Wednesday, 3 November 2010

When I don't feel like praying or don't know what to say...

Tim Keller offers the following advice on praying,

October 2010
by Tim Keller
"Years ago when I wanted to become more skillful in public prayer, I was fortunate to come across the collects of Thomas Cranmer, the writer of the original Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. The “collects” (the stress is on the first syllable)that Cranmer wrote were brief but extremely ‘packed’ little prayers that tied together the doctrine of the day to a particular way of living. They were prayed by the minister on behalf of the people, or prayed in unison by the whole congregation.
As I have read them over the years they have brought me two great benefits. First, they have given me a basic structure by which I can compose good public prayers, either ahead of time, or spontaneously. Cranmer’s collects consist of 5 parts:
1. The address - a name of God
2. The doctrine - a truth about God’s nature that is the basis for the prayer
3. The petition - what is being asked for
4. The aspiration - what good result will come if the request is granted
5. In Jesus’ name - this remembers the mediatorial role of Jesus
See this structure in Cranmer’s famous collect for the service of Holy Communion:
1.Almighty God
2.unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid,
3.cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit,
4.that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name,
5.through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
See how the prayer moves from a doctrinal basis (why we can ask for it) to the petition (what we want) to the aspiration (what we will do with it if we get it.) It is remarkable how this combines solid theology with deep aspirations of the heart and concrete goals for our daily life.
As time has gone on I have come to use Cranmer’s collects in my personal devotional time (this is the second benefit.) I take up one collect at the beginning of each new week. I read Paul Zahl’s volume The Collects of Thomas Cranmer (Eerdmans, 1999) that provides a very short explanation and meditation on the prayer. Then I pray that prayer to God reflectively every morning for the rest of the week as I begin my personal time with God. I commend this practice to you..." (more here)

So, I have taken his advice and found an online version of the collects here.

For many, the idea of praying a prewritten prayer seems stifling or mechanical. This may be true at times, but if we are honest, isn't much of our own spontaneous praying mechanical anyway - simply because we are battling with our natural instinct to be distracted from praying. (This is my experience, at least.) Sometimes it is simply an act of our wills which keeps us there. And isn't this an act which glorifies God? I don't mean to say that we can only expect prayer to be mechanical but simply that praying when we don't feel like praying is hard but nonetheless glorifying to God. It is precisely at these moments that having a prayer which has been carefully composed and well thought out theologically can be a real aid when we are feeling dry and have nothing particular in mind to say.
Lord Peter Wimsey said,
"A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought."
If true learning is simply thinking God's thoughts after him, I see nothing wrong with this statement. When praying is hard, let's make good use of the many sources of wonderful prayers available to us and ask that the Holy Spirit would plant the words deep in our hearts and make them our own.

Another good reason for using prayers such as these is that the theology and truth contained in them can be food for our souls and minds as we inwardly digest it. These truths can then change they way we think and pray in accordance with God's word, eventually filtering out through our own spontaneous prayers too.

The prayer for this week (the 23rd week after Trinity) seems quite apt:

God, our refuge and strength, who art the author of
all godliness, be ready to hear the devout prayers of
thy Church, and grant that those things which we ask
faithfully we may obtain effectually; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.
If you, like me, find praying the hardest thing of all, then take heart and don't give up!