Week 6, Day 2: Praying Others' Words
LOOK & LISTEN: Work of the People, “Be Still”
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18a, NIV). Even as we think about prayer as connection with a loved one — conversation and communion with the One who loves us the most — we should not forget that we are communicating with God, a personal being so transcendent and mysterious and beyond our comprehension that God had to become human for us to begin to understand him. Sometimes our sense of the divine is too small and we can shrink God down into a box small enough for us to comprehend. As Walter Henrichsen once wrote, “All of our problems are related to the size of our concept of God. Big God, small problems; small God, big problems.”
But sometimes with a God that seems so hard to wrap our minds around, and sometimes with situations too complex to articulate, it can be hard to find the words to say. Sometimes our words feel too small, too inadequate. We may not even be able to find the right words, or know what it is we want to ask for. This can be especially true when we consider the things we might like to pray about: all that feels wrong in the world as a result of sin — natural disasters, human-made disasters, tension and conflict between different groups on the basis of color or creed, the continuing devastation of racism, white supremacy, gun violence, greed, and disregard for vulnerable lives; and all that feels wrong in us as a result of sin — our addictions, our heartbreaks, our depression and loneliness, our struggle and inability to effect lasting change both within and without.
Paul assures us, in Romans 8:26-28 (The Message):
God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.
In such times, it can also be helpful to lean on the words of others. Think about how you might quote a Shakespearean sonnet or a poem or how songs stick in our minds and souls when their words seem to reflect our reality and our situation. In middle school, I called into the local radio station to dedicate a love song to my crush. (In case you were wondering, it was Mariah Carey’s cover of “Open Arms.”) You are not the only person to have gone through what you’re going through or to have felt the things you’re feeling; the words of others can express what we want to.
This holds true for prayer as well. Many traditions have prayer books that Christians all over the world use, such as the Book of Common Prayer or the recent version Common Prayer. Songs can also be a helpful guide, when we can’t find our own words. Even in the Bible, the Book of Psalms is a collection of songs written by a number of people, including King David, and it became both the songbook and the prayer book of the people of Israel, and it remains so for many Jews and Christians even today. There are psalms of praise, lament, confession, and more, and each psalm can put words to what we feel even now.
How many of us can relate to the opening words of Psalm 13 as we wait for an answer to our prayer or for God’s deliverance:
How long will you forget me, LORD? Forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will I be left to my own wits, agony filling my heart? Daily?
How long will my enemy keep defeating me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
Or the words of confession and remorse that King David wrote in Psalm 51:
Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion! (Psalm 51:1)
How about the reassurance and trust of Psalm 23, which King David wrote when he was just a shepherd boy:
The LORD is my shepherd.
I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters;
he keeps me alive. (Psalm 23:1-3)
Of course, there is also the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray, taken from Matthew 6:9-13:
may your name be honored,
may your kingdom come,
may your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today the bread we need now,
and forgive us the things we owe
as we too have forgiven what was owed to us.
Do not let us fall in times of trial,
but rescue us from evil.
For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours,
now and forever. Amen.
During the rest of this week, we’ll explore other ways to engage God in prayer, but know that there is a wealth of prayers that followers of Christ have prayed for millennia, and that, as the writer of Hebrews says, we are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: How do you feel about praying using words someone else has written?
Heart: Is there a song or a poem that conveys what you are feeling right now? Reflect on it (and bring it with you to share at the small group gathering next week!).
Hands / Pray: Pick one of the prayers mentioned above: Psalm 13, Psalm 23, Psalm 51, or the Lord’s Prayer. Write it out and pray through it as you write.
(click to jump)
You are not the only person
to have gone through what you're
going through or to have felt
the things you're feeling.