Saturday, May 19, 2007

In Defense of Written Prayers

The Puritans were adamantly opposed to the prayers in the English Prayer book—not that the prayers were heretical, but because they feared the rote manner of the prayers. They feared that prayer would become mechanical, without thought, repetitious, and without meaning if congregations recited the same prayers again and again.

Ironically, this appropriate fear of the Puritans is manifest in the opposite direction in the modern evangelical church. It is the extemporaneous prayers of our time that are mechanical, without thought, repetitious, and consequently, without meaning. How many time have you heard, “Dear Lord, we just come before, Lord, to thank you, Lord, for your bounteous favor. And Lord, we beseech you…” (“Bounteous” and “beseech” are good “prayer words”—words that show up in prayers but rarely in common speech)

How often do you ask the blessing for food using 90% of the same words?

We fall into patterns whether they be written or spoken, but promiscuous change for the sake of change is not the answer. The “holy ruts” of Proverbs 3 are not of themselves bad things. It is the unthinking repetition that makes prayers mechanical.

In our age, the written, thoughtful prayers of past centuries provide a tonic to shake us from our complacency and to challenge our own thinking about prayer, sin, forgiveness, the work of the cross, and the nature and character of Almighty God. This is not the ultimate solution, but could be part of the process of increasing our understanding of the nature of prayer.

Tradition without thought is dead orthodoxy, but the infusion of life that comes from knowledge, understanding, and wisdom through the work of the Spirit, makes ancient and modern traditions an opportunity for spiritual maturity.

The other lesson is that we need to be careful before we import the doctrines of a tradition without understanding the theological context of those ideas. Otherwise, we may find ourselves opposing the very things we say we uphold.

1 comment:

SoliDeoGirl said...

I find it extremely difficult to recite the Lord's Prayer, without my attention checking out after the first 5 seconds. Is there any cure for this mental malaise?