Spontaneous Prayer by David B. Capes

A post by David B. Capes:

I come from a tradition that privileges “spontaneous prayer” and looks suspiciously on scripted prayers or prayers written beforehand. According to this perspective, spontaneous prayer means prayer from the heart while prescribed prayers or prayers written down beforehand are not from the heart. I accepted this myself for many years until I met some remarkable Christians and began to read and reflect on Scripture.

One day I was looking for a guitar pick in the guitar case of a friend of mine. He was a famous Christian recording artist. Because I was a budding musician, I looked up to him not only for his talent but also because he was a man of faith. As I looked for the guitar pick, I found a stack of papers on which my friend had written out a series of prayers to God. Later he told me that he found that writing out his prayers helped him focus and pray more faithfully. Often when he prayed silently or spontaneously, he said, he found his mind wandering. One minute he was praying. The next he was thinking about something else entirely. I knew well what he meant and think you probably do too. What was clear to me is that the prayers he had written truly reflected his heart, much like love letters written to one you love.

On another occasion I heard a deacon pray before collecting the evening offering and the sermon. The prayer went something like this: “God, we thank you for this day. We thank you for your many blessings. Be with the missionaries in foreign fields. Be with the preacher as he brings the message this evening. Bless the gift and the giver. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” This was a spontaneous prayer—it was from the heart of a kind, generous Christian—but it was also in many ways a collection of thoughts and prayers we had heard many times before. As I have listened to others pray publically, I realize that in many ways spontaneous prayers are not that different than prayers scripted beforehand.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus instructed his disciples to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
Keep your name holy.
Let your Kingdom come,
Your will be done
on earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us today the bread for tomorrow—
And forgive us our debts
as we forgive those who owe us something.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Any good commentary on Matthew 6 and Luke 11 will advocate that Jesus wanted his disciples to pray this prayer and he also wanted his followers to pray prayers like this. One is scripted. The other is more spontaneous.
One pastor I admire claims that prayer is the hardest work he does. Perhaps you will agree. I have come to appreciate both kinds of public prayers: spontaneous prayers spoken from the heart that collect bits and pieces of earlier prayers and scripted prayers written from the heart that reflect someone’s desire to speak honestly before a gracious God.

Here is a good prayer exercise. Read a biblical psalm through several times and then turn it into your own prayer. It may help to write it down on a piece of paper. In any case make it your own. There are many wonderful prayers in the Bible that can be models for us.

Your Kingdom Come

I pray the Lord’s Prayer frequently, for, after all, Jesus said it was the way to pray. So I pray it in church on Sunday, daily in Morning and Evening Prayer, and at other times as well. I focus on it, rejoice in it, and reflect upon it (I also sometimes expand it). It is easy to see that it is quite different than the usual extemporaneous prayers that I hear, for at least the first half is not about me or even about us, but is a collective all to “our Father” to establish his rule, his Kingdom. This, of course, builds on Jesus’ announcement of God’s rule as his basic good-news message (Mark 1:14 and parallels). I also use as a “prayer word” the single Aramaic term, Maranatha, a call to Jesus, “our Lord,” to “come.” He is God’s Anointed One (which is what we say when we use the transliterated term “Christ”) and he is to return a rule this world. The word is a prayer for him to do just that It is a term that in one form or another Paul uses and Revelation uses. It was the prayer of the early followers of Jesus. Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: