Every day John and I say set prayers out loud together from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. A good reason for doing this, as opposed to free-forming our own prayers, is because we forget God’s love and God’s instructions. Set prayer from God’s Word reminds us what God promises and what God asks. Next, this discipline is servant behavior and helps us ‘take on the mind of Jesus.’ (Phil 2:5). And the third reason is – God hears us.
The scriptures overflow with examples of people crying out. The slaves in Egypt cried out. Noah cried out. Hannah cried out. Job cried out. Apostles cried out. And God heard them and God answered them.
John points out that when we read set prayers, we are adding our voice to the voice of many others who are offering the same prayers all over the world, crying out together. This puts our lives into the context of the wider church and reminds us that we are part of the overarching bigger story; we are a part of God’s life.
God hears us and remembers us as God’s beloved people.
The people who cried out in the Bible were not always answered in the way they expected or had asked for. But they were heard. This fact is reinforced for me when I know I am praying the same words they said; this doesn’t happen when I am making up my own prayers.
But will we hear God?
We are sometimes prone to identifying culturally dictated impulses or personal rationalizations as something “God said to me.” Through the set prayers, especially those taken directly from Scripture, I come to know what God has promised and what God’s “voice” sounds like. I am less prone to put my own words into God’s mouth. And many times the answer I need is right there in the prayers.
In Conclusion: Set prayers provide a frame you can depend on.
It may seem that praying set words is shallow or doesn’t take enough creative effort or is too simple. However, when I am focused on the tasks of the day, or trying to sort out my relationships, I can easily forget what is important.
Here is a sampling of important reminders that are included in the four Episcopal Daily Devotions:
The morning prayers remind us that we have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection.
At noon we are reminded that our blessed Savior stretched out his loving arms on the cross for us.
In the early evening we reflect that it is not ourselves we proclaim but Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake.
At the close of the day we are reminded that the Lord is merciful and almighty and can drive away all the snares of the enemy.
These things are a frame we can live in and depend on. They are true. They convey God’s love for us. They are God’s answers to our prayers.