The subject of prayer has been on my mind a lot lately. Perhaps partly because of the current needs of myself and others, but also because the subject has lended itself to some queries of its own.
During the past year, a dear friend of mine and I have engaged in discussions about the concept of prayer. She, an elder in an Anglican church, believes strongly in the strength of a liturgical prayer. Liturgical prayers, she explained, are group cohesive (as per the scripture: where two or more are gathered in my name, there I will be in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). When written out, these prayers give pause for thought and evaluation. This is only one form of prayer, she explained, as individual prayers are still vitally important to our personal communication and relationship with God.
I, having spent my church life in non-liturgical churches, have always been of the mindset that prayer is strictly a process of communication between ourselves and God, and should therefore be spontaneous. I see prayer not only as a process of our expressing our needs to God, but also of listening and waiting on God to speak to us.
The other day in a secular group discussion, I listened as non-churched people spoke about what prayer meant to them to support them in their struggles through life. It was interesting to note that even devout non-believers have a type of prayer path that they utilize to communicate with “their higher power” to gain perspective and strength.
In a fiction novel, I recently read the prayers of a rabbi, where he prayed by first praising God for his wondrous goodness and salvation, then asking to have the persons’ needs met, then thanking God for answering those needs. Huh! Praise, Ask, Thank! Simple formula that is easy to follow, but also causes us to pause and think.
My father was a man who prayed constantly. He frequently encouraged me to read the Book of Psalms. In it, he said, was every prayer for every need. I am often amazed at the emotions displayed in that powerful book. For some reason, I never looked at it like a prayer book. I had always looked at it like a hymn book and a diary. After all, it is full of praises to the wonderfulness of God interrupted by despair of the rottenness of life and pleas for God’s mercy. In this week’s church service, the minister concurred with my father when he exclaimed that the book of Psalms is the greatest prayer book ever written.
Then it suddenly struck me. Don’t we often say “The Lord’s Prayer” as a group prayer? Isn’t that a type of liturgical prayer? Doesn’t liturgical mean “a religious ritual”? I usually interpret liturgical prayers as meaning a prayer where someone reads one phrase, and the congregation responds with another line. But technically speaking, that isn’t what it means.
Then what about writing out our prayers in advance and reading them out loud in a church service? Are they still effective means of communication with God, or are they simply rehearsed sermons in a prayer format?
I do know that when I write in my diary “Dear God”, I am writing out my prayer that I will probably read and reread many times again. And each time I read it, it will evoke different things in my spirit. That will lead me to pray for my need, or the needs of others again. Or sometimes it also leads me to praise God for his answers to my prayers, or at least thank God I’m not in that negative space today. In that respect, I suppose I have developed my own liturgical diary that is meant for the eyes of me and God only.
To summarize: This process of prayer has helped me to understand a number of things. 1) I still maintain prayer is a two way communication process between ourselves and God; 2) Liturgical prayers have a vital place in our lives, but so do spontaneous prayers; 3) The book of Psalms has much more to be discovered. It is not only a book of hymns, a personal diary of pain; it is also a very deep book of prayer. No emotion is more greatly displayed than in the context of prayer. 4) I think the rabbi was right on track in his prayers. We do need to praise the wonderfulness of God and come before him with thanksgiving in our hearts before we express our needs to him; then express thankfulness that our prayers will be answered. After all, Jesus said in Matthew 6:8 that God knows what we need before we even ask. That tells me the answer is already on its way before we have even prayed for it. Interestingly, Jesus made that comment right before he demonstrated to us how to pray.
In Part B of this blog, I am attaching a prayer written by my dear friend as an example of a well thought out liturgical prayer that she, as an elder in her church, prayed with her congregation.
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