I come from a tradition where personal prayer tends always to be spontaneous and extempore. As a child, apart from the Lord’s Prayer, I never learnt any set prayers. Nor when I was a parent did I ever teach any prayers to my children.
As a young minister my public prayers were sometimes spontaneous and extempore, but more often than not ‘pre-conceived’ in the sense that they had already been thought through in the sense that I had jotted down ‘headlines’ or even fairly notes. As the years went by I began to write out some of my prayers in full, with a view to ensuring that my prayers were simple yet varied. The prayers, however, were always my own. Later, when I was minister of Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford, my prayers around the communion table would often include one of the great prayers of the church. To encourage familiarity, instead of drawing upon a wide selection of prayers, I would tend to limit the prayers I used at the Table and would repeat them regularly. In particular I used the following six ‘classic’ prayers:
A prayer of Augustine of Hippo:
“Eternal God, the light of the minds that know you, the joy of the hearts that love you, and the strength of the wills that serve you; grant us to know you, that we may truly love you, and so to love you, that we may full serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom”.
Another prayer of Augustine:
“Grant us, O Lord our God, to you – a heart of flame; to our fellows – a heart of love; to ourselves – a heart of steel”.
A prayer of Francis of Assisi:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
A prayer of Ignatius of Loyola:
“Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to ask for any reward – except our knowing that we do your will, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
A prayer of Richard of Chichester:
“Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for all the benefits you have won for us, for all the pains and insults you have borne for us. Most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.”
A prayer from the Sarum Primer:
“God be in my head, and in my understanding; God be in my eyes and in my looking; God be in my mouth and in my speaking; God be in my heart, and in my thinking; God be at mine end and at my departing”.
In addition, I used the following three more modern prayers:
A prayer of David Adam:
“Lord, you are the love of my life, the light of my way, the peace of my mind, the power for my task, the Presence. Help me, Strong One, to be a strength to the weak; help me, Caring One, to be a support to the sad; help me Saving One, to be a helper of the lost; Help me, present One, to be a comfort to the lonely; Help me, Holy One, to worship you now and evermore.”
A prayer of George Macleod:
“O Christ, the Master Carpenter, who at the last, through word and nails, purchased our whole salvation, wield well your tools in the worship of your world, so that we who come rough-hewn to your bench may be fashioned to a truer beauty of your hands”.
A prayer of Richard Niebuhr:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”.
If I were beginning in ministry again, I would encourage all those preparing for baptism (or confirmation were I an Anglican) not just to learn Bible verses – and all the books of the Bible in order; but also to learn all nine prayers by heart – including, of course, the modern version of the Lord’s Prayer. I would then encourage them to learn the modern version of the Apostles’ Creed – but that is another matter. What prayers, I wonder, would you encourage young Christians to learn?
PS : I asked this question of one friend, and she suggested a prayer used by Anglicans after communion:
Father of all, we give you thanks and praise,
that when we were still far off
you met us in your Son and brought us home.
Dying and living, he declared your love,
gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory.
May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;
we who drink his cup bring life to others;
we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.
Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us,
so we and all your children shall be free,
and the whole earth live to praise your name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.