One of the great myths of our time is that there is no wrong way to pray. The myth is that we can just start talking about any random thing to God and that counts as prayer. Jesus taught His followers to have the faith of a child. We teach children to pray by helping them to memorize prayers. We say simple prayers like, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” As a child my parents began teaching my sister and I the Lord’s Prayer every night before bed. In time our prayers became a part of us. We came to pray simple childlike prayers as though they were a breath. “Thank you Jesus for this food, help us to be kind and good. Amen” I would contend that this is a good first step in how we learn to pray.
Authentic prayer will properly form us as people and as children of God. The way a person prays will tell us much about thier faith, who they believe God is, and who they believe they are.
Prayer is not a self-help activity. I would contend that even in our individual, private prayer times, we never truly pray alone. Self-help is not an answer to the things human beings face because the fact is that we cannot help ourselves. We become properly formed with the help of others, and an Other specifically, who shape us, forms us, and re-form us. Sometimes this re-formation is painful but it always merciful and full of grace.
Prayer books are wonderful ways to learn how to pray and they help us to be properly formed by putting right words into our mouths. They are aids in helping us listen to the Holy Spirit rather than the Spirit of the age. The Book of Psalms is the most ancient prayer book of the people of God possess, unique in that it shows how we are to respond to God, not just how He comes to us. There are many other prayers in scripture and there are many extra-cannonical prayer books as well. The book of Common Prayer, a favorite of John Wesley, has been used by the church for centuries to teach disciples how to pray. When Jesus’ disciples asked how to pray, they expected to be taught a prayer, and in fact they were given a prayer to pray. Jesus never said, just start talking and God will do the rest. No, Jesus taught us how to pray by teaching us prayers.
My encouragement to us today it to be properly formed in prayer. Study prayers in the Bible and in other Orthodox prayer books. Memorize them, recite them, read them aloud to each other until they become your prayers. Today I leave you with two of my favorite prayers from the book of Common prayer, one of John Wesley’s beloved prayer books. May The Lord bless us as we are properly formed together in prayer. “Lord, teach us to pray.”
From The Book of Common Prayer:
Prayer For the Unity of the Church
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior,
the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the
great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away
all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us
from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body
and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith,
one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all
of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth
and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and
one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Prayer For Church Musicians and Artists
O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in
heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through
art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on
earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty,
and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for
evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.