PRAYER

 

TYPES OF PRAYERS

Confession

“Let us think of things we could have done, but didn’t do that could have brought us closer to another or to God.  Now, let us think of things we did, but wish we didn’t do that separated us from another or from God.”

This was the opening to confession offered in community as part of a street church service I used to be part of when I lived in Columbus, Ohio.  I’ve never really come across a better summation of the need for confession.  When we commit to following Jesus, there are expectations and responsibilities we take on (that “yoke” Jesus mentioned (which I covered on page 8 before).  The reality for us though is that we will fall short of that commitment sometimes. 

An important, but often overlooked, aspect of following Jesus is the necessity of being honest with ourselves.  Honesty about the world we live in, and especially honesty about ourselves and the choices we make (and their motivations). 

Confession then, is an opportunity to lower our guard a bit in our relationship with God, allow ourselves a little vulnerability, and be perfectly honest about who we are.  Not the person we aspire to be, or the one we try to convince others we are, but the for-real messy person we are when no one is looking. 

I am convinced that this is what Jesus is talking about when he commands his followers to pray “in secret.”

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, They have their reward.  But you, when you pray, enter into your room. And shutting your door, pray to your Father in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 6, verses 5-6

It is difficult, oftentimes, to honestly assess ourselves, but it is important that we make the effort.  God already knows your heart and actions.  Confession (and prayer generally) isn’t for God’s benefit at all; but for ours.  Following Jesus means no longer following ourselves; it means taking ourselves out of the center of our lives and our thinking and placing God there because that is way more realistic than thinking you’re the star of the world.

Now let me say that by confession, I’m not necessarily speaking about the sacrament of confession where you go to a priest or pastor and tell her or him about your honest self and receive absolution.  Mind you, if that’s part of the tradition of the congregation you join, I recommend it.  In my tradition (Anglican) we do offer the sacrament of confession, often with this catchy little tagline, “all may, none must, some should.”

Instead, I’m speaking of the importance of telling God about your truest self and your perceived failings in your own personal prayers.  The primary power of confessional prayer is that when you face up to and own your truest self you begin to have the power to change.  You become empowered, through the Holy Spirit, to live differently because you can begin to see the patterns and motivators that lead you walk apart from Jesus.  Honestly, at least with yourself, really is the best policy.

 

Intercession

Intercession, or intercessory prayer, is prayers on behalf of others.  When you pray for those you care about who are suffering in any way, for example, that’s an intercession.  Regularly incorporating intercessions in your prayers draws you to think of others.  It builds empathy and a capacity for caring which is critical to God’s vision for humanity.

This pattern of God’s care is present throughout the Bible, especially in the writings known as the prophets, as well as throughout the whole of Christian history.  As an example, the story of St Laurence is particularly poignant.  Laurence was a deacon in the third century in Rome and was responsible for keeping track of the resources of the church for helping the community.  At that time, the church was technically illegal and subject to occasional persecution.  Laurence was arrested and brought before the Roman authorities who demanded that he turn over to them the treasures of the church.  When Laurence returned to court, he brought with him a crowd of the poorest of Rome’s residents and told the authorities that “these” were the treasure of the church.  He was executed for his cheekiness.

In the Bible, care of the poor is a reminder of God’s concern that all people should thrive and be able to live into their potential.  Concern for other is the most prominent theme of the Bible and clearly God’s end goal in God’s interactions with humanity.  Though often a difficult text to understand, the final book of the Bible, Revelations expresses it perhaps most succinctly and beautifully;

And I heard a great voice out of Heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away all tears from their eyes. And there will be no more death, nor mourning, nor crying out, nor will there be any more pain; for the first things passed away.   And He sitting on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. Revelations chapter 21, verses 3-5

Perhaps you’re asking who or what should I include in my intercessory prayers?  Those you know and care about for sure, but it is beneficial to work towards widening our circle of concern. In my own church, during our weekly worship service we have the prayers of the people which are basically a series of intercessory prayers.  I offer these as a template to at least get you thinking about how you might think about this.  We pray for:

  • The universal Church
  • The concerns of the local community
  • The nation and all in authority
  • Those who suffer and those in any trouble
  • The welfare of the world
  • Those who have died

 

Listening

This is often also called contemplative prayer.  Many people might be familiar with various practices of meditation – that’s basically what listening prayer is about.  At its heart, Listening prayer is about quieting your mind and discerning God’s presence. 

There are two ways that I have found listening prayer especially helpful.  First for trying to discern where God is inviting me to put my effort and attention, and second for dispelling my own anxieties or fears.

I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that God has plan for everyone, but I do believe that all of us have God-granted gifts and abilities that are needed to accomplish God’s mission in concert with others.  Discernment then is about discovering those talents and seeing where they might best be put to use.

Holding that question in our minds while trying to dispel or quiet other concerns and distractions is really helpful.

However, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary for you sit in the lotus position in a quiet and darkened room to effectively listen.  Again, that can be very helpful and beneficial and you absolutely should learn to sit still for long periods of time.  Trust me, your soul will thank you.  But for many people, exercise is also a good time for listening prayer.  When your body is busy, but not needing a great deal of attention; it can be a very fruitful time to listen to God.  It has the added bonus of contributing to your bodily health at the same time.

As to dispelling anxieties and fears, this is where that sitting still for a long time in a quiet place can be especially effective.  In my experience, using a mantra-like prayer, praying prayer beads, or focusing intently on something (a candle, an icon, a tree) can be really helpful.  Repetitiveness has an affect that somehow, amazingly, frees your perceptive self to sense the nearness of God.  This is especially true if you can find at least 20 minutes or so to devote to this practice.

I found this kind of practice especially helpful when I worked as a chaplain at a children’s hospital.  As a new parent, I found this an especially trying and anxious time in my life.  Contemplative prayer was the only thing that got me through.  It gave me confidence through sensing God was present and active in my life and throughout the lives of the patients and their families.  Not that there were only happy results, but even in the midst of pain, suffering and death, God never abandoned us.  God held us throughout even the most tragic of events.

 

Petition

This is the wish list one.  In petition, we put our own needs in front of God.  Here I will offer the sage advice of a great and wise former spiritual mentor; “God answers all prayers, sometimes the answer is ‘No.’” The truth here is that following Jesus just doesn’t automatically mean we get all the things we want or that only good things will come our way.

Jesus tried to tell us this; saying those who would seek to follow him must be willing to take up their crosses just as he was going to do.

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  Mark’s Gospel, chapter 8, verse 34

It’s also probably useful to remember that Jesus himself prayed that he not have to go to the cross and die.

When he [Jesus] reached the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not come into the time of trial." Then he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, knelt down, and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done."   Luke’s Gospel, chapter 22, verses 40-42

Honestly, we sometimes aren’t very good at identifying our own needs or separating them from our mere desires.  Nonetheless, it is important to put them before God as best we can while also giving real effort to understanding why we think we need them.  And as in Jesus’ own example, seeking to understand why ‘no’ might be the best answer for us.

                                                                                                                                                          

Praise

Praise here means praise to God.  It’s important to not lose sight of the reality that God is the source of all creation and life.  Everything we sense and experience, and much beyond our ken, is rooted in God’s creative actions.  It is astounding that the source of all is still somehow concerned with each of us and the unfolding of the human story.This incredible character of God is captured in the psalms, ancient poems exploring the nature of the human-God relationship.

   When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; 

   What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?   

                                                                                                                Psalm 8, verses 3-4

Keeping the immensity and mystery of God in mind is helpful when we are tempted to place ourselves back in the center of our being.  Regular praise in our prayer life is a needful tonic to this propensity in human existence.  This is what is meant in the famous proverb, that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Proverb 9).

Again, we don’t praise God because God is some sort of shallow narcissist who needs others to continually say how wonderful God is.  Praising God is ultimately all for our benefit.  It reminds of us the power and wonder of God and our much smaller place in the universe.  It reminds us of our dependence on God and keeps us grounded in reality.

 

Thanksgiving

Anything happen today that you appreciated?  Well, give thanks to God!  If we believe that God is the ultimate source of all creation, then it makes sense to give God a nod when that creation offers us gifts from its abundance.

Thanksgiving also offers a mental health bonus.  It is easy, and probably too common, to focus on things that aren’t going well, problems we’re having, and unfulfilled wants.  By forcing ourselves to regularly “count our blessings” our prayers can be a helpful corrective to this tendency. 

Thankfulness, or positivity, has been shown to improve our mental and physical health and to strengthen our relationships.  These are all “God-goals;” the kind of things that you were created for.  That Jesus is offering us good news is a reason to be hopeful and gives us something to be thankful about.  Woven throughout our lives are the manifestations of this good news and when we open our eyes to see it our faith and our souls are strengthened.

One of the things Jesus tells us is that he has come to offer us “abundant” life;

I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John’s Gospel, chapter 10, verses 9-11

When we follow Jesus we should expect to experience this abundant life.  But Jesus is most definitely NOT talking about material wealth or goods.  He is pretty clear that having a lot of stuff or a lot of money is, in fact, an impediment to experiencing this abundant life.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." Mark’s Gospel, chapter 10, verse 21

Thanksgiving prayer serves to remind us to seek out this abundance, that we might understand the ways we are truly blessed, not by the treasure of this world but by the presence and love of God.

 

Plus the bonus prayer type of Lament.

Lamenting means to express our deepest griefs and sorrows.  In lamenting we wail against the injustice of our lives and especially the cruelty of our losses.  I would hope that such soul-shattering grief is not a regular part of your life, but it is something we all experience in our lives.

Expressions of Lament are an important part of the Bible, especially in the Psalms.  The Psalms are a collection of 150 ancient poems that express every imaginable human emotion and far and away the majority of them are laments of one sort of another.  God’s people throughout history have known suffering and they have felt compelled to offer their expressions of grief and sorrow to God and in many cases to hold God to account for their suffering.

One of the best know Laments is in the opening of Psalm 22; expressing a long desired and yet seemingly unfulfilled desire for God presence in the midst of great fear and suffering.

    My God, my God, why have You forsaken me, and are far from my deliverance, and from the words of my groaning?

    O my God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not answer; and in the night, and am not silent.

 

In Matthew’s Gospel it is these very words that Jesus utters as he hangs helpless, broken, and dying on the cross.

And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 27, verse 46

The importance of prayer is that it is the vehicle of our relationship to God.  Our griefs and our sorrows are known to God and because of Jesus, the depth of human suffering, even death itself, is intrinsic to God’s being.  God knows our suffering first hand because God has also experienced it.  God also promises to be with us in the midst of it and even more, that our suffering need not define us.  That like Jesus’ death, our griefs and sorrows can be overcome, if not ever forgotten.

 

 

WAYS TO PRAY

Prayer is a foundational practice in nearly all the world’s religions. Communicating with the divine seems to be a fundamental human need.  Given its widespread use, over time many prayer practices have evolved.  Prayer is often one of the hardest practices for people to adopt and many feel as though their approach to prayer is inadequate.  It probably isn’t, but the desire for a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God is a laudable and worthy goal.  Here we are offering a small selection of ways to pray in hopes that you might find a practice (or two) that works for you.

 

Mantras

Mantras are words or short phrases repeated over and over.  They work because repeating the mantra frees up the mind to commune with God, because the distractible parts of your brain are occupied with the mantra words.  Praying mantras is an excellent form of contemplative prayer.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, [a sinner]

This prayer, commonly called the Jesus prayer, is an ancient meditative phrase in the Christian tradition.  Its origins, like many Christian practices, are hazy, but it very likely originated in the practice of hermits and early monastics in the Egyptian desert in the fourth or fifth century.  The final “a sinner” is not found in the earliest forms and can be included or not as in some sense, we are all “sinners” before God.

 

Lord, have mercy

This phrase comes straight from the Bible where it and versions of it appear several times.  In some sense it is an abridged form of the Jesus prayer above and it speaks to God’s grace in our lives as well as God’s understanding of our limitations laid up against our potential.

 

Come Lord Jesus

This is a translation of the Aramaic maranatha and appears as the next to last line of the Bible – Revelations chapter 22, verse 20.  As the end of the last book of the bible, this phrase neatly sums up the whole of scripture as it points to Jesus and his power to transform the world through transformation of individuals in Christ’s image.

The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. 

                                                                                 Revelations chapter 22, verses 20-21

Lord Jesus, help me

The idea that God is a God who aids God’s people is implicit throughout the Bible and is made explicit in many of the prayers captured in the Psalms (for example, see psalms 30, 38, 40, 69, 70, 106, 109, 118)

 

Lord I believe, help my unbelief

Mark’s Gospel relates a story of a loving father who brings his son to Jesus to be healed.  The son has suffered seizures his whole life and the father worries because sometimes his son endangers himself.  The father asks Jesus’ help out of desperation, not daring to hope and trust wholly in Jesus. It is a useful mantra when we are facing our own doubts and anxieties.

They brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.  Jesus asked the father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us." 

Jesus said to him, "If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes." 

Immediately the father of the child cried out, "I believe; help my unbelief!" 

                                                                                       Mark’s Gospel chapter 9, verses 20-24

 

Jesus remember me

These words, first uttered by the thief crucified alongside Jesus reminds us that Christ alone is our refuge and source of strength.

 

 

Prayer Beads

Prayer beads show up in many religious traditions.  They work by given your hands something to do that can occupy the “routine-operations” part of the brain and free up your mind to connect with God.

Most people are probably familiar with the Roman Catholic rosary.  Other Christian traditions have also developed prayer bead practices which are similar to the rosary, but distinctive to themselves.  Since I’m not Roman Catholic and don’t have first-hand experience of the Rosary I won’t go into the details of that here.  They can be easily found online if you’d like to pursue that.

I will give some pointers and examples for Anglican prayer beads though.  Anglican prayer beads can be purchased from many sources, but it can also be fun to make your own from beads easily procured at a local crafts store.

To begin, hold the Cross and say the prayer associated with it, then move to the Invitatory Bead. Then enter the circle of the prayer with the first Cruciform Bead, moving to the right, go through the first set of seven beads to the next Cruciform bead, continuing around the circle, saying the prayers for each bead.

It is suggested that you pray around the circle at least three times in an unhurried pace, allowing the repetition to rest your mind and your heart; to become quiet and still.

A period of silence should follow the prayer, for a time of reflection and listening. Listening is an important part of all prayer.

Begin praying the Anglican Prayer Beads by selecting the prayers you wish to use for the cross and each bead. Practice them until it is clear which prayer goes with which bead, and as far as possible commit the prayers to memory.

Find a quiet spot and allow your body and mind to become restful and still. After a time of silence, begin praying the prayer beads at an unhurried, intentional pace. Complete the circle of the beads at least three times and end with a period of silence. This silence allows you to center your being in an extended period of silence. It also invites reflection and listening after you have invoked the Name and Presence of God.

One of the features of the Anglican rosary that makes it so attractive is the fact that you can develop your own prayer format selecting prayers and/or passages that have particular meaning to you or your situation.

 

A Traditional Prayer

The Cross

O God, make speed to save us.

O Lord, make haste to help us.

 

The Invitatory Bead

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:

As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

 

The Cruciform Beads (The Lord’s Prayer)

Our Father, which art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the Kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

forever and ever. Amen.

 

The Week Beads (The Jesus Prayer)

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Repeat on each bead

 

The Last Cruciform Bead

The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.

       The Lord life up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen.

 

The Dismissal Bead

Let us bless the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

The Cross

The almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bless us and keep us. Amen.

 

 

A Celtic inspired prayer

The Cross

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen

 

The Invitatory

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord forever

 

The Cruciforms

To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we believe and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God

 

The Weeks

      1st bead: Christ as a light

      2nd bead: Christ as a shield

      3rd bead: Christ under me

      4th bead: Christ above me

      5th bead: Christ to my right

      6th bead: Christ to my left

      7th bead: this day be within me and without me

 

Dismissal

Lowly and meek, yet all powerful, O Christ.  Be in my mouth and upon my lips for all whom I meet

 

The Cross

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen

 

 

 

Set Prayers

Often, we feel as though we just don’t have the words in ourselves to express our prayers.  Many prayers though have been preserved and written down so that you can draw on them when your own words fail you.  Below are some prayers that might be helpful to you.  Repetition often leads to memorization and having these in your mental “spiritual backpack” will serve you well.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your Name, your kingdom come,

  your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever.

Amen.

This is the prayer Jesus taught to his disciples when they asked him how they should pray. 

Collects

Collects were created for use in liturgical worship and churches using that kind of worship will have collects for every Sunday.  Their form is similar to that of the Lord’s Prayer and they are intended to collect the theme of each week’s Bible readings in worship.  Liturgical churches using include the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal/Anglican, and Lutheran churches.  Each of them will have printed collections of the Collects.

 

The collect has a fixed format (like a sonnet or haiku), though not based on syllables or meter, but on structure.  The basic form of the collect is a three-part structure; the Address, the Petition and the Conclusion.  The Address begins by naming God to whom we pray and then usually describes an attribute or action that God has shown in the past.  The Petition lays out what it is we are asking of God and is usually expressed as a desire for God to do a new action similar to the action in the past named in the Address.   The Conclusion is usually an appeal for God’s grace through Jesus Christ and includes a doxology, or brief statement of belief in the nature of the Trinitarian God.

Here’s an example.  This example is pretty formal as it is designed for use in a formal worship service, but you can use this form minus the formal language easily.

O God, who did wonderfully create, and yet more wonderfully restore, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

The address is to God “O God” and the action in the past is “who did wonderfully create, and yet more wonderfully restore, the dignity of human nature.”  The petition, building on that past action is “Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.”  And then the conclusion, with doxology with acknowledgment of the Trinity is: “your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen”

The prayer of St John, Chrysostom

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the

midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.

This prayer is attributed to a famous fourth century bishop of Constantinople who was renowned for his oratory (Chrysostom means “golden tongued”).  This prayer is a nice way to finish up your other prayers, especially if you’re praying as a group or another or with your family.

 

The Song of Simeon

Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised;

For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.

                                                                                    Luke’s Gospel Chapter 2, verses 29-32

These are the words of Simeon, an aged priest in Jerusalem who encounters Jesus as an infant when his family bring him to be circumcised in accordance with the Mosaic Law.  It may not be what you think of as a prayer, but it is actually a prayer of thanksgiving. 

Confessions

I’m offering two examples of confession, because people often struggle with how to confess in a general way.  These are drawn from those used in the Episcopal Church and offer a good guide for your own prayers.

Example 1

Most merciful God,

I confess that we have sinned against you

in thought, word, and deed,

by what I have done,

and by what I have left undone.

I have not loved you with my whole heart;

I have not loved my neighbors as myself.

I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

have mercy on me and forgive me;

that I may delight in your will,

and walk in your ways,

to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Example 2

God of all mercy,

I confess that I have sinned against you,

opposing your will in my life.

I have denied your goodness in others,

   in myself, and in the world you have created.

I repent of the evil that enslaves us,

   the evil I have done,

   and the evil done on my behalf.

Forgive, restore, and strengthen me

through our Savior Jesus Christ,

that I may abide in your love

and serve only your will. Amen.

Prayer of Erasmus

O Lord Jesus Christ,

The Way , the Truth, the Life:

Do not let us stray from the Way,

Nor to distrust you, the Truth,

Nor to rest in anything other than the Life.  Amen

Prayer of Dag Hammarskjold

Give me a pure heart that I see you

A humble heart that I ay hear you

A heart of love that I may serve you and

A heart of faith that I may abide in you. Amen

Prayer form 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 my end and in my departing.  Amen

 

Communal Prayers

Prayer is usually a practice one does on their own.  However, there are prayer practices that can done communally.  These are designed to bring the power of prayer amongst many together to pray together, creating a kind of prayer choir. 

Daily Office

Monastics generally offer prayers throughout the day at specific times of day.  These specified times are called offices.  Offices can be followed by non-monastics as well.  The Episcopal tradition has reduced the multiple offices of monks and nuns into two daily offices known as Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.  In the modern era, two shorter offices have been introduced for prayers at midday and bedtime known as Noonday Prayer and Compline. 

Morning and Evening Prayer are fulsome practices that include not just prayers, but a confession, Bible readings, Psalms, and other devotional bits and pieces.  Each of these takes about 20-30 minutes.  Noonday prayer and compline on the other hand, are primarily a series of prayers and short selections of scripture and are very short, 5-10 minutes or so. 

These are in the Book of Common Prayer, but can easily be found online and there are several apps that make it very easy to take up these as part of your daily life.  Though designed to be done communally, many people make the daily offices part of their individual prayer life.

Vigils

A vigil is defined as “a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray.”  Prayer vigils aren’t necessarily regularly occurring, but can be very meaningful and important opportunities to gather in prayer at momentous times.  Most commonly, people hold vigils around the bedside of someone dying, but they could be held in anticipation of any important event or life milestone.  Some popular holiday times, like Halloween and Christmas Eve, have their origins in Christian vigil practices.

Vigils don’t need to have a formal structure, though those are available.  Vigils consist mostly of being together without structure but with intent.  It can be helpful to mark the beginning though to help those participating to transition into the time of waiting and watching.

Here is a simple form to follow;

  • Opening Prayer
    • Say something that defines this gathering time and ask for God’s presence in it
  • Versicle or Litany
    • These are call and response prayers, often with the response being a repeated short phrase such as “Lord have mercy,” “Lord hear us,” or something similar.  Often they start with calls to the three persons of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and are followed by general petitions asking for God’s presence, attention, wisdom, strength, and action.
  • Pertinent Bible Reading
    • Use a short verse or psalm that seems to speak to the occasion. If you’re not sure Psalms 23 and 121 are good ones that offer hope in a variety of circumstances.  Also Isaiah 25:6-9, Romans 8:35-39 and Revelations 21:3-6.
  • Prayer of petition
    • Name the reason for the vigil and the hoped for response of God
  • Prayer of thankfulness
    • Thank God for God’s love and mercy and for this opportunity to gather in God’s name
  • Lord’s Prayer

 

 

Meditation

Many people likely associate meditation with Eastern religions, especially Zen Buddhism.  Though Christianity does not have a native practice exactly like Zen meditation, the idea of sitting quietly with God is definitely part of Christian tradition.  This practice has become increasingly popular amongst Christians and has a great deal to offer.  Again, this is primarily a contemplative prayer type.

 

The most popular form of Christian meditation is Centering Prayer.  Centering prayer was developed in the 1960’s and 70’s by people who saw value in Eastern meditation and recognized parallels with ancient Christian practices.  One of these, Basil Pennington, was a Trappist monk who wrote the influential Book, Centering Prayer.  He has described Centering Prayer in this way;

  1. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, relax, and quiet yourself. Be in love and faith to God.
  2. Choose a sacred word that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you.
  3. Let that word be gently present as your symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you.
  4. Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred word, your anchor.

 

 

Prayer Journal

A prayer journal is a kind of diary or journal where you write out or draw what’s in your heart and on your mind.  You can keep track of those people you wish to pray for, you can write out your questions and your doubts.  You can even write love letters (or complaints) to God.  The main thing is to keep it focused on your efforts to follow Jesus and use it to share yourself with God.  One of the best things about keeping a prayer journal is that it allows you to revisit your journey over time.  It can be a helpful tool in seeing where and how God acts in your life, it can remind of the ways you get stuck in your faith life and help you define new approaches to keep you from getting stuck in that same way again. It can also be a place to capture things you learn or wish to revisit later. 

 

 

Generic Daily Prayer

It is very helpful to have a daily prayer practice.  Many people find it helpful to combine a daily prayer with a daily devotion (a Bible reading or short reflection).  Many churches publish booklets of devotions or readings.  The Moravian church publishes a book each year with daily readings and Forward Movement publishes a quarterly booklet called Forward Day by Day that is excellent.

 

If you’re not sure where to start, follow this .guide

  • Address God by name and ask God to hear you and to respond
  • Name those you wish to offer intercessions for, name them and their struggles and ask God to be active in their lives
  • Name things you’re thankful for and thank God for them being in your life; ask God’s protection for them
  • Name your own needs and ask God to meet them as may be best for you and ask for understanding of your perceived needs aren’t being met.
  • Ask God to keep you safe and to keep you from evil.
  • Admit your weaknesses and temptations and ask forgiveness for the ways you’ve hurt others or missed opportunities to help
  • Remind yourself that God is the creator and source of life who offers us all we truly need
  • Ask God for wisdom and to hear God’s call to you that you can respond
  • Sit quietly with God for a moment, breathe deep

Say “All this I ask through Jesus Christ, my Lord and deliverer. Amen”

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