Can I Pray For That?

When it comes to prayer, I don’t think that I’m alone in saying that I have plenty of room to grow. I need to learn to pray more often, more fervently, and more biblically. By praying “more biblically” (a word that spell check doesn’t recognize), I simply mean that I wish that my prayers more reflected the heart and concerns of God rather than my own agenda.

Knowing that my prayer life needs all the help it can get, I try to “fuel the furnace” by reading good books about prayer and books of prayers. In the first group A Praying Life by Paul Miller is one of the best I’ve ever read. There are a lot of great lines in it but here’s one that I think about all the time: “It didn’t take me long to realize that I do my best parenting by prayer.”

While it is pretty normal for Christians to read books about prayer, many Christians are uncomfortable with using books that contain written prayers. If we use written prayers to help guide our own prayer life, many people fear that our prayers will be less genuine and more perfunctory. And I suppose that is a real danger. But I don’t know if it is any more of a serious danger than not praying or praying very narrow, “me centered” prayers, or having our minds wander during prayer.

Personally, I’ve found written prayers to be exceptionally helpful especially The Handbook To Prayer, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer, The Valley of Vision, and Puritan Prayers. The language in the last three books has a bit of an “old English” feel to it but don’t let that scare you away. The language is understandable but it does require you to read a bit more slowly. In this situation that’s exactly what you need to do: slow down and turn these prayers into your own personal prayers to God.

All this is a set up to the very first prayer in Puritan Prayers (Kindle Edition). I was praying through it a few days ago when I came along this line…

“If Thou shouldst give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sins, or to have them burnt away with trial, give me sanctified affliction.”

When I read that I had to stop, pause, and think. In fact I’ve been thinking on it all week wondering if that is really my attitude toward sin, comfort, and hardship. The author of the prayer is presenting me with a hypothetical fork in the road. Down one path is pleasure and sin and down the other is hardship and holiness. Which one do I want?

I know that I’m supposed to want Christ-likeness more than creature comforts, but do I? And what am I willing to endure to reach holiness? Sure I’d choose holiness if it came instantly and painlessly but it doesn’t. James says that it comes through trials of various kinds (James 1:2). I want to want Christ more than comfort so I’ve been praying that God would open the eyes of my heart that I might see Jesus in all his beauty. I’ve been praying that God would free my heart from its captivity to earthly, temporal things so that I might be able to say with the Psalmist…

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And Earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

This old Puritan prayer, written by someone who died long ago, has made me wrestle with some deep heart issues. So here’s to written prayers. May God use them in your life.

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