Friday, May 11, 2012

Written Prayers and Growing in the Faith

Recently, a pastoral colleague of mine asked me to help him complete an assignment for a "Spiritual Formations" class.  His assignment was to interview someone who regularly uses written prayers as a part of their devotional disciplines.  The question that he asked me was:

"How does your use of written or rote prayers help you to know God and to grow in your faith?"

My response was as follows:

I have, for the past 12 years, or so, prayed the Daily Office as a part of my spiritual disciplines.  At times, it has just been Morning Prayer.  At other times, I have prayed Morning and Evening Prayer.  I also pray the Litany on Wednesdays and Fridays.

In praying the Daily Office, I have most often used John Wesley’s The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America, which was his (slight) revision of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer from the Church of England.  -  John Wesley faithfully prayed the Daily Office each day, and he passed on to the Methodists in North America a Prayer Book for their use each Lord’s Day.

In addition, I use other written prayers from the BCP and other sources in both corporate worship and personal devotions.

These prayers do not replace, but supplement my other prayers.

I find that God uses these prayers to help to shape me as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.  The prayers have been prayed by Christians back to the early Church all the way up to today from around the world.  In this regard, God reminds me that, while my relationship with the Lord is deeply personal, it is not at all isolated.  God has made us to be a people, not just individualistic, “Lone Ranger” Christians.  -  The prayers serve as a sort of catechism in molding me in the Christian faith and life.

God uses these prayers to help me to pray beyond myself, as well.  By that I mean that they keep me from focusing just on my own concerns and move me to pray for those things that God would have me be concerned about.  Thus, God shapes my outlook and shapes me in Christlikeness. 

The prayers give me words that better articulate my own prayers.  They help me say what needs to be said.

Through these prayers God teaches me about my relationship to God, in that they set my priorities in prayer.  They call me to confession, but also remind me of God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness.  They remind me that thanksgiving is more than with “our lips,” but “with our lives.”

One of the most important prayers, for me, is the Collect of Purity.  While it is not a part of the Daily Office, it is a part of the regular Sunday service of worship, and I have incorporated it as part of my personal disciplines.  It is prayed by Anglicans and others every Sunday.  It has been said that it summarizes well what Wesley was talking about when he spoke of Christian Perfection (or Entire Sanctification).  It is a part of the context in which Wesley developed and articulated this biblical doctrine.  -  As I recall, P.F. Bresee once responded to some Episcopalians by saying something like, Why do you consider it strange that Nazarenes claim that God answers the prayer that you pray every Sunday? 

Since we are called to live under God’s sanctifying grace each day, the Collect of Purity is a prayer that helps me to seek God’s face, each day to the end that God might “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of [God’s] Holy Spirit that [I] might perfectly love [God] and worthily magnify [God’s] holy name through Christ our Lord.”

Through these prayers, God focuses my day.  God draws me to Himself.  And then, in Evening Prayer, God puts my day in perspective and review.  -  At this point, I simply could not conceive of not including written prayers as a part of my spiritual discipline.

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