I grew up in a Christian tradition in which prayer was something you composed on the spot, all the time. This custom has some strengths. When someone stands before you with a need, and you’ve practiced this kind of prayer for years, it’s not unthinkable to pray right then with the person. You can pray this type of prayer anytime about any topic without needing any other resources at hand.
But this custom has its weaknesses, as well. You can spend your energy trying to decide what to say. You can become distracted by your own inability to put your heart’s cries into words and thus lose sight of the God you pray to.
I have found that sometimes praying in someone else’s words can free me to focus on the actual prayer instead of the words. For prayer is really a lot more than words. Words are just the vehicle for prayer, which is humbling ourselves to acknowledge who God is and who we are and how very much we need Him.
I have chosen this traditional prayer from the Book of Common Prayer to start my days this month: Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, You have brought me in safety to this new day. Preserve me with Your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do, direct me to the fulfilling of Your purpose, through Jesus Christ my Lord.
There is something sweet about starting the day with God, from my earliest conscious thought before I even get out of bed. And this prayer reminds me of the truths I need to remember every day: Every new day is a gift directly from the Lord. It’s not a gift to be squandered; I want to fulfill His purpose. But I need His help to do so.
If you’re stuck when it comes to prayer, I encourage you to try using someone else’s words. You can pray them exactly if they express what’s in your heart. Or you can use another’s prayer as a starting point and depart from those words when you are ready.
The Bible works well for this exercise. You may also find the Book of Common Prayer, or a similar manual, helpful. Andrew Case has arranged Scripture into prayers for your husband, wife, or children (but I’ve found they work just as well for people outside my family, too), and he’s made the e-books available for free.
Excellence in prayer means using the help of other believers. Sometimes we may pray together. Sometimes we may pray for one another. Sometimes we pray the same words as countless other believers before us.