Prayer Helps

Bishop N. T. Wright

I am preparing for a talk on prayer this evening and wonder if and when anyone uses the written prayers of others to guide their prayers.  I am convicted by N. T. Wright’s comments that, “we moderns are so anxious to do things our own way, so concerned that if we get help from anyone else our prayer won’t be ‘authentic’ and come from our own heart, that we are instantly suspicious about using anyone else’s prayers. . . . We are hamstrung by the long legacy of the Romantic movement, (which) produced the idea that things are authentic only if they come spontaneously, unbidden, from the depths of our hearts. ” (N. T. Wright, Simply Christian, p. 164-165)

I confess that I have at time been such an advocate of spontaneous prayers of the heart.   Yet I also know the value of written prayers that have guided Christian prayer for centuries.   Jesus, being a first-century Jew, learned memorized prayers such as the Shema (“Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one,” found in Deuteronomy 6:4)  and the Psalms.  He taught his own disciples his kingdom prayer, the prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6 and Luke 11).  The prayer of St. Francis continues to “make us instruments of God’s peace.”   Martin Luther wrote short prayers for the morning and evening to be included in his Catechism.   AA groups use Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer to close their meetings.  Written prayers can give shape and structure to our devotional life.

One of my favorite written prayers I learned from the Lutheran Book of Worship, but it probably has a deeper history.   The prayer is part of the morning prayer service and I have used it at various time in my ministry, especially at the beginning of something new.

Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

What written prayer(s) have shaped your faith life?  In what ways?

2 thoughts on “Prayer Helps

  1. Kathy

    This really helped me quite a bit. I have found using written prayers so helpful – many of the written prayers have led me to pray for things that I hadn’t even considered and I feel they have deepened my prayer life. Thanks!

  2. Sarah S

    I often rely on prayers written by others, sometimes because they say so well what I haven’t been able to put into words. Within Faith Outfitters, we have used a prayer by Marian Wright Edelman, because it both inspires me and its metaphors seem suited to our setting: Lord, we have pushed so many of our children into the tumultuous sea of life in leaky boats without survival gear. Forgive us and help them to forgive us. Help us now to give all our children the anchor of faith, the rudder of hope, the sails of education, and the paddles of family to keep them going when life’s sea gets rough. Another prayer I appreciate is the latter part of the serenity prayer: Living one day at a time;
    Enjoying one moment at a time;
    Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
    Taking, as He did, this sinful world
    as it is, not as I would have it;
    Trusting that He will make all things right
    if I surrender to His Will;
    That I may be reasonably happy in this life
    and supremely happy with Him
    Forever in the next.
    I find it very helpful to know a few prayers – or at least where to find them – created by others. It is certainly good for me to write or say or breathe my own prayers, but when life gets crazy, my prayer life can falter just when it really needs even more attention – yet just as we read that the Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us . . . I think sometimes we are helped by the gift of another’s prayer.
    And I love the unity of time and place that I sense when I say a prayer that has lasted through generations – or been shared through facebook!


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