I love when prayer is effortless – when distractions fall away, time passes easily, and words come quickly.
But prayer is not less effective when it is hard. Caught in the middle of an aching world, and frustrated by our weakness, “we do not know what we ought to pray for”, says Paul, “but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). Our prayers are effective, not because we are great at praying, but because we pray in the name of Jesus – it is the quality of his prayer life that gives us a hearing (check out Hebrews 5:7).
Often it is the times when prayer is hardest that is most vital. I’ve been visiting hospital all week to see my wife, who is going through some fairly big surgery (she’s doing well, thank God!). As you might expect, I’ve been doing a lot of praying lately. And not always the effortless type.
So how do you pray when you’re so anxious you can’t eat, let alone put your feelings into words to pray? When your tired brain seems to seek out all possible distractions? What do you do in these situations if you don’t have the gift of speaking in tongues to God?
I’m an Anglican, so the answer is simple: Prayer Book.
There’s an idea going around that to be genuine a prayer must be made up on the spot. Like, because I’m so deep and stuff that no words could ever speak into what I’m going through in this moment. All prayers must be single serve and disposable.
That’s bananas. It’s like saying that no song can ever resonate meaningfully with a moment in your life unless it is completely improvised.
There are times when having some scripture soaked traditional prayers can be a God-send. Here’s five of my favourites, which I like to pray when prayer is hard work and I need a running start.
1. Lord’s Prayer (you may already know about this one!)
Our Father in heaven
Hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done
On earth as in heaven
Give us today our daily bread
And forgive us our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours
Now and forever, Amen
2. When you visit a sick person who is improving
Lord, your compassion does not fail
and your mercies are new every morning;
we thank you that you have given [name]
both relief from pain and the hope of renewed health.
Continue in her the good work that has begun,
that, daily increasing in bodily strength,
and humbly rejoicing in your goodness,
she may so order her life as to think and do
always such things as shall please you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
3. Whenever we need reminding of what we can be thankful for
Gracious God, our heavenly Father
We humbly thank you for all your gifts so freely given
For life, and health and safety
For power to work, leisure to rest
And for all that is beautiful in creation and human life
But above all we praise you for our saviour, Jesus Christ
For his death and resurrection, for the gift of your Spirit,
And for the hope of sharing in your glory
Fill our hearts with all joy and peace in believing
Through Jesus Christ our Lord
4. When reading of terrible wars
God of the nations, whose kingdom rules over all,
have mercy on our broken and divided world.
Shed abroad your peace in the hearts of all men
and banish from them the spirit that makes for war;
that all races and people may learn to live
as members of one family
and in obedience to your laws;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
5. At the start of each day
Eternal God and Father, by whose power we are created
and by whose love we are redeemed:
guide and strengthen us by your Spirit,
that we may give ourselves to your service, and
live this day in love to one another and to you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
Almighty and most merciful Father,
we have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against thy holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
and we have done those things which we ought not to have done;
and there is no health in us.
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults.
Restore thou them that are penitent;
according to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake,
that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
to the glory of thy holy name. Amen.
There are heaps more prayers for all sorts of occasions floating around. About to engage the enemy at sea in a naval vessel? The Book of Common Prayer (1662) has just the right prayer for you!
A good place to start is An Australian Prayer Book (1978). In my opinion, this is the best modern prayer book ever produced in English. It is a conservative revision of the Book of Common Prayer (1662), retaining its evangelical theology but in modern English language and improved flexibility.
For an online version, head to Better Gatherings.