Learning to Pray

Albrecht Dürer, Study of an Apostle's HandsMany of us think we know how to pray. Many of us have spent hours of our lives talking to God. Many of us have spent a lot of that time annoying God, not because He doesn’t want to hear from us, not because He doesn’t care about the smallest details of our lives, but because we are really bad at praying. We mumble and stumble, we fill our prayers with “just” and “um” and “Lord”, and “um, Lord, Just…” and generally blather on at God, and as we are doing that, our minds tend to next week, I need to remember to call that guy, and ask him about that thing. What’s this in my pocket? Oh, a magical telephony device. I wonder what it has to say? Oh, in Jesus name, um, amen. Our attitude in prayer, our attentiveness in prayer, our aptitude for prayer, our abilities in prayer, and many other elements of our prayer life that don’t begin with “a” all need work. And this is before we even consider the actual content of our prayers, the things that we ask God for.

Now, picking on people’s prayer life is one of the easiest ways to lay down a spiritual guilt trip, right up there with tithing and evangelism. I don’t want anyone to think that I am mocking earnest prayers by well-meaning people. What I am mocking is infantile prayers by people who ought to be able to pray like grown-ups. Our inability to speak to God with deference and honor, while at the same time sounding like normal human beings and not prayerbots sent back in time from an alternate Puritanator future, marks us as spiritual infants. And while it is better to be a babe in Christ than to not pray at all, it is better still to grow up into maturity. So I don’t want you just to feel bad if you mentally listen to yourself pray and realize that you are a prayer baby. Instead, I want you to hunger for a better prayer life, and I want to point you in the direction of people who know how to pray, and can teach you how to pray. This isn’t a spiritual hit-and-run; these are directions to the prayer hospital.

The 1928 Book of Common Prayer was used for fifty years to guide the Episcopal Church in prayer, but the fascinating history of the Book of Common Prayer begins much earlier, having its roots in the reformation, through the revised German litany of Martin Luther, and the reformed sentiments of Thomas Cranmer. Even today, the BCP or its antecedents and descendants appear in the worship of many denominations, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, Reformed, etc. The BCP contains daily, weekly, and occasional prayers designed to be regularly prayed in the life of the church. Despite the fact that our very recent evangelical history has generally given preference to spontaneous prayers, throughout most of the life of the church, and certainly since the Reformation, guided prayer has been the predominant form of prayer. This shouldn’t surprise us; Jesus gave His disciples a form for prayer, and expected them to use it, which the 1928 BCP continues to do. The men who gave us this book knew God, knew how to talk to Him, and knew what to ask for in His presence.

Growing in prayer takes work. It takes discipline, and it takes practice. If you are waiting until you mystically ascend to the Next Level of Holy Praying, or if you think that it will just sort of happen that you will become good at calling upon the Lord, go ahead and give up on those plans. If you desire spiritual growth in your prayer life, there are few better “schools of prayer” to attend than Morning Prayer. Come and join us as we pray together using the service of morning prayer found in this wonderful book.

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