Praying in Someone Else’s Words

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.

3 thoughts on “Praying in Someone Else’s Words

  1. Thought-provoking article. I like praying the Psalms–God’s own written words–back to Him first thing in the morning. No matter how desperate the Psalmists were, somewhere in each Psalm is something praiseworthy to give back to God. I also like using the words of the Psalms to pray over my family, leaders, military, and friends. Nothing says it better than God’s own words, and it looks like Andrew Case concurs. Thanks for making his website available to us.

    • Great practice. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with those desperate psalms if we’re not feeling desperate ourselves at the moment. But someone in the world is, and we can pray those psalms on their behalf.

  2. “Almighty God to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love thee and worthily glorify thy holy name.” (from the Book of Common Prayer)

    “Great art thou O Lord, and greatly to be praised, great is thy power and thy wisdom infinite, and thee would man praise, he but a particle of thy creation, who bears about him his mortality, the witness of his sin, the witness that resisteth the proud, yet would man praise thee, he but a particle of thy creation. Thou awakest us to delight in thy praise, for thou madest us for thyself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee.”. (St. Augustine, opening prayer of The Confessions, the Pusey translation, absolutely the best one.)

    I agree with you and Cindy. I like The Augustine and some of the Psalms which open with “Great is the Lord”. With the foaming at the mouth, Radical Atheists running around screaming “God is not great!”, let the redeemed of the Lord proclaim also from the housetops” Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised! World without end! Amen!

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