I’ve heard it said that written prayers are deficient, disingenuous and described as nothing more than “the traditions of men.” As one who relies occasionally on written prayers, I’d like to offer some admonishments on why you should also utilize written prayers in your devotional life. I am mainly writing towards Baptists and other Free Church traditions that typically are not as liturgical as Anglicans, Presbyterians or other high church traditions. I think written prayers are beneficial for the following reasons:
1-Written prayers usually contain deep reservoirs of theology and doctrine. Theology is meant to be prayed and sung. John Bunyan once said that “The truths that I know best I have learned on my knees. I never know a thing well, till it is burned into my heart by prayer.” Written prayers typically are full of weighty theological realities that can provoke or incite deep affections for God. Jonathan Edwards wrote in his book Religious Affections that “I am bold in saying this, but I believe that no one is ever changed, either by doctrine, by hearing the Word, or by the preaching or teaching of another, unless the affections are moved by these things. No one ever seeks salvation, no one ever cries for wisdom, no one ever wrestles with God, no one ever kneels in prayer or flees from sin, with a heart that remains unaffected. In a word, there is never any great achievement by the things of religion without a heart deeply affected by those things.” Written prayers are an avenue for the affections to be moved toward the great object of our faith, God himself.
2-Written prayers create a structure for worship and adoration. I know many times people do not like to pray publically out of fear of what the hearers will think or say. People begin to pray publically extemporaneously and the prayer either goes too fast, becomes almost inaudible, or even becomes heretical because the moment creates such an emotional high within the pray-er’s mind. Written prayers afford the person to casually yet meaningfully pray what they or the hearers need to hear. It is still speech to God regardless of whether or not you used ink on a piece of paper or thought about what to say as you prayed. If any bias exists against written prayers, it is helpful to point out that the book of Psalms and other portions of Scripture are full of just that-written prayers!
3-Written prayers afford the one who prays with a real expression of worship during times when words fail you. I know in my own life that I have been greatly blessed by the reading of repentive prayers during times of conviction or contrition. Because of the horror of sin in my own life, I many times literally lack any words other than “Lord, have mercy.” Written prayers have become an expression of truths I know that are felt and real in my current state but have become verbally unexpressable because of sin’s oppression. The articulation of written prayers during those moments remind me of the grace and mercy found in Christ. They are a way that a believer can be reminded of the truths of the gospel by another during moments of moral failure. Spurgeon was right when he said “Prayer girds human weakness with divine strength, turns human folly into heavenly wisdom, and gives to troubled mortals the peace of God.”
4-Written prayers align the one who prays with the traditions that came before them. The way we do Church, the way we speak about God, and the way we go about our religious lives are Church history topics. We are a product of someone else. We are always influenced by someone or something. History is a story written by the finger of God and his work in our lives likely isn’t some brand-new happening in Christian history. Written prayers from the past heroes of old (Heb. 11) places the one who prays in the lineage of people who walked faithfully with God. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1-3) both on this earth (the church militant) and in the presence of God (the church triumphant) who have prayed prayers that are worth repeating.
5-Written prayers can teach us how to pray. There is no shame in being like Jesus’ disciples who came to the Lord to learn how to pray (Luke 11:1-4). Even further, written prayers can teach us what to pray (Matt. 6:9-14). Many times prayer can dwindle down into mindless repetitions and selfish petitions instead of earth-shaking intercessions for great needs or white-hot acclamations of glorious truths about God. Written prayers from godly men and women can help us keep the focus of prayer on Christ instead of ourselves.
Three books full of written prayers that I have found useful are the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (here), The Valley of Vision (here), and A Diary of Private Prayer (here). May God bless you with new depths and breadths of communion with him.