Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Struggling to Pray?

PrayerCandle.jpgHere’s a letter from a former student in response to one of the prayers we posted on Sunday as Prayer for the Week, which come from The Book of Common Prayer…

Dr. McKnight,

Why is that prayer is often called talking with
God- but prayers (at least ones people consider good prayers) are never
constructed the way we speak, or even the way we normally write? I
think alot of people, myself included, often feel their prayers are
weaker or mean less or childish if they don’t sound perfect…


of the time I feel like I don’t know how to pray and I don’t like to,
because it feels unnatural–trying to pray like the “Prayer for the
Week” below. And, I’ve not been a great Christian- so where does one
pick up with prayer- after a long hiatus? It’s hard to want to pray
when you haven’t experienced that feeling that God is alive and working
in you…

Sorry- I’m sure you’re busy with a hundred and one other things—but I’m just curious!

Be well-

Prayer for the Week

O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love,
that through your grace we may proclaim you rtruth with boldness, and
minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus
Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now
and for ever. Amen.


Dear [Name],

We have two kinds of instructions on “how” to pray: the Psalms, which
reveal a host of things and not the least of which is rugged honesty,
and the Lord’s Prayer, which focuses our attention on the important
things in life.

We learn from these prayers and that is why
Christians have used the prayers of others — to learn from them and
not to let them completely replace our spontaneous prayers. Spontaneous
prayers don’t sound like those prayers, but after awhile we begin to
sound more like them. But who cares about how we sound? The issue is
telling God what’s inside you.

Where to begin? Did you know I
wrote a little book on prayer for such folks who struggle with prayer?
It’s called Praying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today
and if you follow the link from
FB to my blog at Beliefnet [or click on the link here], you can click on the little icon on the
right column and find it at Amazon.

You won’t believe the
number of Christians who have struggled with prayer and who have found
the use of prayerbooks to be the kick-start they needed for reviving

How’s that for some suggestions?

Where are you these days?



Comments read comments(11)
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Jay Wermuth

posted June 18, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Prayer can be a difficult subject for many people. As for me, I have had to learn to talk less in my prayers. I found after years of being a Christian that when I prayed in front of people, part of me was hoping to hear an “amen” or a “yes Jesus” along the way and so I prayed like the man who prays out loud in public in Jesus’ parable. One day I very clearly heard the Spirit say “shut up”. When I learned to be quiet, God revealed a whole new side of Himself to me.
The point of telling this story is that we all struggle in various ways, but what God wants is our heart. Sometimes he wants to talk to us, others he wants us to pour our heart of to him. As with the Psalms, this can be done through beautiful poetry written from the depths of ones soul. Other prayers are community prayers written to foster solidarity. For me, the point of all prayers is to be real, because God isn’t just listening to our words, hes listening to our heart.

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Dave Leigh

posted June 18, 2009 at 3:34 pm

I think such written prayers often seem intended more for the reader’s sake than for the One addressed in the prayer. What I mean by that is such written prayers enable us focus on aspects of God in ways that help us lift our soul and spirits above our own limited perspectives. In a way we bind our souls to the lofty praise and adoration written out for us in poetic eloquence and inspiring pros.
Most of do not talk to God or anyone else with such eloquence. And thanfully that is not what God is looing for. He is looking not for words but for hearts lifted up to him. Sometimes written prayers like those in prayer books and psalters can help us do that. But sometimes we just need to blurt out what is inside us or fall before him in silent awe! Each of these approaches can help us open our hearts to God and that is what he wants most–our hearts laid bare before him.
Now let me contradict or modify my first sentence. Having accomplished the intended purpose of elevating the reader’s prayerful heart before God, God receives an elevated level of adoration from the reader. And so God, as the One addressed, is ultimately blessed and the written prayer achieves its highest intended purpose.
I do not worry about matching the eloquence of such prayers when I pray. But I do seek to raise my heart, mind, soul, and spirit to their level of adoration and awe by focusing on God and on those attributes of his that are so often extoled in such prayers.

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Jim Marks

posted June 18, 2009 at 3:45 pm

I feel awkward self-promoting, but I just wrote a blog post with my thoughts on The L-rd’s Prayer and what it is really modeling for us earlier this week.
Less about what to say or how to say it, and more about the shape and posture that this model puts us into in order to -go get things done-.

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posted June 18, 2009 at 3:56 pm

I heard about a new book on prayer just this week. I haven’t read it but the reviews on sound interesting. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in A Distracting World by Paul Miller. Sounds like its more about concentrating on “relatationship” with God rather than if I’m “praying correctly.” I collect “prayers” and that’s why I like a prayers like the ones in the Book of Common Prayer… because they think of ways to say things that I wouldn’t on my own, but that I whole heartedly agree with. When I do pray them, I feel like I’m praying from the heart rather than from rote because I really try to “pray” them rather than just “say” them. I haven’t been part of a liturgical church so most of it is “new” material for me. I think they are beautiful prayers. Also one of the best books I’ve ever read on prayer, specically unanswered prayer, was by Pete Greig, God On Mute.

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Carl Holmes

posted June 18, 2009 at 4:50 pm

I resonate with Jay… I have heard a profound and completely otherworldy “shut up” a time or two. After the second time I figured I should listen.
I used to beat myself up if i did not spend x amount of time in prayer in the morning, or pray at a meal. What I realized is that I was responding to God and hoping for affirmation from him, when regardless of prayer or not I already have his affirmation and love.
Prayer makes us more attuned to that affirmation, it makes us more aware of the situations and people we find ourselves with, and ultimately more accute to the people around me.
to this day I pray quite simply, not overly formulaically, and just let God lead my mind into who/what I need to pray for for the day. It really is more comforting, he wants to hear it even though he knows it is there already, and he is faithful to work in those prayers and longing of your heart. So take as much time to listen as to pray, God will lead it. Sometimes it is big and bold, others it is quiet as a church mouse.

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Rick in Texas

posted June 18, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Dave comments that written prayers like this are often more for us than for God. My question: What prayers aren’t? What prayers did I ever pray that gave God information He didn’t already have, made Him aware of heart issues in me that He had not been privy to beforehand? (none) So Dave is right. All prayer is to align my heart to God’s.
Most of us feel inarticulate when we speak in front of others. But when things are important, we often allow others more articulate than ourselves to help us with the words. Some of the most important words I ever spoke were composed by someone else. They began “I, Rick, take thee, Alicia…” They were words that did not sound like the way I ordinarily speak, but they captured with accuracy and beauty what I wanted to convey.
When I want to express my faith, the words often begin “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…” – again, words from a Creed that I did not write, but which capture my faith and my solidarity with believers throughout the world and the ages.

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posted June 18, 2009 at 7:56 pm

I was very surprised to read on a Calvinist blog the other day that prayer should only consist of talking to God, not listening. It’s too much like meditation, goes this view, and seeking the Holy Spirit draws one away from the Bible — which is all that is needed. There’s no scriptural basis for quietly listening to God, according to them.
Me, I think it’s good for children like us to occasionally shut up and listen to our Father. God already knows what is in our hearts – we don’t need to tell him!
The Jesus prayer can be very effective when I seem inarticulate… simply repeating “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” can still the mind and open the heart.
Also, lectio divina. But the problem for me is that these are all individual prayers.
I get absolutely tongue-tied when I’m asked to lead a group in prayer. I literally stutter. I have to be warned ahead of time and work up a 3-part outline in my head!!

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posted June 19, 2009 at 12:12 am

I’ve been kicking around the Christain block for over forty years and I still find prayer my most difficult discipline. As some have indicated, it is no secret to God our heart, our petitions, or the needs of others. And I suspect I’m not going to get God to change his mind about too many things, so I keep my prayers rather simple. In fact, if anyone were to follow me around for a day or a week they would say, “He never prays.” When in fact I do. Often.
Sometimes my prayers are simple acknowledgements of God’s love. Sometimes I’m belligerant and accusatory. Sometimes I’m embarassed and humbled. Sometimes I’m wondering “why?” Other times I’m simply – as others have suggested – silent and listening.
I’ve read prayers, written prayers, screamed prayers and knelt in prayer. I’m not certain any method really mattered to God as long as we were talking.

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John W Frye

posted June 19, 2009 at 9:25 am

1. Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Psalms in THE MESSAGE can help give down to earth, “street language” to our prayer vocabulary.
2. Richard Foster’s PRAYING: FINDING THE HEART’S TRUE HOME expands our vision of what “prayer” is.
3. Scot’s book PRAYING WITH THE CHURCH rescues from the privatization and isolation that permeates USAmerican evangelicals and their spontaneous, “personal” prayers.
4. Written prayers of the church, ie, THE DIVINE HOURS, provide a grounding in an enduring ecclesial theology of prayer.

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posted June 21, 2009 at 7:54 am

Dr. McKnight,
I am reading your book ‘The Blue Parakeet’ and these questions occurred to me….Are there any study Bibles that would encourage or help develop the way of Bible reading you are explaining?….and…or are study Bibles too ‘one sided’ to be of any use in this endeavour? Is there a Bible version that would be more helpful than another in learning to read in the way you propose in your book? Any thoughts or advice? Thanks for any guidance you may provide!

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Joanne Popovich

posted July 15, 2009 at 9:17 pm

“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. I’m Eastern Catholic (Byzantine) and the Jesus prayer is used in a book called “The Way of the Pilgrim”…excellent. A priest told us that praying is talking to God and that’s what do, along with regular prayers. For me talking is great, I speak as if He was right in the room with me. One thing, I do need to “shut up” and listen more.

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