Saint Michael’s Chapel as well as most liturgical or sacramental churches, generally believe in using established prayers during church services and even for the individual believer to use established, traditional prayers in some instances outside of worship service. It goes without saying that especially during private prayer one should offer thanks and gratitude to the Lord God or in some cases petition him for healing or blessings for another person or even oneself, in which case a prayer from the heart might be more appropriate instead of an established formatted prayer. In this case something resembling a conversation is usually the best even though to some what appears to be a one sided monologue instead of a dialog seems a bit awkward.
Even though it may seem awkward at the time, a heart felt prayer is far superior to a prepared formatted prayer, however for some people the latter helps them to express their feelings more comfortably. Frankly if you do not feel comfortable with the manner in which you pray, and although God is hearing your prayers whether you realize it or not, you might feel more in touch with God by using a formatted prayer.
Now, our friends in the more conservative protestant churches often cite Matthew chapter 6 verses 5 through 7 in an attempt to criticize the use of traditional formatted prayers, as typically used in liturgical worship.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Matthew 6:5-7 KJV
Most theologians agree that our Lord Jesus was referring to those that use prayer to gain attention, to make a spectacle of themselves, to attempt to convince their peers of their piety. Note: Christ said that they love to pray, we can infer from this that they took great joy in public prayer as it made them the center of attention of others, their goal was not to glorify God but themselves as they were standing in the synagogues or on a street corner. Christ made it clear that they craved being seen by mankind and not necessarily God. What was the way and practice of those our Lord spoke of? In all their exercises of devotion, it was plain, the chief thing they aimed at was to be commended by their neighbors.
In verse 7 he spoke against using vain repetitions, typically the Pharisees made long repetitious prayers, idly babbling the same words over again and again to no purpose as if the mere repeating of the same words had some meaningful gain in the eyes of God the Father. In Matthew chapter 23 verse 14 we find Christ once again accusing the Pharisees of misdeeds, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.” Obviously what he is saying here is that the Pharisees were taking the homes of Widows and to justify such actions they made long prayers as if that somehow made their actions more socially acceptable.
We can infer from various scriptures that Christ had no problem with formatted prayer or even repeating a prayer, for example, while our friends use verse 7 to criticize liturgical, group prayer, prayers said by the minister in the presence of the congregation or recited by the entire group, Christ went on to outline just such a prayer in verses 9 through 15 telling us that when we pray to use what is commonly known as the “Lord’s Prayer.” Then on the night he was betrayed he himself was repeating a prayer, see Matthew chapter 26 verse 44 “And he left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.”
Matthew 6 verse 7 also can be interpreted to mean that we should never use “Vain” repetitions, vain being the key word. Once again making a public spectacle, the drawing of the public eye to oneself our of a need to satisfy ones own vanity, just by this condemnation in verse 7 should be enough to prevent us from doing such, but what about vain repetitions in private? Many would be gurus, especially among the demographic we of this modern era that we refer to as New Age, advise their followers to repeat “affirmations” over and over again in an attempt to convince themselves that they are — whatever! Some might repeat I am beautiful, over and over so as to improve their perception of their outward self, others might repeat over and over the phrase I am prosperous in order to increase their wealth, as if such a vain repetition was going to make them some money. This type of vain repetitious prayer, prayers that seek to somehow enrich the vanity and ego are what Our Lord was referring to and not liturgical prayer, such as the one he himself gave us.
One final argument regarding our Brethren that criticize formatted prayer, stop and think for one moment, really think now, if prepared prayer was such an evil thing, why is it that any bookstore catering to Evangelical Christians has an entire section of books with prewritten prayers and petitions for healing, blessings, gratitude, and guidance?
So how do I pray?
In Matthew 6 verse 6 Christ tells us “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” “But Thou” “enter into thy closet,” is a very simple instruction made to his followers and to us that when we pray as individuals, – note the use of the word “Thy” he is very plainly telling them when praying privately not as a group – to enter into your closet, this is a metaphor for being closeted, sequestered, alone away from the world and our friends and family, not a physical closet.
You can seek anyplace of quite and solitude, even in the middle of a crowd, because he said, “and when thou hast shut thy door” again we see him using a metaphor meaning that when we have shut everything out, when we have focused our attention on the task at hand, when we have devoted our entire consciousness on God; then pray privately, not making a scene or attempting to draw attention to ourselves or make a great outward appearance designed to gain the commendations of those who witness the event.
Now that you have separated your self from the world and your worldly concerns, after you have shut the door to the metaphorical closet, begin clearing your head with an exercise of enumerating the manifold blessings you have enjoyed since your last conversations with God. After reading the last sentence, most will ask “what blessings” however if you really clear your mind and open your heart you will find many things to be thankful for. To assist with this process we suggest keeping a daily journal that among other things, lists the blessing you have received that day.
When ready to pray, a simple prayer from the heart, as if you were talking to your best friend, is a good start. Express your gratitude for what you have received, acknowledge your sins and ask forgiveness, always remembering that to lie to oneself, especially about sin is to sin once again, as God knows when you are being truthful and sincere, both to him and to yourself.
1Peter 5:6&7 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; casting all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.
But for those of you that find yourself at a loss for words, I mean after all you are speaking to the creator of heaven and Earth, the Lord God almighty and some of you might feel a honest sense of humility at being in communion with the supreme being, then the Lord’s Prayer, one or more of the psalms found in the bible, a liturgical prayer such as found in the various prayer books of the Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, or other sacramental church, can help you focus your thoughts. Think of reading a formatted prayer first as an introductory petition or expression of gratitude before getting more personal with a heart felt conversation with God.
Finally, regardless of how you pray, ad lib from the heart or a combination of humble conversation augmented with formatted prayers, always, always, always, end the prayer in the name of Jesus. John 14:13 “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” You can say “In the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ – Amen.” Or “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost –Amen.” Or other similar supplications, the bottom line as a Christian is to always call upon his Holy name at the end of prayer.
Daniel 9:17 Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake.