The worthwhileness of written prayers
God in his kindness has recorded for us prayers in his word the Bible, e.g. Dan 9:4-19; 2 Sam 7:18-29; Job 42:1-6; Ps 86; and Mt 6:9-13. These prayers teach and remind us of many things, including the worthwhileness of written prayers.
5 points by way of introduction
- When I speak about the value of written prayers I m not saying that spontaneous prayer is of no value or lesser value. Both spontaneous prayers and written prayers have their place.
- Some Christians throughout church history have wrongly believed that written prayers inhibit the work of the Holy Spirit and so therefore lead us to have a stunted prayer life. It’s a false piety and a focus on individualism that says that written prayers necessarily lead to a stunted prayer life.
- I m not saying that written prayers are worthwhile just because I m Anglican!
- You can have bad models of written prayers – of which there are plenty – or good models, just ensure you choose good models. We have brilliant models readily available, e.g. the Bible, The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan prayers and devotions, The Book of Common Prayer, An Australian Prayer Book, Lifting up our hearts: 150 prayers from John Calvin, and http://bettergatherings.com. Some of the older prayer book are also available online.
- Some of us are use to traditions where we use written prayers whilst others of us are not. They may take a while to get use to but I hope in time you find them helpful. I hope you find them worthwhile and I m confident they are worthwhile for many different reasons, but just ten reasons I ll share with you now.
Written prayers are worthwhile because:
- They teach us about who God is and who we are. God’s character, and that prayer is all about God’s grace and not what we have done. They teach us biblical and theological truths and not just what we happen to remember that day, but they can go much deeper.
- They teach us about the place of emotions in the Christian life.
- Tested over time. Some of the written prayers we have the Christian church has been using for hundreds of years, some even longer.
- We learn from our Christian brothers and sisters both past and present. We learn from things they were going through, but we also are reminded and learn the timeless truths about God and humanity. We learn what their priorities are e.g. the Apostle Paul’s prayers reveal where his heart was at and Don Carson’s book A Call to Spiritual Reformation is extremely helpful on this.
We can learn from others in our church family and their written prayers. An idea you may want to try at your church is, as you begin a new sermon series e.g. The Gospel of John, have someone pray immediately after the sermon a prayer they have pre-written. So they ve spoken to the preacher during the week and the preacher has told them what their sermon is going to be about. That prayer the person prays in church is then available in the next week’s bulletin and on the church website. Then at the end of the sermon series you collate the prayers together and distribute them to everyone at church. You could also do a version for children. So at the end of the series everyone has some written prayers on John’s Gospel. This way you re helping use the gifts of others in the church family and it’s helping them develop their gifts. It also helps people get to know one another. Someone may think, I was really encouraged by Carol’s prayer. I must speak to her at morning tea and get to know her. Those written prayers potentially help lots of people reading those prayer learn how to pray.
I heard a lovely story recently from my colleague Andrew Shead about how we can learn from others with their written prayers. Andrew told me how his mother use to write letters to him when he was at boarding school, and in those letters she use to include written prayers of Christians from ages past. Now that’s a wonderful testimony of a mother’s ministry to her son isn t and who knows the impact those written prayers had on Andrew? What they taught him. How they shaped him. Convicted him. Reassured him. Refreshed him. You may never have a child at boarding school but we can all write letters can t we, and maybe this week you want to choose to write a letter to someone and include in it a written prayer to help encourage them?
- They teach us what to pray. Written prayers help teach us what matters to God. A number of years ago an English pastor was in Sydney and he was visiting a conference where he sat in on lots of small groups praying. He commented afterwards, I ve noticed in Sydney you re very good at thanksgiving, but very short on confession. It’s good isn t it to weigh outsiders comments, people not in our Christian sub-groups to see where we may be lacking? Like my English pastor friend, written prayers teach us what to pray. They teach us what matters to God. They help us in areas where we may be lacking, blind spots we may have.
- Help our prayer concerns become larger. Written prayers help us not be so selfish and inward looking. So they remind us to pray for e.g. those affected by drought, to pray that we will share Jesus with others, to confess our greed. So we may use the acronym A.C.T.S or S.T.O.P to help our prayers. But written prayers are helpful again in that they go another step. So e.g. you use S.T.O.P – sorry, thanks, others, please. With others , you could use that every day but never pray e.g. for those affected by drought. And related to the fact that written prayers help our prayer concerns become larger, is that we end up growing in our love for others, because as we pray for different people, we grow to love them. You want to love someone? Then pray for them. E.g. you may begin to pray this week for Aboriginal people for the first time regularly in your life. If you do, you most likely by December will have grown to have a deep love for Indigenous Australians as a result.
- They help us focus and so help us pray until we pray . You may have heard that phrase – it’s advice from the Puritans, and Don Carson explains what the Puritans mean, What they mean is that Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying. We are especially prone to such feelings when we pray for only a few minutes, rushing to be done with a mere duty. To enter the spirit of prayer, we must stick to it for a while. If we pray until we pray, eventually we come to delight in God’s presence, to rest in his love, to cherish his will. Even in dark or agonized praying, we somehow know we are doing business with God.  But sometimes we don t even feel like even starting to pray. Sometimes we re distracted. Discouraged. Feeling spiritually dry. And I think this is where written prayers can help us. They help us focus and so help us pray, and so help us pray until we pray .
- Teach others. Whether the written prayers are one off or repeated. When repeated they become memorable so all people can use them at others times. And this is especially important for people who either cannot read or have difficulty in reading. With regular use of some written prayers in church, they might remember the prayers and want to use them for their own personal use. You might want to use written prayers in your bible study group to teach people how to pray, both in leading people in public prayer but also to teach them how to pray privately.
- Help us express our unity. Good models of written prayer are very accessible and the person leading us in the written prayer doesn t have to be a so-called prayer expert if they re using someone else’s written prayers. They re using the gifts and wisdom of others. Or we pray them together and that of course expresses our unity as we all can say AMEN at the end. I think it would help many people in our churches be more prepared to lead in prayer at church if we offered them a variety of written prayers. At my church we have many men and women who offer to be on the Bible reading roster but much fewer who offer to be on the prayer roster. Having some written prayers may make it much easier for some and so they d be more prepared to serve their church family that way, and in turn these written prayers would also help shape their own understanding of prayer, and maybe in time it would help them be more confident to write their own prayers one day for church.
- Refresh us. Some say using written prayers in church is dry, but actually the irony is, if you re feeling spiritually dry, feeling like your prayer life is stuck in a rut, one of the best things you can do is to begin writing out your prayers or use pre-written prayers, the prayers of others. Or prayers that you have written in the past. It ll hopefully refresh you and remind you of the great privilege of prayer and the greatness of our good God. If you re feeling spiritually dry at this time, then maybe try and use some written prayers and I hope it refreshes you.
https://austind90.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/the-benefits-of-written-prayers/ (accessed 21/02/16)
http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/8-lessons-from-the-school-of-prayer (accessed 21/02/16)
 http://www.richardliantonio.com/blog/2010/01/why-use-written-prayers-a-series-explaining-the-logic-and-reasons-behind-christian-liturgy-and-worship/; https://austind90.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/the-benefits-of-written-prayers/