As I have been thinking about what I want to write, I’ve had several ideas, but none of them took root in my mind. Reading more of Lauren F. Winner’s Mudhouse Sabbath helped, but at first did not fully satisfy me. I finally read the chapter on Prayer, and there it was: the best and worst thing about Christianity. It is wonderful, and a privilege, and powerful, and easy. It is also boring, and an obligation, and pointless, and impossibly hard.
At least, that’s how it feels to me sometimes.
I am fascinated by it and motivated to dive into the deep end and really learn how to pray well, but also I can’t seem to muster the will power just simply to pray.
I’ve written before about prayer, about what I learned from Brother Lawrence and praying through the daily tasks of life, of living life as prayer to God. I still find that insight powerful, helpful, and even essential to a healthy life characterized by prayer.
But there is more.
I’m still trying to figure out the more, but I have encountered other writers, other sources that teach me something. One of these sources is Mudhouse Sabbath, where Lauren Winner writes about the liturgical style of Jewish prayer.
In liturgy, prayer is written beforehand, by someone else, and you repeat the same words either daily or anytime you perform a specific ceremony. For someone who grew up in a “low church” or evangelical, even somewhat Charismatic, setting, the repetition of even the Lord’s Prayer was suspect of being forced, fake, stuffy, and potentially idolatrous.
It can be those things with liturgy, even with words from Jesus’ own lips. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, I am learning freedom in the intentional repetition of liturgy.
Repeated prayers, I am learning, guide us in words that are more thoughtful than those I might pray on my own off the top of my head. They are more in line with truth and less in line with my whim. Lauren Winner points out that when she prays primarily on her own without liturgy, she sees her prayers become more and more focused on the wants and requests of the little things in her own life and less centered on God and the larger issues of justice, love, and truth found in his word and in his character.
She follows up these thoughts with this:
There is, to be sure, room for spontaneous prayer . . . but those spontaneous prayers are to the liturgy what grace notes are to the musical score: they decorate, but never drown out, the central theme.
I like that. We should pray from the heart. And praying from the heart should be done with words we made up ourselves, and with words that have been tried and found true. The repetition and the scheduled rhythm help to guide my spirit toward God, and the added notes of heart-cries are when I reach out and touch him when my guide has led me to his feet.
I’ve learned about myself that I value prayer so much, but left on my own, I’m not good at following through on it. I think it is okay to seek help. In fact, I don’t think there is anything worth doing that doesn’t require partnering with God and partnering with God’s people.
Prayer is certainly one of them. By praying daily with words written by others, words based on the Bible and based on the experience of God’s people after the Bible was written, I join with Christ and his body every morning.
By praying with my life like Brother Lawrence, I pray with my actions as well as my words.
By crying out to God from the depth of my heart, I follow in Jesus’ footsteps, as well as millions, maybe billions of others.
These are all ways to pray, and they are all necessary parts of a life characterized by prayer. I need help to pray, and my brothers and sisters in Christ are teaching me how. I need help to pray, and the Holy Spirit is giving me the help required.
Lord, Jesus, light my path and teach me to pray like you. Help me to speak with you and plead with you, thank you and worship you, and to intercede like you pray for people.
“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”