John Wesley was raised on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. He knew many of its prayers and forms by heart. But when God’s Spirit awakened and “strangely warmed” him, he learned to pray spontaneously, without written forms. His prayer life deepened.
In fact, Wesley began to pray spontaneously, extemporaneously, weeks before Aldersgate. He wrote that on April 1, 1738, at a meeting at Oxford “my heart was so full that I could not confine myself to the forms of prayer, which we were accustomed to use. Neither do I purpose to be confined to them any more, but to pray [either] with a form or without, as I may find suitable to particular occasions.”
This was almost two months before the life-changing meeting at Aldersgate. The interesting thing is, as Wesley more and more prayed spontaneously, he didn’t ditch the Book of Common Prayer. Quite the opposite. All through his long life, Wesley used written prayers—from the Book of Common Prayer and other sources—as well as spontaneous or impromptu prayers. This was true both in public and in his private daily devotions. Here is a great lesson for Christians today. Both written and unwritten prayers. Both/and, not either/or. Each enriches the other.
In my little book Prayers for Ordinary Days, I recommend the Book of Common Prayer and other sources. But I also encourage spontaneous prayers. The Holy Spirit works both ways—sometimes more one way; sometimes more the other. I note in the Introduction to Prayers for Ordinary Days that the healthiest Christian life is one where we pray in three ways: Privately by ourselves, together in a small group, and corporately in the larger congregation. So also, the most vital Christian life is one that combines spontaneous prayer with written prayers.
Here are four good reasons to use a prayer book as we pray:
1. Written prayers connect us with other Christians’ prayer experiences. They unite us with the broader church in both space and time. They help us experience what Christians through the ages have called “the communion of saints.”
2. Written prayers help us put our deepest feelings into words. Sometimes we sense things but don’t have words for them. Written prayers help us here. This has been my experience. This can be a delightful prayer surprise.
3. Written prayers bring larger concerns into the scope of our prayer life. We find ourselves praying for things we had never thought of—perhaps things on God’s heart that we had not yet perceived. In this way God’s Spirit helps us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
4. Written prayers often inspire us. Many prayers that have survived over years or even centuries are eloquent, elegant, beautiful, poetic, full of powerful images. They can touch us at a level deeper than we might imagine. My own written prayers draw on the church’s long prayer tradition.
I have found all four of these reasons to be true in my experience. I have also found it helpful occasionally to write my own prayers. This helps me express my deepest longings and desires. In fact that is how Prayers for Ordinary Days came to be. I believe others will find the book helpful in similar ways.
Get Howard Snyder’s latest book from our store here. Prayers for Ordinary Days is composed of 365 short prayers for both those forming a prayer habit and those inwardly set for prayer as a life attitude. Each daily prayer is accompanied by a Scripture verse, hymn excerpt, or quote that extends the spirit in which it might be offered by God. Over the course of a year, these humble prayers will elevate your vision and spur you on toward a deeper and more meaningful spiritual growth.