As the new year approaches and many people think about new years resolutions, I would like to suggest one: reading written prayers.
I am not suggesting that one replace his whole prayer time with reading prayers or that he give up spontaneous praying in favor of reading prayers, but that he add to those disciplines the practice of reading prayers written by others. I suggest this resolution for the following reasons.
First, written prayers play a significant part in Scripture, for example, the whole book of Psalms is composed of written prayers. The Psalms are not spontaneous, impulsive prayers, but carefully crafted pieces of poetry expressing the depths of human affections. Many of these Psalms were used in temple worship and the common Israelite would have been exposed to them as a form of liturgy. Therefore, read written prayers because one must do so if he is to read the whole of Scripture.
Second, throughout the centuries God has given his people certain men and women who have a gift for expressing their affections in words. Most Christians will have encountered these writers primarily through hymns. There are often times when I wish to pray but struggle to find words to express myself. It is in these times that I find written prayers to be so helpful, they give me words to let my requests be made known to God and to cast my anxieties on Him.
Third, reading written prayers can be a great encouragement in times of trouble. Whether it is a besetting sin, persecution, or some other hardship, it is encouraging to know that other Christians throughout history have endured the same things; and not only endured them but wrestled with them often over long periods of time. Augustine’s Confessions is a great example of this, arguable the most influential post-apostolic theologian wrestled with sin and bares his heart to God in his book.
Fourth, reading well written prayers can help one become a better pray-er. It is no secret that the state of (at least public) prayer is not great in evangelicalism. When one prays with a group he will more often than not hear prayers filled with uhhs, umms, justs, and God’s name used like a comma. When one reads thoughtful and well composed prayers he places a model of prayer before himself to which he will aspire. Even without conscious effort to imitate well written prayers, the consistent act of reading them will help one to prayer better. I do not mean to imply that imperfect prayer is wrong, indeed every aspect of this life – including prayer – is stained and marred by sin; any prayer is better than no prayer, and such, is a good in and of itself. No matter how eloquent and well composed our prayers are, they are always inadequate and it is only because of God’s grace that He condescends to hear and answer them.
Below is a prayer from Valley of Vison (Banner of Truth Trust, 1975) entitled “Year’s End” which I have read for the past few years as the New Year approaches. I expect that this prayer will commend itself more than any argument I could give on its behalf.
O Love beyond Compare,
Thou art good when thou givest,
when thou takest away,
when the sun shines upon me,
when night gathers over me.
Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world,
and in love didst redeem my soul;
Thou dost love me still,
in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust.
Thy goodness has been with me another year,
leading me through a twisting wilderness,
in retreat helping me to advance,
when beaten back making sure headway.
Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead;
I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
With thee as the blessed pilot of my future as of my past.
I bless thee that thou hast veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.
If thou hast appointed storms of tribulation,
thou wilt be with me in them;
If I have to pass through tempests of persecution and temptation,
I shall not drown;
If I am to die,
I shall see thy face the sooner;
If a painful end is to be my lot,
grant me grace that my faith fail not;
If I am to be cast aside from the service I love,
I can make no stipulation;
Only glorify thyself in me whether in comfort or trial,
as a chosen vessel meet always for thy use.