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?