Structured Prayer9:00 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?