I’m a pastor and sometimes I don’t know what to pray

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I’m going to confess something.  Sometimes I don’t know what to pray.  Sometimes it’s because I am facing a new, difficult situation, sometimes I’m looking in the face of someone hurting so deeply that my words don’t seem big enough, and sometimes I’m just distracted.

This isn't a new thing for me.  I’ve always had this problem.  I remember being in a prayer meeting as a teenager at youth camp sitting on a screened in porch in a metal folding chair. I was in awe of everyone else in the group.  Without any time to think of what they wanted to say, they would go on and on pouring their hearts out to God.  It was beautiful, but when It came my turn to say something, I stumbled over a couple sentences that sounded as confused as I felt.  

It was the same when I was by myself.  Often I would feel a deep hunger to pray, but when I tried, the words came out all wrong.  So, I asked a couple different mentors in my life what I should do.  The first told me I should keep a list of prayer requests.  My list quickly grew to a couple pages in my notebook, but I always felt weird just rattling off requests like God was some genie in a bottle.  

The other mentor said I should begin by naming things I liked about God, then thanking God for what God did in my life.  After that they said I should ask God anything I needed help with or wanted done, and then I could close the prayer by sitting in silence.  Though I got better the more I tried, I never felt fulfilled in that area of my spiritual life.

It wasn’t until I was well into my twenties that I discovered that all of this was really one type of prayer: spontaneous prayer. And for many people, spontaneous prayer is not the best option in every (or even most) situations.  

That’s why for millennia, people have been writing prayers and compiling those prayers into prayer books. They offered those works as tools so that people who wanted to spend time communing and conversing with God had a sort of scaffolding on which to stand as they built their house of prayer.

Beyond that there were many spiritual leaders who pioneered more contemplative approaches to prayer that helped people clear the clogged stream of their mind and rest in the presence of God.

As soon as I discovered these beautiful prayer books and ancient, mystical prayer practices I couldn’t get enough.  I kept digging and reading and learning until what once was the most difficult aspect of my spiritual life was the most rewarding.

Several months ago I began working on my own version of that scaffolding in the form of a new prayer book.  I began gathering old Christian Poetry, powerful Bible verses, and ancient prayer methods and putting them together into something new.  I created several prayer services for each day of the week that were written with a different time of day in mind (dawn, morning, afternoon, end of day and midnight).  I wanted people to be able to pick up the book at any moment of the week and have words to express their hearts to God.

Then I sat down with a group of young adults and asked them to help me come up with a list of of the moments in life where they came up empty when trying to express their hearts to God.  Over many late nights I crafted words to do just that.

After thousands of words, it became clear that there was one thing missing.  Sometimes we need less words.  Sometimes less words=more prayer.   The final movement of the book is a brief introduction to the mystical prayer practices that have lasted for many centuries and helped many spiritual pilgrims connect with their creator.

The book is called The Book of Everyday Prayer, and it’s for everyone who, like me, needs more than what comes off the top of their head.  It's for the teen, young adult and adult who are ready to claim old hymns, beautiful Bible verses and a new word or two as their own prayers.  It’s for all of us who need something to help us focus on God in those stolen moments in the parking lot or when we wake up earlier than we planned.

It’s The Book of Everyday Prayer, and I hope it helps.  You can order it now here.