Home > Brian's Blogs, Prayer > Stealing Prayers, part 4

Stealing Prayers, part 4

This week we’ve been taking a look at “stealing prayers.”  This is my expression for praying the prayers of other people to make them our own.  Today I want to look at stealing prayers from a different perspective – a very challenging and helpful perspective.

This perspective comes from Mark E. Thibodeaux’s Armchair Mystic: Easing Into Contemplative Prayer.  As I’ve said before, this is one of the most practical and challenging books on prayer I’ve ever read.  I’ve personally incorporated a lot of this book into my own prayer life with great benefit.

Thibodeaux develops four major “stages” of prayer:

  1. “The first stage in the evolution of prayer is Talking at God.”  This is where we use what he calls “ready-made prayers” to tell God something.  It is absolutely necessary.  Thibodeaux summarizes, “It’s true that God know this [my prayers before I say them], but I must continue saying it for the same reason a husband must continue telling his beloved wife of many years that he loves her.  It’s not so much to give her factual information as to express his love in some concrete fashion.  By saying, “I love you,” to his wife, he is actually participating in an act of love.”
  2. “The second stage in the evolution of prayer is Talking to God.  As I mature in my relationship with God, I become more comfortable with finding my own words to speak to God rather than using the ready-made prayers of my childhood.  I simply speak to God from my heart, straightforwardly telling him all about whatever is going on with me right now.”
  3. “The third stage in the evolution of prayer is Listening to God…the mark of a mature person is the ability to really listen.”
  4. “The fourth stage in the evolution of prayer is Being with God.”  Thibodeaux equates this to a couple who has been married for years and years and finds themselves simply enjoying the company of sitting together, even if no words are spoken.

I have not gone into detail in any of Thibodeaux’s four stages, I simply want to make the point that he views “ready-made prayers” as an aspect of stage one.  That being said, they are not optional.  In fact, they are necessary.  Here are some reasons that he appreciates “ready-made prayers:”

  • They’re great.  They are written beautifully and express what I’m feeling right now.
  • They connect me with the eternal Church.  When I pray the Hail Mary, for example, I join with all Christians who have prayed that prayer since the twelfth century. (Note: Thibodeaux is Roman Catholic obviously.  We Protestants don’t pray the Hail Mary, but his point on having prayers connect us to the eternal Church is valid).
  • They connect me with the universal Church.  The Lord’s Prayer, for example, is the only prayer that practically all Christians pray.  It is a great way to be spiritually united with the almost two billion Christians around the world.
  • They connect me with me.  Like a good ritual, they interconnect my past with my present and future, the ordinary with the transcendent and the reality with the ideal.

In addition to these valuable insights, Thibodeaux believes that ready-made prayers are helpful to us when we have difficulty finding our own words to pray:

  • I don’t know what to say.  For whatever reason, I just can’t put into words how I’m feeling or what I want to say to God right now.  At times, I want to express my love for God, but I don’t have anything in particular to say.
  • I’m distracted.  For example, I may be driving to work, exercising, traveling or waiting in a long line.  These are fantastic times to pray, but I can’t concentrate enough to do any deep prayer.  By using a prayer I know by heart and can say effortlessly, I can continue doing whatever task is at hand.
  • I’m emotionally distracted.  If I’m feeling some strong emotion like anxiety, fury or fear, I may have trouble settling down enough for the other types of prayer.  I could even have trouble settling down when I’m really thrilled about something or am overcome by some happy emotion.  There are ready-made prayers for every occasion.
  • I’m tired.  Sometimes I am too exhausted to pray deeply.  I use these ready-made prayers to communicate the words that I’m too tired to think of myself.

I think Thibodeaux’s reasons for stealing prayers are fantastic.  Next week I’ll provide some of the prayers that he prays.

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Categories: Brian's Blogs, Prayer
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