Do Written Prayers Work?

“Do written Prayers actually work?”
This is probably one of the top-ten most frequently asked questions of all time. And frankly, I don’t get it.
Maybe its because I grew-up in a church tradition that falls on the more “liturgical” and “formal” side of the spectrum. Maybe its because my earliest exposures to extemporaneous prayers were the interminably long Thanksgiving table graces of my Uncle Harold (may he rest in peace, rise in glory and feast on a heavenly banquet that includes food that doesn’t get cold by the time he’s allowed to start eating). In any case, I can’t recall ever feeling that the unscripted utterances of my mind were in anyway more effective or more clearly heard by the Almighty than reciting the well-crafted words of others. Or vice-versa for that matter. Prayer always just seemed to be prayer.
Later this fall, I’ll publish an extended series on prayer. But, for now, suffice it to say that prayer is more about the relationships formed in praying that it is about the words employed.
Too often we think that the most appropriate synonym for prayer in contemporary language is “communication.” Meaning that prayer is a privileged way of “talking to God” or “telling” God about our experiences, what’s on our mind, in our heart. From this point of view, you can certainly see why reading one’s prayers, or worse yet, reading someone else’s prayers might be considered wrong, or at least wrong-headed. I guess it’s kind of like getting a form-letter or the difference between a Hallmark Card and  and a hand-written note on your birthday.
But to look at prayer strictly as communication strips it of its power and range. Apart from fundamentally mistaking God’s ability to know what we need or how we’re doing before we ask, it  shrinks the world of prayer down to only two parties: God and ‘me.’ A much smaller world than the one God made.
What if we were to consider prayer as “relationship” rather than simply communication. Time spent in prayer then becomes time spent relating to God rather than simply talking or listening.  Not only does this open many more options for prayer (like silence, adoration or movement) without overly complicating a more limited metaphor, like ‘talking.’ But such a move also allows us to consider the many ways in which our prayer time puts us in relationship with both God and others. An intercession becomes more than simply telling God about what happened to someone else, it brings the other to a relationship with God and put us in deeper relationship with the person that we’re praying for. Reading a prayer written by another becomes a relationship with both God and the author, even if she has already gone on to Glory. I can’t think of a more ‘heartfelt’ opportunity than that.
Friends, keep reading your prayers, and keep praying extemporaneously. Pray in silence. Pray in motion. Pray all the time and without ceasing. God loves the relationship.

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