Jeffrey Dock, Trinity and Good Shepherd Lutheran
In my childhood church, there was a constant argument about what type of prayer was most accepted by God. There were those who insisted on spontaneous prayers “from the heart,” while others preferred composed prayers with thought put into them ahead of time.
In retrospect, the entire argument was rather silly. What truly matters is meaning what you pray and having faith in the promises of the One you’re praying to.
One thing both of these arguments missed, however, was perhaps an even better way to pray. My encouragement to those of you reading this is to pray the Bible. We often speak of reading the Bible, but rarely of praying it. I find this sad, because the Bible is full of prayers given to us by God. Prayers which God encourages and means for us to use in our own lives and churches.
The best example is the Lord’s Prayer. One of the greatest things about this prayer is that you can be sure God wants you to pray it because He gave it to you and told you to pray it! God doesn’t tell you to pray for things that He isn’t going to answer. We can, therefore, have confidence that God’s kingdom will come, that He will forgive our sins, and that He will deliver us from evil, because He has told us to pray for these things and promised to hear us.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Read the first few chapters of Luke’s Gospel. You can pray along with the Virgin Mary “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” and that God’s “mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (The Magnificat Luke 1:46-55). You can pray along with John the Baptist’s father that God “has raised up a horn of salvation for us” and gives “knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (Zechariah Luke 1:67-79). You can rejoice with Simeon at the presentation of Jesus and prepare for death along with him praying “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word” (Song of Simeon Luke 2:29-32). Luke is full of such great prayers and songs which have found their way into the prayers, hymns, and worship life of traditional Christian churches for centuries.
Shorter prayers are easier to memorize and call upon in time of need. When you suffer doubts, join the Father of the demon-possessed child in crying out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Echo the tax collector who was so guilty He could not even raise his eyes to heaven but only beat his chest and prayed “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Or pray with the Centurion (a great pre-communion prayer) “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8).
Perhaps most significantly, pray the Psalms. They are 150 prayers given to us by God both because they are good and holy prayers and because they help teach us how to pray. The Church has been using these prayers for millennia to confess their sins and to adore, praise, and thank God for all His good and gracious gifts. You can know for certain that God hears and answers the Psalms because He gave them to you to pray!
Rather than relying solely upon our hearts (which left to themselves can lead us astray) or grabbing whatever fad book on prayer was just published (and will inevitably be forgotten five years from now), let the book God has given you, that creates in us a clean heart by His Holy Spirit, instruct and guide your prayers. Pray the Bible.