My prayer life has developed a new rhythm over the past year. I’ve been reading the Anglican ‘daily office’ – Morning Prayer and Compline each day, when I wake up and just before going to bed. Morning Prayer and Compline include the reading of different psalms, short passages of scripture and some set prayers (which are largely based on scripture). I already really like liturgy and I’m finding that this pattern of prayer is becoming a part of me – I’m starting to really miss it if I don’t get around to it.
This has made me wonder more about what prayer is. In the evangelical settings in which I’ve spent most of my adult life, there has been a lack of ‘set prayers’ – all prayer has always been extempore and usually informed by a list of ‘prayer points’ – specific things to pray for. There is nothing wrong with this kind of prayer – it’s good to pray specifically for things – particularly as it helps you to be more aware of answers to prayer. However, it’s not the only kind of prayer.
These are some of the other types of prayer I am discovering:
Just sitting in silence with God (even if you can’t feel his presence) is a form of prayer. In some ways it can be a kind of offering. I tend to surround myself with noise – I nearly always have some music on or the tv. Setting aside some time to be completely silent is a way in which I can say – “God, this time is yours now”. Some years ago I went to the Taize community in France. In each service there, they have a 10 minute period of silence. When I first arrived I decided to go through my ‘prayer points’ list in the 10 minutes silence. After a couple of services I realised that the silence was not there for me to fill, more that I was there to be filled by the silence, by the peace, by the presence of God.
Praying the psalms
Reading the psalms each day is interesting. Sometimes the sentiment of the psalm exactly matches how I feel. Sometimes it doesn’t at all. As I say the psalms I seek to make them my prayer – either for my own situation if it is reflective of how I feel or for others if it is not. Praying the psalms helps me not to plough the same furrow every day with my prayers – left to my own devices I often find myself praying the same things. Praying the psalms ensures that I am constantly reorienting myself towards God and His praise and that I am also acknowledging those more negative feelings I might have.
Some of the prayers that are always part of the daily office become a kind of comfort. I can even pray them at other times because I have learnt them by heart. When I can’t think what to pray, I can draw on one of these, like this beautiful prayer from Compline:
Visit this place, O Lord, we pray,
and drive far from it the snares of the enemy;
may your holy angels dwell with us and guard us in peace,
and may your blessing be always upon us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Recently we were in a church that offered healing prayer during communion. My friend went to be prayed for and began describing his situation, the things he felt he needed prayer for – interestingly, the team pretty much ignored him and simply laid on hands and prayed a blessing over him. I think it can be a bit of an evangelical hang up that we feel the need to list our requests before receiving prayer from someone. Of course, the Lord knows our situation even better than we know it ourselves, so why do we feel the need to describe it in detail? It’s a good lesson in humility to simply ask for a blessing and receive it, knowing that God will give us what we need, whether we’ve articulated it or not.
Sometimes prayer is just that: a tiny, perhaps even pathetic, gesture. A nod to God of our need for Him. And that’s ok.