Prayer is hard for some of us. It just is. It is a common and ongoing struggle for Christians from the beginning of our faith. Martin Luther even talked about distraction in prayer being a problem. I admit that I struggle with concentration in prayer. I would’ve been right there in the garden sleeping with the disciples when Jesus needed them to pray with and for him. At times, I’ve been horribly frustrated with myself because of this. It’s like I have prayer ADD.
A few years ago, I discovered I pray best when I’ve read or said something as a way to “prime the pump.” A little preparation beforehand goes a long way for me. This realization happened for me when I found that I prayer more readily after reading scripture. It is has if I hear from God through scripture, and that movement then prompts me to pray. This pattern feels more natural to me.
Then, I read on a blog somewhere about using prayer books, specifically the Book of Common Prayer. Being born and raised as a free church Evangelical with Fundamentalist leanings, the thought I would use a prayer book from the Episcopal – GASP! – Church was surprising if not borderline scandalous. For my readers who come out of Catholic or mainline Protestant churches this doesn’t seem that odd, but for those of you from backgrounds like mine know that you were probably either told directly, or left with the distinct impression, that anything coming from churches outside our camp was probably tainted and would lead you down a bad road. Well, I shoved those thoughts aside, and went and bought myself a Book of Common Prayer (BCP).
The BCP has gone through several revisions since it was first developed by the Anglican Church as a Protestant alternative to the Catholic missals. It is a complete service book, and the liturgy of Anglicanism is contained within it. Essentially, the BCP is a complete service manual for Anglican liturgy. It also contains devotionals written on a four times daily cycle. These short devotionals are for morning (lauds), noon (midday), early evening (vespers), and close of day (compline). This is a pattern of worship and prayer observed by Christians going back many hundreds of years. It is time-tested and proven. I’ve become a big proponent of prayer cycles.
What I have found in that book is something stable and reliable. The daily reading and devotional rites help me focus, and in combination with a Bible, I have found the words and prayers within that book to be very helpful to me. Some may say that using a prayer book makes prayer automatically rote and unexpressive. I’ve found – just like I did with Bible reading – that the collects, prayers, order, and scripture reading inspires extemporaneous prayers in me.
About three years ago I added another prayer book to my collection: The Paraclete Psalter. This psalter was written by some monks, and using the say 4 times daily schedule, they’ve created a 4 week cycle of prayer using various psalms. There is something beautiful in praying the psalms. They are powerful and expressive. I admit that I don’t use the PP regularly, but I do mix it in every few months, and then leave it aside for a few months before coming back to it.
If you struggle with prayer, if it feels like your mind is in 1,000 different places, I would encourage you to explore using a prayer book. The Book of Common Prayer and the Paraclete Psalter are good places to start.