Structured Prayer

9:00 AM


To desire a spiritual life is, thus, to desire discipline.
T H O M A S  M E R T O N
-- No Man Is an Island --

A reader suggested I try utilizing a prayer rule to help with my daily spiritual walk. I knew nothing about prayer rules (and still know nothing), but I took her up on the challenge.

Basically, a prayer rule is a set of structured prayers said at specific times of day. I borrowed this prayer rule from the Eastern Orthodox church, but felt uncomfortable with certain elements -- repeating "Lord, have mercy" 100 times per prayer session, merely reciting the Lord's Prayer, and commemorating the dead. Instead I cobbled together my own prayer rule. Using the Lord's Prayer as a guide, I arranged different Catholic and Orthodox prayers and biblical psalms into morning and evening prayer rules. There are pauses within this prayer rule for remembering my sinfulness, reflecting on the coming day, and speaking freely about whatever's on my heart. I pray at general set times in the morning and evening (i.e. first thing after getting dressed and last thing before going to bed). The Orthodox tradition encourages praying at midday too, but I don't know how to swing that in the middle of work.

So far, I'm enjoying the benefits of praying with a prayer rule -- the biggest benefit being that I'm actually praying again! The prayer rule provides a familiar starting point. Many times I ignore the urge to pray because I just don't know what to say or do. I feel pressure to reinvent the prayer wheel, so to speak, to prove to God how genuine, passionate, and sincere I am through my awesome turn of words. (Maybe that's a writer thing.) Praying a written prayer that expresses my heart takes away the pressure to find the right words. I can focus on getting my heart right instead of getting my words right.

Speaking of which, the structure of a prayer rule gently rebukes my heart when it's in a sinful funk. It's hard to pray David's psalm of repentance and still hold onto my anger against somebody for some thing that they did earlier in the day. Without a prayer rule, I would just stew until I felt "holy" enough to move toward repentance. (In other words, I just stewed.) With a prayer rule, I'm gently forced to confess my sin. As I confess, I'm broken down and want to continue seeking forgiveness.

A prayer rule also reminds me of people I need to pray for daily -- my spiritual leaders, church leaders, family, nation, and those suffering in and out of the church. It reminds me to give thanks, to request help for upcoming daily tasks, and to accept unexpected inconveniences within God's sovereignty. It sets my heart right not only for prayer itself but also for the upcoming day or night.

Because the prayer rule is simple but thorough, it touches on everything I encounter. When my boyfriend still hasn't decided if he can make my sister's wedding, I remember that God is sovereign over all plans (or lack thereof). When my flea bites drive me crazy (yes, flea bites), I remember that I asked for physical strength for this day. When I can't fall asleep at night, I remember that God heard my prayer for peaceful sleep.

The structure of praying at set times also makes it harder to willfully sin. It's hard to stay mad at my boyfriend for his lack of planning when I have to confess all temper tantrums at 11 p.m.! I also love how natural and holistic praying at the beginning and end of the day feels. The morning prayer rule provides a time for quiet reflection on the upcoming day, allowing me to get my thoughts and plans in order. And there's nothing quite like falling asleep in the presence of Jesus as I mumble through the Gloria.

Oh -- that's another great thing about structured prayer. Even when I'm exhausted and unfocused, praying a written prayer keeps my scatterbrain centered on the task at hand -- seeking the face of Jesus. And I need all the help I can get in that department.

I've never used a prayer rule or even set aside a period of time for prayer, so it's been an interesting spiritual experiment. That's where I'm at in my walk -- tentatively "experimenting" with things I doctrinally agree with but have no actual experience with. I'm hoping this prayer rule roots me in real spiritual discipline instead of turning out to be just another passing fad.

I'm curious -- do any of you pray written prayers, use a prayer rule, or in any other way utilize structure in your devotional life? How has God used that? Or do you find structure unhelpful?

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12 impressions

  1. What if, at midday you simply prayed a short, two-sentence or so prayer of thanks and asking for blessing? I used to do that by bowing my head quickly before lunch at work. Another suggestion I read in a book was that we can pray by "lifting our hearts to God" in a moment... basically just consciously remembering that we are before Him in that moment.
    Thank you for this post. It is encouraging and convicting. I rarely pray a written prayer but have occasionally prayed through psalm or other portion of Scripture.

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    1. Thank you for the suggestions. I can certainly do that!

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  2. You should look into the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It provides a structured way to pray but in what might be a more comfortable form for you as a Protestant! And it has longer and shorter forms of the morning and evening prayers, so depending on how much time you have you could do either one. We've really enjoyed doing them together.

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    1. You're the second person to recommend the Book of Common Prayer! I'll look into that. Thanks, Annika!

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  3. I love St. Patrick's Breastplate (also known as the Lorica, because it wasn't actually written by Patrick and because Latin is cool), although I don't so much pray it as meditate on it. My favorite translation is this one: http://www.semicolonblog.com/?p=594.

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    1. Holy cow, that's a powerful prayer! Kristyn Getty prays part of this prayer in one of her albums. It's beautiful. That would get even ME motivated to get up in the morning!

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  4. Bailey,

    I recently re-found your blog when I signed into Blogger for the first time in MONTHS. I'm so glad I did! I have not found any other bloggers in such a similar walk of life. The past few years of change from home school life to being in college and having a boyfriend has been crazy. Amazing, but crazy! On top of that, my relationship with God has been struggling for several months, but for the past few weeks He has really been working in me to change that.

    I just wanted to say THANK YOU for blogging openly and honestly! You are an encouragement as I can relate to your struggles.

    And to answer the question you asked...
    One thing that helps me during my scatterbrained prayers is to journal them. Yes, it takes longer, but I really think through what I am praying and don't ramble nearly as easily. :)

    -Grace

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    1. Grace, I'm so glad we can walk through this crazy stage of life together!!! It's hard for ME to find people in a similar situation, so it's great to hear from you!

      You're so disciplined if you can journal your prayers. I actually get distracted journaling my prayers, just because the writer in me wants to edit them as I write. Notttt a good situation! I'm so glad you've found a solution for your scatter brained thoughts, though!!

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  5. I would also suggest the BCP (As a traditionalist Anglican, BCP 1928 is my recommendation, though the BCP 1979 is also good). I myself pray the Te Lucis Ante Terminum (in English) as I go to bed. http://www.oremus.org/hymnal/t/t757.html

    It has been a while since I watched this, but this is one of my favourite explanations of the Eastern Orthodox prayer tradition, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqTLTUxMGbQ

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    1. Thanks, Evan! I was hoping you'd comment. I'd love to talk about this when we get back to school. :)

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  6. This is the part where I shamefully I admit that I myself haven't used a prayer rule in over a year, even though I suggested it. :) I guess now I'm off to take my own advice and construct one. I'm going to focus on short & sweet prayers for now and add on. I'll be sure to share when I complete it!

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    1. Please do take your own advice! :D And definitely come back and share. I'll admit that I got swamped with my sister's wedding and guests this week and neglected one or both of my daily prayer times. I need to get back into that habit this week now that my life is more of my own. :)

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