"Thou, Dear God": Prayers That Open Hearts and Spirits

Introducer: 
Dr. Lewis Baldwin

thou, dear god: prayers that open hearts and spirits - Martin Luther King, Jr, edited and introduced by Lewis Baldwin

Throughout his life, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., turned to prayer for his own spiritual fulfillment while also delivering prayers to the public as a way to inspire and reaffirm a quest for peace and social justice. “Thou, Dear God” is the first and only collection of prayers by Dr. King.  

Arranged thematically for all seasons of life—including prayers for spiritual guidance, special occasions, and times of adversity and trial—each section is introduced by minister and scholar Lewis V. Baldwin. From the private words King recited as a seminarian and graduate student to the powerful public sermons he delivered as a preacher and civil rights leader, these prayers will prick the conscience, stimulate the intellect, and rekindle the spirit.

“Many of us are eager to learn all we can about Dr. King. There are many books about his work and his thought, but ‘Thou, Dear God’ provides a unique and needed window into his spiritual life.”—Brian D. McLaren, public theologian, blogger, activist and author of numerous books including A New Kind of Christian

“If you want to know the source of his dream and his courage, understand what he lived for and why he was willing to die for it, eavesdrop on King’s conversations with God.” --The Rev. Dr. James Alexander Forbes, Jr. Senior Minister Emeritus of The Riverside Church and President of the Healing of the Nations Foundation

"The prayers of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. carefully compiled in ‘Thou, Dear God’ speak to the journey and challenges of a prophetic spirit in the midst of turbulent circumstances. One of the most catalytic voices in history takes us on a personal tour that through the power of prayer reconciled sanctification with service, covenant with community and righteousness with justice. Martin Luther King Jr. had conversations with God. As a result, the world will never be the same again. "  --Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference & Hispanic Evangelical Association

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Excerpt: 

Selections from the chapter, "Prayers for Social Justice"

“In the Moment of Difficult Decision”

Eternal God out of whose mind this great cosmic universe we bless thee. Help us to seek that which is high, noble and Good. Help us in the moment of difficult decision. Help us to work with renewed vigor for a warless world, a better distribution of wealth, and a brotherhood that transcends race or color.

(This prayer was recited at the end of King’s message “Civilization’s Great Need,” which may have been delivered during the summer of 1949 while he was serving with his father, Martin Luther King, Sr., at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church as an associate minister. He was still a student at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania. One also detects King’s early concern for the elimination of racism, poverty, and war, world problems that he, years later as a civil rights leader, would call “the giant triplets.")

“Free at Last! Free at Last!”

God grant that right here in America and all over this world, we will choose the high way; a way in which men will live together as brothers. A way in which the nations of the world will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. A way in which every man will respect the dignity and worth of all human personality. A way in which every nation will allow justice to run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. A way in which men will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. A way in which men will be able to stand up, and in the midst of oppression, in the midst of darkness and agony, they will be able to stand there and love their enemies, bless those persons that curse them, pray for those individuals that despitefully use them. And this is the way that will bring us once more into that society which we think of as the brotherhood of man. This will be that day when white people, colored people, whether they are brown or whether they are yellow or whether they are black, will join together and stretch out with their arms and be able to cry out: “Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almighty, we are free at last!”

(A statement that takes the form of a prayer at the end of King’s speech “Some Things We Must Do,” delivered at the Second Annual Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change at the Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 5, 1957. Clearly, the prayer reflects King’s vision of a global beloved community, thus refuting claims that the civil rights leader’s thought and activities did not take on international significance until after he received the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964. King’s heavy reliance on Old and New Testament passages and images are most evident here, as he quotes Isaiah 2:4, Amos 5:24, Micah 6:8, Matthew 5:44, and Luke 6:27–28.12)

“A New Day of Justice and Brotherhood and Peace”

God grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace. And that day the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy. God bless you.

(One of King’s very last public prayers, recited at the end of his sermon “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution.” This sermon was preached at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1968, five days before King was assassinated. King paraphrases Job 38:6–7.)

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