Prayer is hard. Too hard, often enough. And I don’t know about you, but for me, one of the hardest parts of prayer is just coming up with words.
Is this a problem for everyone else? I get the impression that it’s pretty common. Certainly I’ve heard it mentioned more than a few times.
Now, I don’t have a ton of evidence for this, but I can’t help but suspect that this is a pretty big obstacle to prayer for a lot of people. So it seems worth it for me to share what has been helping me.
For most of church history, pastors and teachers have taught prayers to their congregations to memorize and recite. Sometimes this has gone wrong, and people have used these stock prayers as spiritual checkboxes to curry favor with God or atone for their sins. But this doesn’t mean it was a bad idea to begin with. It was a service from the beginning, a way to help people pray when they don’t know how.
Some Christians now have a problem with reciting premade prayers. They tend to think that it’s not authentic, that all the word of our prayers need to emerge directly from our own hearts and minds to be genuine. And there is a legitimate concern there. It can be easy to just recite prayers as a cheap, lazy way to appease God’s requirements without personal involvement or love in the Spirit.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We already know that sometimes, when we don’t already have the words for something, it can be a gift to find when someone else has already crafted them. Sometimes the perfect lyrics from the perfect song are just what we need to communicate our love, our sorrow, or our joy. You stumble upon a poem that speaks both to you and for you at the deepest level. We don’t always need to be the ones who make the words to make them a part of us and send them back out in sincerity.
This is what I have found lately with a copy of The Book of Common Prayer that I picked up at a thrift store. It is full of classic prayers and hymns which I’ve found incredibly fruitful. They put meat on the bones of my prayer life, helping me find ways to pray for things I might not even think to pray otherwise. Take this lovely example:
O God, the creator and preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech you for all sorts and conditions of men; that you would be pleased to make your ways known unto them, your saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for your holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by your good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; especially those for whom our prayers are desired; that it may please you to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
The mere existence of these kinds of words that I can clothe my own heart with before God is a breath of fresh air. I can’t imagine that I would be alone here. Sometimes we just need a prayer to recite, something Jesus knew when He taught his disciples to pray (and, contrary to what you may have heard, the Lord’s Prayer was for His disciples to memorize and use, not a mere model for prayer in general). Because sometimes we don’t have the words, and while the Spirit can intercede for us then, it is always better that our minds be fruitful. After all, God gave the Church people who can write beautifully for a reason. In my case, it helps me pray, even to want to pray, when I would otherwise be daunted by the task of making up what to say. And more prayer is, well, just what we all need.
(P.S. Also, if you’re going to be reciting prayers, you can never go wrong with the Psalms, since they’re divinely inspired and whatnot.)