It was my first year of teaching, and we had just finished with the closing prayer for the day. One of the students came up to me after the prayer and said, “Pastor Ring, how come we never have any real prayers?”
“What do you mean?” I said. “We have a prayer every morning, at lunch, and before we leave for the day.”
“I know, but you always use a prayer out of a book. Why don’t we ever have any real prayers?”, this time emphasizing the word “real” so I would get the point.
I got her point. When a person stands up and begins praying from the heart, it often seems more spiritual, more real, than when a prayer is being read.
Except when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, what did He do? He did not give them a list of steps on how to become better prayers, He gave them an example, a model to follow. “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…’” (Luke 11:2).
This is a good lesson for us, too. When people have confided in me that they think their prayers are inadequate, I often suggest a good prayer book. This is not a crutch, I tell them, but a tool. They are good prayers not only in themselves, but they can provide a framework for our own prayers. When we are praying these written or memorized prayers, we often can’t help but think of other needs as well, and that becomes part of our prayer, spoken or not.
With that in mind, here are some good tools for you to use as part of your own prayer life:
- The Hymnal. The hymns are often prayers set to music. Pick one from Sunday and use a stanza each day as a prayer. The hymnal also has morning and evening prayers for each day of the week, as well as the prayers for each Sunday.
- Lutheran Book of Prayer. This little book has been in print a long time, and for good reason. It also has prayers for each day of the week, as well as prayers for different occasions and situations. It is also now available in an electronic format, so you can carry it with you on your phone.
- The Psalms. These have been the prayer book of God’s people for many years. You can work through them from 1 to 150, but I think more helpful is to look in the hymnal for the psalm of the week and use that one all week. In the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary this chart is on pp. 202–203. Other hymnals have similar charts.
Most important, don’t be discouraged when you forget to pray. I confess I often get hurried and forget to do my prayers. Rather than trying to make up for lost time and do all the prayers I missed, I simply pick up where I should be and continue. God blesses our prayers even in our weakness. It is His grace, not our zeal, that makes our prayers real and acceptable to Him.
Alexander Ring is co-pastor of Parkland Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tacoma, Washington.