I humbly confess that I am often perplexed by the problems of life.
Sometimes I do not seem to know which way to turn next.
I pray Thee, therefore, to enlighten me by Thy Holy Spirit
that I may recognize what is Thy will in every situation;
give me the courage to decide every issue accordingly
and to leave the final outcome to Thy direction.
From the prayer "For the Grace to Make the Right Decisions",
My Prayer Book, Concordia Publising, 1957
I bought the prayer book for one dollar at Martha's garage sale. It had belonged to her late husband. I did not need it, but I really wanted to buy something just to encourage Martha, who was going through hard times. Indeed, months later Martha thanked me for driving Mama all that way to be at the garage sale and for buying a few things. I had put the book in a little basket that is next to my bed and rarely thought of it. I did not read anything in it until today.
I think about prayer and I wonder at it. I was raised in a church that values extemporaneous prayer. There were no prayer books, no corporate recitations. We were taught to just speak our heart to God. I think many men who stood up and prayed in our church must have thought about it ahead of time though, because I noticed that there was a certain "prayer language" that had developed. Certain words and phrases were used. Certain words and phrases were not used. I noticed that people from our church tradition don't usually entreat the Holy Spirit. When visiting at their churches, I noticed that Southern Baptists use the word "just" quite a bit in their prayers. (as in, "I just want to thank you, Lord, and I just ask that You...")
For the longest time, I did not know that there was such a thing as the Book of Common Prayer. I had no idea that Catholics used a prescribed liturgy. I was so sheltered early on that I just did not know that other people worshiped and prayed in other ways. It did not occur to me to think why they would do that.
As I got older and mentioned to a few people that I did not always know what to pray for (even though I knew some of the flowery language of prayers), the Holy Spirit would finally be mentioned in the form of Romans 8:26:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (NIV)
This was good enough for me for a long time. I did not begrudge other Christians their forms of prayer and worship. I just stuck with what I had been taught because it seemed to work well enough.
Yesterday was a day when I thought about composing and writing down prayers ahead of time. Do you ever know you are going to have to talk to someone about an important matter and you want to be prepared with what you want to say? Don't you think it through several times and test it out in your head - the words, the tone, your responses to possible questions or arguments?
There are times when I really want to think about what I want to say to God. I want to really get the thoughts down and be clear about what I want to say - whether it be praise or petition. Then I start chasing my tail in circles, wondering why I would spend time composing a prayer before I pray it because doesn't He already know what I am thinking anyway? Isn't He present as I edit - deletion, addition, change? If He already knows anyway, why not just blurt it out in raw form and let Him help me muddle through to the point? Would God bother to help me compose a prayer to Himself? Do I dare ask Him for the words I need to speak back to Him?
I realize that when I must speak a prayer over someone else that I might want to ask Him for the words. I realize that the person hearing my words can be greatly encouraged by what I say and how I say it. Yesterday, for instance, I went to Amy Peterson's house and anointed her with oil (a first - I did not grow up around that ritual but felt strongly that the Spirit wanted me to do it as Amy prepares to actively fight her Multiple Sclerosis). My ego wanted the words to say that would impress Amy with what an amazing prayer warrior I am. My heart wanted the words to say so that the Father would definitely understand my petition and know how much it meant to me and to Amy. I think we ended up with something closer to the middle, but definitely leaning towards the heart rather than the ego. Would it have been better to have prepared a prayer ahead of time so that I could edit all of the "me" out of it?
Also, Saturday I was again confronted with a very tense situation that is currently part of my life. I tried to silently pray for graceful composure while in the midst of others. When I got home and was alone, I needed to pray for all kinds of things: the ability to forgive; forgiveness for the unkindness in my heart that I had masked earlier in the day; maturity; knowledge of how to actively show grace, etc. However, I was mentally and emotionally all tied up in knots. I know the Holy Spirit was working on my behalf, but I think it would have been nice to have some prepared words to pray to help clear out my mind. Or maybe prepared words would not have helped at all. Maybe all I needed to do was beg for help.
Not being a theologian, priest, or pastor, the only thing I have to offer to the discussion of how best to pray is more questions. I know that there are hundreds of books about prayer. There are opinions and prescriptions. I could learn ways to pray and what to pray about if I were interested. I am not sure why I think I need to get so "good" at praying to the One from whence the power of prayer comes. I do not know if this need stems from Him or from listening to what others have told me I need.
Linking up with Jen and the Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood. Let's go over there and see what others have to say!