Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Praying by the Book
Some Christians either look down upon or simply don't understand why other Christians find value in praying from a prayer book. Whether that book is a Book of Common Prayer from the 1540's or Baillie's classic Diary of Private Prayer from the 1940's or Stormie O'Martian's more recent Power of a Praying Wife, etc., praying from a book, or "by the book" can express the soul-language of our hearts.
I had never prayed from any book, except the Scriptures of course, until about ten years ago. Yes, I started with Stormie O'Martian's books which have been accepted almost without question in evangelical circles, but then online friends encouraged me to try Baillie's slim volume of prayers.
And I fell in love with praying all over again.
Obviously, there's nothing wrong with extemporaneous praying--it's what we do all the time. And praying "by the book" should never totally replace praying on our own--Baillie even writes in his book that "These prayers are to be regarded as aids; they are not intended to form the whole of morning's or evening's devotions or to take the place of more individual prayers for oneself and others."
But adding such written prayers to our prayer times has totally revolutionized my own prayer life.
For me, written prayers often express my heart more thoroughly and deeply than I can in extemporaneous prayer. I find this especially true in using the Book of Common Prayer and Baillie's Diary of Private Prayer. Baillie's little book presents page-long prayers for Morning and Evening for thirty-one days, plus Morning and Evening prayers for Sundays; thus, each prayer is prayed once per month. The prayers become familiar over the years (and I've been using Baillie's book off and on for well over a decade), but for me, they are never rote. Nope, never ever rote.
Instead, they become beautiful expressions of the love and faith in my heart, expressed far better and with a more global outlook than my own private prayers.
One of my favorite prayers is the Twelfth Day, Evening:
O Thou in whose boundless being are laid up all treasures of wisdom and truth and holiness, grant that through constant fellowship with Thee the true graces of Christian character may more and more take shape within my soul:
The grace of a thankful and uncomplaining heart:
The grace to await Thy leisure patiently and to answer Thy call promptly:
The grace of courage, whether in suffering or in danger:
The grace to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ:
The grace of boldness in standing for what is right:
The grace of preparedness, lest I enter into temptation:
The grace of bodily discipline:
The grace of strict truthfulness:
The grace to treat others as I would have others treat me:
The grace of charity, that I may refrain from hasty judgement:
The grace of silence, that I may refrain from hasty speech:
The grace of forgiveness towards all who have wronged me:
The grace of tenderness towards all who are weaker than myself:
The grace of steadfastness in continuing to desire that Thou wilt do as now I pray.
And now, O God, give me a quiet mind, as I lie down to rest. Dwell in my thoughts until sleep overtake me. Let me rejoice in the knowledge that, whether awake or asleep, I am still with Thee. Let me not be fretted by any anxiety over the lesser interests of life. Let no troubled dreams disturb me, so that I may awake refreshed and ready for the tasks of another day. And to Thy Name be all the glory. Amen.
So I pray, with words not wholly mine, but with a heart that, I pray, is wholly His.
And I find great comfort in praying in this way, especially when the exhaustion and brain-fog and pain of my illness makes praying extemporaneously a challenge.
For me, my private prayers were becoming rote. I felt as though I were praying the same things each day, almost as if I were ticking off a grocery list of requests. So the prayers I pray from books have been more heart-felt than my private, extemporaneous prayers.
I think that God doesn't look at our words in prayer so much as at the heart attitude behind the prayer.
"For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance,(B) but the LORD looks on the heart." --1 Samuel 16:7, ESV
With God, it's always the heart that counts.
Praying by the book with heart,