By Sue Careless
WE ARE CALLED by God to be a people of prayer but if we are honest, none of us is as prayerful as we should be. We all struggle with prayer: we talk a lot about God but not enough to him. We could all use some encouragement to become more prayerful across the day and across our lives.
Is it acceptable to find that encouragement from the prayers of others? Are we cheating God when we pray from a prepared text, unless that text is Scripture itself? Especially in our private devotions, shouldn’t we find our own words to express lament and confession, praise and thanksgiving? Can a prayer be honestly our own when we use someone else’s phrases? Aren’t we being spiritually lazy?
Golden Slumbers, the lullaby that I sang to my children and that my mother sang to me, was from the sixteenth century. But each mother makes it her own as she sings it to her little one. Just as a lullaby or a love song, a hymn or a carol can express the feelings of thousands, so a great prayer can find an echo in our hearts. It is able to speak for us as if the words were our own.
It is the Holy Spirit who brings life to a prayer, just as he brings life to a person. He infuses the words and he infuses us, for our bodies are his holy temple. When we don’t know how to pray, he helps us (Romans 8:27).
As a devout Jew, Jesus prayed the Psalms from memory. Psalm 22 was on his lips as he hung dying on the cross. He took David’s words from almost a millennium earlier, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”, and in his own personal anguish used them to express something far beyond anything David had experienced or could imagine.
When we too are overwhelmed by fear or sorrow, or stirred by feelings of love or awe, we can pray using the words of other Christians. Their prayers can stimulate our own spontaneous conversations with God. Fellow Christians from earlier centuries or the other side of the globe can be our companions on our prayer journey – their worship can prompt an outpouring from our own souls.
Some Christians only want to pray set prayers from Scripture but the Book of Common Prayer is soaked in Scripture and will in turn drench us in its holy words. Scholars who have done a line-by-line text analysis of the BCP have concluded that 80 percent of the Prayer Book is taken directly from the Bible. The Prayer Book has been described as “Scripture ordered or arranged for prayer” or “Doctrine in devotion.”
Our faith shapes our worship but our worship also shapes our faith – so we should be very careful how we pray. Lex orandi: Lex credendie: “The law of prayer is the law of belief.”
One of the great strengths of the Prayer Book is that it is unflinchingly realistic about life just as is the Bible from which it is drawn. So it has prayers and services deep enough and strong enough to handle devastation and pestilence, anxiety and terror. After community tragedies and national disasters we can pray the Litany and the Supplication on pages 30 and 35.
Besides prayers for your own personal devotions you may need prayers for public worship, especially if you are an Anglican priest or lay reader. Your first resource, after the Bible, will be the Book of Common Prayer. It has not only services but A Bidding Prayer (pages 62-64) and some prayer collections, notably Prayers and Thanksgivings (pages 37-62) and Forms of Prayer to be Used in Families (pages 728-736). One of the best and most comprehensive of intercessory prayers (originally from the Eastern Church) can be found on page 57 in which we implore God, “Remember for good…those that hate us” and “those whom we have forgotten, do thou, O Lord, remember.”
Many fine prayers are tucked away in places you may not expect. “A Prayer for Steadfastness” is in the Service at Sea (BCP page 635). A poignant prayer for after a miscarriage or stillbirth can be found in the Service for Thanksgiving after Childbirth (BCP, middle of page 575). For a handy six-page Index of all the Collects and Other Prayers in the BCP see Discovering the Book of Common Prayer: A Hands-On Approach, Volume I pages 243-250.
And what is located in one service might also fit well in another setting. The Nunc Dimittis “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace” found in Evening Prayer (BCP page 22) speaks powerfully at a Christian funeral.
You may need to adapt a prayer a little to suit your personal or congregational needs. The wonderful “Prayer for the New Year” (BCP page 115) can also be used for a new season or a new month by simply changing a couple of words. The “Prayer for Children” in the family devotions of the BCP (page 733), speaks of “the children of this family” but could be adapted for public worship by saying, “the children of this congregation.” To be suitable for older, even adult, children you could add “that they may grow [up] ever in thy fear and love.”
While becoming more familiar with your own Prayer Book, you might also dip into a good anthology of prayer.
Prayer Anthologies for Church and Home
A FINE prayer anthology will contain prayers from around the world and down through the ages. It will draw from various church traditions: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox. The authors will be both famous and unknown, and while some of the prayers will be best suited for personal devotions, others will be fit for public worship.
It will contain a variety of styles. Some may be just brief “arrow” prayers such as “Go to sleep in peace, God is awake” while others might be quite complex or written in verse. If a longer unfamiliar prayer is used for public worship and has not been printed out for the congregation to read, be sure to pronounce it slowly and carefully.
In public worship you may want to introduce the source of a prayer by saying, “Let us pray with Julian of Norwich…” or “Let us pray as an African schoolgirl prayed…” or “With the Coptic Church we pray….” or “As the Psalmist declares…”
You will not need all twelve of the books listed below as there is some duplication of prayers, but lay readers should own at least two of the larger volumes and your church library should contain a good selection from this dozen. They also make thoughtful gifts for baptisms, confirmations, weddings and ordinations.
All the collections listed below are arranged by topics or themes. They mark times across the day, (morning, noon, evening, grace before meals) and across a lifetime (births, childhood, school, work, marriage, parenthood, dying, bereavement) and throughout the Christian Year. There will be different types of prayer: adoration and praise, confession and forgiveness, thankfulness and gratitude, guidance, suffering and healing, prayers for peace as well as ones of yearning, dedication and commitment. Left to our own devices, we often get stuck in petition for ourselves and for those closest to us, but a good anthology will spiritually stretch us as we intercede for many others and glorify God.
Four Comprehensive Anthologies
Arranged by Theme
• The Book of a Thousand Prayers compiled by Angela Ashwin. The categories are wide-ranging and the prayers come from the first centuries of the Church as well as the 21st. Many of the prayers can be used in pastoral care. Under the part entitled “In Times of Difficulty” the prayers are further divided into sections such as “Trouble and Conflict,” “Inner Darkness” and “Fear, Anxiety and Doubt.” There’s another part called “Personal Relationships” which includes a subcategory called “Difficult Relationships.” Marshall Pickering, 2002, softcover, 496 pages, $18.
• The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers compiled by Dorothy M. Stewart.A superb collection of over 1,500 prayers arranged alphabetically by theme. Included is a broad list of contributors who are clearly identified. Westminster John Knox Press, 2002, hardcover and softcover, 436 pages. Approx. $35 and $25.
• A Procession of Prayers: Meditations and Prayers from Around the World compiled by John Carden, an Anglican priest. Probably the best global anthology. Morehouse Publishing, 1998, softcover, 352 pages. Approx. $25.
• The Doubleday Prayer Collection: Over 1,300 Prayers for All Occasions compiled by Mary Batchelor. One of the best and most comprehensive of anthologies. Prayers suitable for children and youth are found throughout the collection and several are written by children in their own handwriting. It includes a complete listing of prayers from the Bible. Doubleday, 1996, 509 pages, hardcover, $30.
Two Small Anthologies
Why would you want a small anthology when a larger one has far more prayers? Well, one of these you could slip into your pocket or purse. The other would make a lovely gift for someone who might be intimidated by a larger anthology.
• Collins Gem Book of Prayers compiled by Robert Van de Weyer. A palm-sized book crammed with over 200 prayers. It includes brief biographical notes on the authors and sources. HarperCollins, 1994, softcover, 256 pages. About $6.
• A Treasury of Christian Prayer: More than 150 Prayers, Hymns, and Poems edited by Olwen Turchetta. This slim but very attractive volume with fine art reproductions in colour on glossy pages makes a lovely gift. It even includes a bookmark. Despite its subtitle, the collection is predominately of prayers. Random House, 2007, hardcover, 96 pages, $20.
Three Specialized Collections
• Prayers of the Martyrs edited by Duane W. H. Arnold. Contains almost 90 prayers which are as sobering as they are inspiring. Includes a bookmark. Zondervan, 1991, hardcover, 122 pages. Out of print.
• A Celtic Daily Prayer Companion compiled by David Adam, an Anglican priest. 104 prayers from the Celtic Christian tradition. This devotional book offers simple yet profound prayers which remind us of God’s presence with us at all times. HarperCollins, 1997, hardcover, 138 pages. Approx. $15.
• Book of Christian Prayer by Leslie F. Brandt. While not an anthology – all the prayers are by the author – this is a superb contemporary collection that deserves to be better known. Written mainly in the first person singular, it will serve best to deepen your private devotions. The prayers include “Someone with a large problem,” “When one of us is gone,” “Afraid for our children” and “In a time of ecstasy.” Augsburg, hardcover, softcover and Kindle, New Edition, 2000. Prices vary.
Three Prayer Collections for Children
Carefully consider the art work when choosing a prayer anthology for a child. Are the illustrations, especially of God’s creation, captivating? Will the child be able to identify with any of the children pictured?
• A Child’s Book of Prayers Illustrated by Michael Hague. Twenty-one classic prayers with engaging colour illustrations. Age 2 and up. Henry Holt and Co., Reprint edition 2010, Board book, $9.
• First Prayers and More Prayers, both illustrated by Tasha Tudor. Favourite prayers, hymns, carols and poetry along with delicate illustrations. Small hardcover books for little hands. Ages 3 and up. Best read with a parent at first. Lutterworth Press. Original publication date 1964. About $6.
• Bless This House: Prayers for Families and Children by Gregory Wolfe and Suzanne M. Wolfe. Designed for parents, there is a chapter on the stages in a child’s prayer life (and your own) and another on how to pray together as a family which precede the actual collection of prayers. Jossey-Bass, 2004, hardcover, 210 pages. About $22.
The website www.faithandworship.com was established by John Birch, a Methodist lay preacher in Wales, and is highly recommended by Vancouver lay leader, Manya Egerton: “Many of these prayers could be used by an intercessor preparing prayers for Anglican worship. The categories are easy to use and follow the Church Year. Too often we don’t know what to say or how to pray with those who are suffering. Here you will find prayers that offer the comfort and love of God.” TAP
Sue Careless is the author of the three-volume series Discovering
the Book of Common Prayer: A Hands-On Approach, which is available at www.stpeter.org.
If you wish to deepen your own prayer life whether with set or spontaneous prayers, remember: Give yourself permission to pray. Friendship can’t be hurried. Then jump back into the rush of life refreshed. Better to pray a little everyday than a lot one day and then not at all for ages. If you miss a day, just begin with today’s appointed psalms and collect(s). Don’t try to play catch-up. If you try to pray at the same time and in the same place, it will become easier to establish a holy habit. You will eventually sense God waiting for you there.