In Sunday School a couple of days ago, Nathan, our associate pastor, continued his series of discussions on prayer. We've talked about prayer to the Father, prayer in the name of Jesus, prayer to the Holy Spirit, boldness and persistence in prayer, and, this particular Sunday, global and eternal intercessory prayer. Nathan made the point that often our prayers end up being mostly intercessory, and those prayers focus on the answer to one particular situation, rather than prayer for that person's overall spiritual maturity and well-being. We focus in on the job needed, or the healing asked for, and not on the eternal focus we should be honing in on.
I've found Nathan's point to be all to true in my own prayer life. I felt as though my relationship with God was all about my grocery list of prayer requests for healing, for finances, for salvation for certain people, for blessings for them, but that list was the extent of my prayers. No wonder my prayer life felt as dry as shoe leather. And was probably downright boring to the God Who loved me anyway.
I tried the A.C.T.S. prayer model which helped a little with my prayer time. "A" stands for Adoration -- time spent praising the Lord. "C" is for Confession -- bringing my sins before God and asking forgiveness. "T" stands for Thanksgiving -- thanking God for His many blessings. And, lastly (where it belongs), "S" is for Supplication -- asking God to fulfill the needs of other people as I interceded for them. I still felt as though I was repeating the same words almost every day, and that these words simply did not measure up to the love, devotion, and gratefulness I felt in my heart toward my Lord and Saviour. I kept praying, but I felt increasingly frustrated.
Then some wonderful Christians I met online suggested a little prayer book to me, John Baillie's classic Diary of Private Prayer. This little book contains morning and evenings prayers for thirty-one days, each day of the month. Each prayer is only a page long, and several are Scripture only while the rest use snippets of Scripture along with prayers based on Scripture. The morning prayers often thank the Lord for the new day and focus on becoming more Christlike while the evening prayers quite regularly confessed sins (in general, of course) committed that day. Because the prayers were written in the first half of the 20th century and were based on Scripture, they possessed a more universal quality, a more eternal focus, and the poet in me revelled in the beautiful language in which the prayers were expressed. I found a copy of the book at a local evangelical bookstore and have given away copies to several special people in my life over the years. After I had praised God with language that glorified Him, I felt more able to pray for others.
Then I happened upon the Book of Common Prayer, the prayer book of the Anglican Church. The copy I had purchased for the illuminated illustrations was the 1662 British version which I used for several years before discovering the 1979 US version, and then my favorite, the 1928. I discovered ancient prayers and passages of Scripture to pray, and suddenly prayer felt like a true conversation between me and God, rather than just a one-sided conversation with me checking off my little list of prayers. I found myself praying the "Te Deum Laudamus" and the "Venite" (verses from Psalm 95 and 96), as well as prayers of confession and thanksgiving that felt to me as though they were appropriate in addressing our King of Kings and Lord of Lords, yet were familiar enough to address My Father as well. The beauty of the prayers combined with their global and eternal focus brought me into God's presence the way few prayer times ever had before. I also found the Psalter especially helpful as I could pray through the entire book of Psalms each month with the 150 Psalms divided into thirty morning and evening selections to be prayed.
This morning I will post the concluding lines of the "Te Deum" which I pray every morning; most of the lines come from the Psalms:
O Lord, save thy people and bless thine heritage
Govern them, and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name ever, world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord, to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy be upon us as we trust in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted; let me never be confounded.
Some Christians look down on prayer books, saying that they're "vain repetition" and that we should be praying from the heart. However, I find that although these prayers are indeed repetitious, they are anything but vain. I pour my heart into these prayers, and have been doing so for nearly ten years, and I still don't have any trouble in making them MY prayers. And the nice thing about the Book of Common Prayer is that there are places for spontaneous intercession built right into the prayers. In the latter portion of both Morning and Evening Prayers are prayers for our President and authority figures, our pastors and religious leaders, and those "who are in any ways afflicted, or distressed, in mind, body, and estate" after which spontaneous prayers of intercession can be prayed.
The focus of these prayer books is giving honor, glory, and praise to the Lord, magnifying His Name and thanking Him for his "goodness and kindness to us and to all men." Intercessions have their place, but the focus of our prayers should be on Christ, not us. And that's the most important area of prayer to address: our relationship with the God of the universe who allows us to approach His throne with boldness because He first loved us.