Sunday, December 23, 2018
Immersed in the Prayer of the Church. . .
I grew up in the day when extemporaneous prayer was real prayer and praying the prayers of others was praying with training wheels on -- it was not authentic and not real prayer. As a young pastor I was told many times by many people that my prayers sounded like a book -- a compliment I thought but it was not meant that way at all. In fact, it was being suggested to me that I really did not know how to pray at all, that even my extemporaneous prayers sounded like they were written by others and not the authentic fruit of my own heart and composition. For a while I was deeply wounded by this charge. Then I got over it.
If I were teaching homiletics in seminary, which no one would ever want me to do, I would not let anyone write a sermon until they had spent a year immerse in the preaching of others -- earthly church fathers, medieval preachers, Luther and other Great Reformers, even the American preachers of the Great Awakenings. But I would also have them read the sermons of many of our great preachers who have published collections or internet sermons to read and hear. You don't learn preaching by preaching, you learn preaching by hearing sermons preached. That is where good preaching begins and why I still spend a fair amount of my devotional time reading the sermons of others.
Translate that into prayer. If I were teaching someone how to pray, I would not let them start with their own prayers but urge them to begin by learning from the great pray-ers of Christian history, reading the collects of Cranmer, and looking at the prayers and petitions which have stood the test of time and appear in prayer books new and old. Would it be too quaint to suggest that they find themselves a dogeared copy of The Lutheran Hymnal and pray the General Prayer of the Church over and over and over again? Would it be too obvious to suggest praying Scripture, at least the prayer book of the Psalms?
What my wife stumbled upon is that the Prayer of the Church could easily be the form and outline of the prayers of God's people as they individually pray in their closets and cars, at their breakfast tables and in their beds, and together with family or in solitude. Because of her comment, I have begun making the Prayer of the Church available in print after each service so that people may take them home and pray them in their own time and place. Immersed in the Prayer of the Church we are free from the sometimes difficult burden of knowing where to start and what to say. And hidden in the Prayer of the Church are the prayers and petitions of our own individual needs and wants. If we let them be. . .
So you will not get a complaint from me if you begin with and stick with the hymnal as your prayer book and the Prayer of the Church as your individual dyptych and if you find help for the desires of your heart to prayer in the sturdy and eloquent prayers great Christian men and women of old have left us -- a rich and living legacy that neither diminishes our own words but provides a prayer when no words come and a school from which we learn to pray. . .