to be rather boring and difficult — though I could never admit such a thing — so the reality was I spent most of time feeling guilty for my lack of prayer. I was really quite insane.

But Karl Barth has somehow nudged me reluctantly back into this world through his description of prayer as something very childlike and simple. He wrote, “To pray is to ask.” (1) That’s it? I wondered aloud. Barth continued,”A request, or even a series of requests, is soon uttered if it is close to our hearts. Hence true prayer may and must probably be short rather than long.” (2)  Short rather than long? I was confused, but it was a good confusion. The passages haunted me for days. Until one morning, I found myself on my knees again. No great man of God. No spiritual genius. Just me, Brett, like a child – asking. Asking that my kids would not grow up and hate me, but that they would be kind. Asking that my brother and sister in-law would not be so sad anymore since they lost their two little boys. Asking that my wife still love me, and I her. No rending of the heavens occurred. I did not cry. But something about it seemed pure. “I think I will pray tomorrow.” I thought to myself.



1 – (CD III.4 – pg.91)

2 – (CD III.4 – pg.112)

2 thoughts on “Karl Barth On Prayer

  1. Josh Tilford

    This is truly an excellent and timely, always, thought. “I was really quite insane.” Haha my favorite. Thanks for such an honest post on an often high-pressured topic. Love you bro

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