Continuing in Prayer (part 3)

But where do we find the words to pray?  This is a question that sometimes hides under the surface of our minds.  There are several ways to come at it. If I am responsible to lead prayer at a large family gathering, I begin to think about things like this:  1) What occasion has brought us together? Are we gathered because it is Christmas? If so, I will want to thank God for the birth of Jesus and for the completely new life that Christ’s presence in the world means. If the occasion is Thanksgiving Day, I will want to thank God for providing food from the earth and for the heritage of our nation.   2) What is the purpose of our gathering? Are we gathered at a family reunion? If so, I will want to thank God for the gift of family and for the many blessings that come to us through family. I will want to ask God to help our families in the areas of our need. 3) Are there guests around the table? If so I will want to thank God for the presence of our guests and ask God’s blessing on them.  4) Do we have missionaries visiting from another place? Then I will want to ask God’s blessings on the missionaries and their work. There are many factors which come into play depending on the composition of the group that has gathered and the purpose of the gathering. Each occasion is unique, so prayers can be adapted to fit the occasion.

Let’s say it’s an ordinary day. 

 There are no guests around the table.  There is no special occasion. It’s just us, the family members who live together.  Let’s say it’s been an uneventful day. But I am tired, and I can’t think of any special words to say before we eat.  In such a time, I will sometimes invite those sitting around the table to say together with me the words of the Lord’s prayer found in the gospel of Matthew 6:9-13-

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine ins the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.” (This is the version from the King James Bible, but you can use any version you want.)

There are several things I like about praying this way.  1) We are praying with the words Jesus gave us. There is no better teacher for prayer than Jesus.  2) We are praying with the words from the Bible. The Bible is the main place we look for the words to use in prayer.  In the Bible, God speaks to us. He speaks to us through average speech understood by average people. We can use the words of the Bible to form prayers by adapting them or sometimes by simply reciting them.  3) It is a prayer that is not hard to memorize. Sometimes our minds are overburdened and we cannot find what seems like the right words. In such a time there is nothing wrong with using the time-tested prayers that have been passed down to us in the Bible or in collections of prayers found in other books.  

Over the years, various churches have developed traditional prayers for use before and after meals.  They are usually quite beautiful and often carefully defined. I come from a church background that emphasizes free and spontaneous prayer, but I want to say there is nothing wrong with using a traditional prayer which is recited rather than composed at the moment.  Here again we need to remember that prayer is a conversation with God. God is not looking for a unique performance of words. Just as I use common phrases like “Hello!” when I answer the telephone or “Good morning,” when I meet someone in the morning, and don’t feel I am letting people down by using common words, I can use such common words and phrases when I speak to God in prayer, and he will not be disappointed in me.  We should not place a burden on ourselves to always be spontaneous, or original when praying. You can recite a traditional prayer, or you can adapt a traditional prayer to your occasion. The main thing is to pray, because we want to keep the conversation with God alive.  

I find the most helpful words for praying come from the Bible.  The Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers in the Bible which gives us a vast vocabulary for prayer.  This book is filled with words and phrases which are helpful to us in expressing our thanks, and our requests to God.  I encourage you to regularly read the Book of Psalms to enrich your prayer vocabulary. Other books of the Bible also include prayers in them.  These are also useful. You can always formulate a prayer from any book of the Bible by saying “God, in your holy book you have said……” and here you quote the words from the Bible. Then you can continue to thank God or ask God’s help and blessing in responding to his words.  

In general, try to cultivate an open ear, and open mind and an open-hearted spirit towards God and those around you when you pray.  This kind of an open spirit is described in Isaiah 50:4-5.

The Master, God, has given me
    a well-taught tongue,
So I know how to encourage tired people.
    He wakes me up in the morning,
Wakes me up, opens my ears
    to listen as one ready to take orders.
The Master, God, opened my ears,
    and I didn’t go back to sleep,
    didn’t pull the covers back over my head. (Isaiah 50:4-5, The Message) 

Donald Marsden

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