Praying the Words of Others
Sometimes this is called “rote prayers” but somehow that has a negative connotation for me. These are written prayers, (often passed down for centuries) through the church, the puritans, the saints, and others. In short, today we are exploring the idea of praying with other people’s words. This type of prayer also has much cross over with praying Scripture since praying the Psalms (as an example) is technically praying someone else’s words.
Depending upon what type of church baggage you might be carrying, this form of prayer may - or may not - appeal to you. But I find that during certain seasons and transitions of life it is very helpful and powerful to refer to and pray the words of others. Many find joy and comfort in following a rhythm in prayer and Scripture reading knowing that millions of Christians the world over are also reading and praying the same things. It reminds me of the Scripture in Hebrews 12:1 that says we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” When I participate in praying and reading alongside of millions of other believers, it becomes more tangible that I am part of a supernatural faith community of people around the world. There is something beautiful and comforting about knowing there are millions of believers worldwide reading and praying the same thing you are on the same day.
Sometimes people think you “must” pray using your own words, but others have no idea where to start when talking with God, so using someone else’s words is a comfortable way to pray. Pray as you can; not as you can’t. Some forms of prayer discussed in this devotion (Ex: Book of Common Prayer) are often used in the more liturgical, or “high church” services and faith traditions. Though I did not grow up in those traditions, I find praying with other people’s words helpful when my words just won’t come or perhaps I am at a place in life when highly distracted and having trouble focusing. I particularly find meaning with this form of prayer during the Lenten or Advent season on the ancient Christian calendar. Another way I use the prayers of others is when I travel. At such times my normal rhythm of life and my time with God in prayer can be radically affected, so I find having a prayer book of some type helps me stay more centered.
Daily Office/Divine Hours and The Book of Common Prayer are terms and resources you might encounter in connection with “praying with the Church” as a whole. Fixed hour prayer is the oldest form of Christian spiritual discipline and has its roots in the Judaism out of which Christianity came. When the Psalmist says, “Seven times a day do I praise You," he is referring to a type of fixed hour prayer that was practiced in ancient Judaism. In monastic communities there are several times of the day when bells ring to call the community to prayer. If you think about these times of prayer - and the different time zones around the world - this is probably one way The Church fulfills the biblical command to “pray without ceasing.” (I Thes. 5:16). At its most basic level, the premise of the Daily Office is simple: we need to intentionally stop to be with God more than once a day so that practicing the presence of God becomes a reality in our lives.
Fixed hour prayer has been a central part of Christian discipleship for centuries, though not in all traditions. It is a practice most often encountered in liturgical churches. However, there seems to be a growing desire for this form of prayer from people of ALL faith traditions. Having set times to be called to prayer and saying the same prayers and reading the same Scripture - particularly the same time as other believers from around the world - brings comfort and a sense of community. Business and organizational leaders have long recognized the value of developing a shared vocabulary among a group of people. In the same way shared vocabulary can also help unite believers around our common values, goals and understandings. These prayers have been given to us both from people of God throughout history, and by Jesus himself, and are our shared prayer vocabulary.
A practical way this plays out in and around Rockhills Church is that many of the deacons have alarms set for certain days and times in which they pray for the Harris family specifically and for Rockhills Church. In this way we are participating in our own ritual and rhythm of “praying the hours” for Rockhills Church. I have met people over the years that institute a sort of “divine hours” type prayer ritual for family members. Typically, they all pray for each other at the same time even though they may be spread across the country - or the world. Some people find it meaningful during certain Christian calendar seasons (such as Advent and Lent) to adhere to the Divine Hours or in some way participate with the body of Christ worldwide in Scripture and prayer. Is there a way having set times for prayer might be beneficial in your relationship with Jesus? Are there ways that participating in some type of prayer ritual or practice might grow your marriage closer together or your family members closer together?
Creeds: Another way many people pray using someone else’s words is to pray using the Creeds as a guide. The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed are the most common. When the lines from the creeds are prayed, you are not only reciting doctrine, but putting yourself into the right posture - returning to a place of healing and wholeness as creatures before the Maker. In these prayerful creeds, we acknowledge we are finite and that only God knows the contours of our desperate hearts and our fickle minds. Only God knows our deepest truths.
Additionally, creeds do not merely catalogue theological facts. They narrate a story, recounting for us God’s actions on our behalf. The creeds assure us that God, in Jesus, has created us and rescued us and that the Spirit guides us even now. We are NOT alone.
Creeds are also - by their very nature - communal acts. They affirm the truth that faith is something we all discern together and strive to sustain together. Even when your faith is small, it is helpful and powerful to try - at least for a while - to join with the community of faith in prayer. What would it look like to borrow the faith of those who have believed this story and prayed these words and hung their hopes on these truths for nearly 2 millennia?
INVITATION: Could establishing some type of rhythm or ritual in your prayer life be helpful in your life with Jesus? Take some time to spend with Jesus about living prayerfully and how you might “pray without ceasing” in your life. (I Thes. 5:17). Even if you weren’t raised on the ancient Christian calendar, could setting apart times of the year - such as Advent and/or Lent - be a path toward greater communion with Jesus? Could intentionally rearranging your days to integrate the ancient Christian practices of prayer, Scripture, silence and solitude prove beneficial to your spiritual life and relationship with Jesus and others?
Phyllis Tickle has many updated and wonderful resources for anyone who is attracted to this type of rhythm in their prayer life and wants to try it on for size. She even has one designed for children. Check out her Divine Hours books.
The Daily Office can be sent to your inbox each day.
Valley of Vision is a classic collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. The Puritan Movement was a religious phenomenon in the 16th & 17th Centuries. The strength of their character and life lay in the practice of prayer and meditation.
Emotionally Healthy SpiritualityDay by Day by Peter Scazzero is a 40 day journey using the Daily Office as a guide and can be used as an 8 week devotional. Each day offers 2 devotion times, where each pause can be from 5 - 25 minutes.
In Constant Prayer by Robert Bensen presents a structure for our lives where we can live in continued awareness of God’s presence and reality. Bensen writes: “At some point, high-minded discussion about our life of prayer has to work its way into the dailyness of our lives. At some point, we have to move from talking about prayer to saying our prayers so that the marvelous that is possible has a chance to appear.”
This article is good to read if you are thinking about trying out The Divine Hours or The Book of Common Prayer for devotions.
A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie is a prayer classic that has stood the test of many generations. This link is for an edition with updated language.
The Songs of Jesus by Timothy Keller. This is technically praying other people’s words by using the Psalms.