A Plug for Written Prayers
January 31, 2019
by Amy Givler, MD
When I was a young Christian, I thought written prayers were stale, while my own prayers were spontaneous and alive. Now I think the opposite. Left to my own devices, my prayers sound remarkably similar to one another. And by similar, I mean dull. Heartfelt, but dull.
But for several decades I have been praying other people’s prayers daily. That is, I read written prayers from various books. I read them thoughtfully and carefully, making sure I really mean the words I am praying. Sometimes I read a prayer twice to be sure.
What are the advantages of this?
- When I can’t find the words to express my heart, I can resonate with others who have found the words.
- If I don’t have much time to spend with God in prayer, written words pack a punch.
- When my heart is dry, I am revived by the words of deeply spiritual men and women.
- Written prayers help me organize my thoughts. “Yes, that is what I am trying to express,” I often think.
- Reading a prayer often spurs me to pray my own prayers because the words I read reminded me of people or situations that need to be prayed for in just that way.
- When otherwise I would have just focused on my own immediate needs, written prayers lead me to praise God (with far more eloquent words than I would ever have thought of), and they lead me to repentance.
Repeatedly throughout my 36-year marriage to Don, we have tried and failed to have times of prayer together. We know it is important. We want to do it. We know praying together strengthens marriages; yet, we have not done it.
But a year ago something changed. Inspired by a CMDA Marriage Enrichment Weekend where we heard, yet again, about the value of praying together as a couple, we decided to read from a book of written prayers, praying the prayer along with the author. We keep the book on the kitchen table where we eat dinner. By no means have we been faithful to reading and praying daily, but we have been more successful than ever before. And yes, I think it has enhanced our marriage.
So which written prayers of others should we pray? We can start with Scripture. The Bible is full of prayers. In fact, the book of Psalms is basically one prayer after another. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor martyred by Hitler, wrote in Life Together: Prayerbook of the Bible, the book that got him permanently banned from publishing in Nazi Germany, “Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure is lost to the Christian church. With its recovery will come unexpected power.” The Lord’s prayer is our guide to all prayer, and all types of prayers are contained within it, but left to our own devices, we would only pray the fourth petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
“But God wants it otherwise. Not the poverty of our heart, but the richness of God’s word, ought to determine our prayer,” Bonhoeffer writes.
Psalms contain every sort of prayer possible. John Calvin wrote, “(The Psalms are) an anatomy of all the parts of the soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.” And, by praying them ourselves, we pray alongside David, who wrote many of them, and Jesus, who prayed them also, and we pray in fellowship with countless other believers over the millennia.
Other magnificent prayers in the Bible are scattered through both Old and New Testaments. In David’s prayer at the end of his life in 1 Chronicles 29:10-19, he praises God, saying all his life’s blessings came from His hand:
“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength” (1 Chronicles 29:11-12, NLT).
When I want to pray for fellow believers, including my husband and adult children, I often return to Colossians 1:9-12:
“…We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father…” (NLT).
My favorite books of prayers were generally written centuries ago, but there are several more recent volumes I have loved. My annotated list:
- The Valley of Vision edited by Arthur Bennett
- This is my unabashed favorite. The prayers are eloquent and deep. This is the book Don and I are praying through together. Spending a few extra bucks for the leather edition is well worth it.
- The Book of Common Prayer
- Yes, this is the book used by Anglican and Episcopalian congregations. It is packed with meaningful prayers. If you have never read it outside of a church service, you will be pleasantly surprised at how helpful it is. I assure you, you don’t have to be Episcopalian or Anglican to love this book.
- A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie
- Be sure you get the original edition and not the “updated” version by Susanna Wright. She made many changes, all negative.
- God’s Minute: A Book of 365 Daily Prayers Sixty Seconds Long for Home Worship
- The cute little original book is out of print but still available on the secondary market.
- Stormie Omartian’s little books of prayers that accompany each of her bestselling “The Power of a Praying…” series
- Prayers Across the Centuries edited by Vinita Hampton Wright
- She gathers prayers from the Bible all the way up to the 20th century.
- The One Year Book of Personal Prayer edited by Daniel Partner
- This is in the form of a daily devotional, drawing short prayers from across the centuries. Out of print, but still available used.
I have also read many books about prayer, and have gained much from them, but that is not what I am writing about today. Certainly knowing more about why and how to pray will benefit each of us greatly.
To be sure, I still pray my own prayers, in my own words. They may be dull, but God still hears them and cherishes them. He just wants me to talk to Him, whichever words I use.
Thank you Amy. I, much like you stated, lack a vocabulary suitable for God in my mind.
You are ‘spot on’ about about having feelings of inadequacy to having a more meaningful prayer life.
God listens and knows how much we want to please him. I take bulletins home on Sunday to help,
Now I have some wonderful books to read and formulate a better way to pray!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and solutions .
Thank you for your affirming words, Rebecca. Developing a prayer life is a lifelong task. I need all the help I can get!