The number one comment I hear from people about prayer is this: “If only I could pray like that.”
I think we often see the prayers we pray in church or that pour from our pastor’s mouth as “fancy” prayers. I admire lovely words, so on the one hand, I really appreciate prayers that use lovely words in such a way that they sound fancy, holy, and absolutely worthy of a God who is just that—very worthy. Fancy, prewritten prayers definitely have benefits. They keep us on a straight path so that we don’t end up saying something that contradicts God’s Word because we haven’t given it a thought ahead of time.
Prewritten prayers also connect us. They allow the whole community of God’s people to pray the same thing together at the same time, speaking as one Body. Think of it—when we pray a prayer that’s been prayed for centuries, we are praying with the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and the ones before them, and the ones before them across time. These prayers can bring an awareness among us that we are one Body today as well. We are not scattered members living in our own wilderness of faith, but rather connected in this life together.
It’s also important to note that Jesus Himself gives us a pre-written prayer to use and He tells us, quite clearly in Luke 11, to use it when we pray:
And He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
It is a mighty and mysterious thing that God connects all believers through the words given to us by Jesus Christ so long ago. Even better, this connecting happens whether we feel connected or not, whether we’re aware of the connection or checking out with our mental grocery list.
However, it’s important to be honest when we find ourselves in that mental grocery list place with scripted prayers. It’s important to recognize what is growing our relationship with God in a particular season, and what He might be calling us to engage in differently in order to grow us.
Have you ever had the experience where you read to the end of a chapter in a book but find yourself wondering what you just read?
Yep, that’s our brain checking out, and it can happen with prayer too.
Prayer amnesia, on the one hand, doesn’t change the connecting activity of prayer one little bit. That’s God’s work, not ours. He connects through His Holy Spirit, whether we choose to engage or we stay checked out. On the other hand, it does impact our experience of that connection. Imagine the benefit to our relationships with both God and other people when we are fully checked in, when our whole hearts and whole brains are engaged in the moment of prayer. In this way, we need to recognize the value of simple word prayers also, spoken in a moment with someone, or over someone, or just between us and God. These simple prayers aren’t formulated by anyone ahead of time. We might stumble over them, we might weep through them, or we might laugh nervously in the middle of them. Simple, in-the-moment prayers might even come out as one- or two-word sentences:
These are good prayers too. They aren’t better than what is scripted, and scripted or fancy isn’t better than simple. They both have their place. The question is:
What do you need more of in this season—fancy or simple?
When we pray as the Church on earth, whether in the words written ages ago, the words of our hymnals written by those who have studied long and hard, or the words on our heart and minds in the moment, I think it is like a mini glimpse of what Revelation 7:9–12 says we will experience one day when we all gather together and look on His beautiful face:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
And that’s what’s really fancy—God. He’s fancy.
His Words and His thoughts are holy and mighty and mysterious and wonderful. Whatever we give, whether scripted or in the moment, are simple offerings made fancy by Christ Jesus in us, working through us. So this week, bring Him your simple words and join in the lovely scripted prayers of the Church, knowing that whatever you offer is His mighty and mysterious work in you. He loves our words, no matter how we offer them.
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