. . . Lord, teach us to pray . . . (Luke 11:1)
I don't know how I lived in such embarrassing ignorance about prayer for so long. For the first thirty-two years of my Christian walk I believed the only prayers God really listens to are spontaneous, unique and unformatted prayers. I also believed those who recite scripted prayers - for example, prayers from books – did little more than mouth empty words.
Yes, I really believed that. And that is why I am grateful for the question that toppled one of my longest held prejudices like the stone in Goliath's forehead.
I had just finished thanking God for my lunch when the thought poked at me: "Did you mean what you just said?" The question me off guard and I rehearsed the prayer in my mind: "Lord, I thank you for this food. Bless it to my body for health, that I might serve."
Yes, I meant it. I was still unsure why the Lord asked it, but when the next question filtered through my mind "How often do you pray that prayer?" I knew precisely where He was taking me. I use those same words - or words very similar -- each time I sit down to eat. Day after day.
Then the Lord pressed forward, "What choruses did you sing last Sunday morning?"
As I began to list them I realized choruses are prayers of adoration or supplication. Each time I sing those lyrics, week after week, I sing what could be considered ‘canned’ prayers.
That's when the stone in my forehead knocked me to my knees. Why had I believed scripted or "canned" prayers, like those in prayer books, are less meaningful than spontaneous ones? My mind raced to the Psalms. Jews and Christians have prayed them from the time of David. And what of those offered to God by spiritual giants of the Church such as St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, Charles Wesley and A. W. Tozer?
For example, when offered from my heart, doesn't Tozer's prayer carry
a sweet savor to the Father? I think so:
Lord, I have heard a good word inviting me to look away to You and
be satisfied. My heart longs to respond, but sin has clouded my vision
till I see You but dimly. Be pleased to cleanse me in Your own
precious blood, and make me inwardly pure, so that I may with unveiled
eyes gaze upon You all the days of my earthly pilgrimage.
Or this one by Wesley?:
I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me
with whom You will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be
employed for You or laid aside for You, exalted for You or brought low
for You; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let
me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to Your
pleasure and disposal.
Or St. Augustine?:
Narrow is the mansion of my soul; [please] enlarge it, that You may
enter in. It is ruinous; [please] repair it. It has that within which must
offend Your eyes; I confess and know it. But who shall cleanse it? or
to whom should I cry, [except to] Thee? Lord, cleanse me from my secret
faults, and spare Thy servant from the power of the enemy.
Or St. Francis?:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let
me sow love, Where there is injury, pardon Where there is doubt, faith, Where there is despair, hope, Where there is darkness, light, Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to
console, not so much to be understood as to understand, not so much to
be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we awake to eternal life.
As with spontaneous prayer, some ‘canned prayers’ can be exquisitely beautiful expressions of devotion and adoration of the Father.
Thirty-two years is a long time to have lived in error about something so important as prayer. I can only wonder what other foolish ideas cloud my vision of the Holy One - which is why I often now pray what I might have considered at one time a "canned" prayer:
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, please give me a Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that I may know You better. I pray also that the eyes of my heart may be enlightened so that I may know the hope to which You have called me, the riches of Your glorious inheritance in the saints, and Your incomparably great power toward us who believe. (From Ephesians 1).