Monday, November 14, 2011

My Prayer

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.

What is your current experience with prayer? Have you found your answers on how, when, and why?

Linking up with Jen and the Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood. Let's go over there and see what others have to say!


  1. I talk to God frequently throughout my day. While I'm putting on my makeup for the day, driving to work in the car, on break while at work, on the way home, before bed, etc. These conversations sound much like conversations with anyone else I am close to...sometimes eloquent, sometimes rambling, always from the heart. Sometimes, I even get off the praise-or-petition track altogether and just start ranting about one situation or another. It's always just Him and me, so it doesn't matter if I lose focus or ramble a bit.

    HOWEVER...when asked to pray aloud in a group, or before a meal...I FREEZE. I have no idea how to do that. I did not grow up in church at all...I don't know that flowery, pretty prayer language that so many people I surround myself with know...I don't know how to keep from rambling, and "just"-ing, and pausing when praying in a group of people who can *actually hear me.* It's maddening.

    Those folks who know that "prayer language" that I am so envious of always tell me that it doesn't matter how I say it...that God understands and gets the point...the important thing is just to *pray.* And I get that. I do. But I will honestly tell you that when I am asked to pray in front of other people - or even just another single person - I experience anxiety.

    That, my friend, is where I currently am with prayer. And I just wrote another whole blog post in your comments to tell you that. :)

  2. @angeladowns That is awesome! Good to hear the perspective of one who did not grow up with a tradition to cling to. I understand the anxiety - I feel it sometimes too, even though I have some of that "prayer language" in my repertoire. Love you much!

  3. Good questions Carolyn. Here's my tuppenceworth (I am on the east side of the Pond!). Prayer is mostly conversation with someone I love and most of the time spontaneous is good.

    I trust that my wife will hear not only my words, but my tone as well; she will also see my expressions and body language as I speak - all of which convey important information about what I am trying to say.

    BUT, if I have something really important to say then I take time to think about it. I try to find just the right words, and to think about how she might respond to those words. And sometimes that helps to avoid misunderstandings.

    Prayer is conversation with God. Sometimes what I want to say to Him is so important to me that I take time to make sure that I have it worked out in my own mind, that I am expressing to the best of my ability (God given)the things that are on my heart. And having done that, I offer it all to God as a love gift - the words, the preparation, everything.

    Other times He and I just chew the fat - although I've not been turning up as often as I should for that :-(

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  5. You know, editing doesn't always insure that the "me" gets taken out. For me, it would be another way for me to edit "me" back in.

    I'm raised Episcopalian, but I've had to learn to love those prayers. I'm much more comfortable saying my own words. I've also had to learn not to pray out loud for the sake of hearing my own voice or for impressing others. It's that pride thing that I've struggled with.

    Now, I try to pray authentically and to bless when I'm praying out loud.

  6. I grew up in a tradition where the only person who prayed aloud was the pastor---the rest of us bowed our heads.

    I wing it. Some days I listen a lot more than I speak. And I'm okay with it. Of all the things He could judge me on, how I form my thoughts, which He already knows, is WAY down my list. :)

    Thanks for inviting me to think about this, Carolyn!

  7. stopping by from Jen's...I find for me...writing my prayers to God helps me get to the deepest part of me....John piper said.."pens have eyes"...when I write in my journal...all the mixed up thoughts and feelings seem so clear...when I am burdened...I pour it out on paper...when I am done...I feel lighter and have more clarity...
    Blessings as you journey in prayer...

  8. Great post, Carolyn. I have thought a lot about this topic and the language of prayers. It has interested me for quite a while, probably because I was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition of spontaneous prayer and converted to the Roman Catholic tradition of "pre-fab" prayers.

    I believe there is a time and place for all kinds of prayer. At first I had a lot of trouble learning to pray the Catholic way. Honestly, repeating the Hail Mary and the Our Father when saying a rosary just seemed repetitive and pointless. Over time I have come to understand the power of meditative prayer. The repition clears my mind and makes me more of a listener.

    But I still often pray in the more conversational style that I learned as I was growing up. While I know that God knows my needs before I even know them myself, sometimes I need to tell him. But then, I need to remember, that I have to listen to his response. Sometimes that "still, small voice" gets drowned out by what I want.

    Again, great post.

  9. I am so glad you have all come by and shared. It is wonderful to have a safe place to ask questions and get feedback from sincere, thoughtful people.

    @RB, it never occurred to me that composing some pretty words might be a love gift to God. I'll have to think about that some more.

    @Jen, it is very important to bless when you have been asked to speak words over someone. I try to be as mindful of that as I can.

    @Sheila, I know He is not setting out to judge how I compose my thoughts for Him, but you know I like to chase my tail with questions, right? :)

    @Ells, I'm so glad you stopped by! I have never heard that quote before, but I like it! I'm not sure why, but journaling has never given me the relief it gives to others.

    @Grams, that is quite a background you have there. I always have wondered if that made your faith deeper or if it made it more confusing. I know you might have told me, but I cannot remember if you converted before you met Pat or if you converted when you got married. And yes, we have to make sure to get out of the way enough to be able to hear that still, small voice. I am guilty of listening to the louder noises in my world.

  10. Thanks for stopping by Carolyn... and for your kind words. I so appreciate your thoughts on prayer, especially from your POV. Wonderful insight you have gained. Thank you for sharing it!

  11. Oh my goodness, girl. This is a rich post on prayer -- covering everything from liturgy to unedited prayer to doesn't-God-know-it-already-anyway? to the importance of listening to those Spirit nudges to do things like anoint a friend. Wow.

    Rich, this post. I thank you for it.

  12. @Pat, I am so glad that you came by!

    @Jennifer, thank you for the lovely words. I'm you got something from the post.


Thank you for joining me here.

Moral support, prayers, and witty comments always appreciated.