What if I don’t know what to say? Prayer
I grew up in church traditions where the pastor prayed extemporaneously. He never read something. My mom’s family sings “God and is great and God is good, and we thank Him for our food” all together around the dinner table, but that’s the extent of my childhood experience with praying words I hadn’t come up with on the spot.
Prayer is like public speaking for many of us. We’re scared to death of saying something that will make us look foolish. Prayer is also framed like a chic flick, though. Follow me for just a minute. In those movies, it goes like this:
Guy and girl fall in love
Guy and/or girl has a secret
Everything is going great until the secret is out
Guy and/or girl hurts the other’s feelings and the relationship is on the rocks
Then, in one Shakespearian moment, one character pledges his/her love for the other and apologizes with flowery words and a gleam in the eyes, and they kiss.
Guy and girl live happily ever after.
It’s that scene, that monologue where every syllable is perfect–that’s what we think of prayer like.
And we say, “I’ll never pray like that person.” “I’ll just candy all the words. Er, I mean, fudge.”
As we’ve said before, God really wants you. That’s it. You as you are, with your words. But sometimes they’re not enough. Sometimes we don’t know where to begin. It’s why Christ taught us to pray. But it’s also why the church through the centuries has written down prayers. Often, we call this “liturgical prayer.”
My denomination, The Wesleyan Church, largely does not practice liturgical prayer in our worship services. And yet, you may be surprised to find out that we have our own kind of liturgical prayers, types of prayers that we tend to hear each Sunday morning. We pray toward the beginning of worship services while we’re singing, for God to be present with us and be pleased with our worship. We focus ourselves on Him. We have pastoral prayers after singing is over, praying for the concerns of our church and world. We pray before receiving the offering, for God to bless our financial gifts. And we pray to close worship services. We ask people to pray at the altar if they have serious needs.
In all of this, even though the words are not written out for us, we talk to God about the same kinds of things. Liturgical prayer helps us to pray the same things, except because these prayers have been written and used by Christians throughout history, they have a depth of theology and passion that our free-form prayers sometimes lack.
This is St. Augustine’s prayer.
Breathe in me O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart O Holy Spirit, that I may love but what is holy.
Strengthen me O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.
And this is John Wesley’s.
Lord, I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for You or laid aside for You, exalted for You or brought low for You. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, You are mine, and I am Yours. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
So the next time you don’t know what to pray, come back to one of these.