Is saying the set prayers from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer boring? This is like asking if marriage is boring…maybe sometimes, but then it’s boring in a good way, and sometimes we find it anything but boring! The basic framework for our marriage is our prayer life, and even though prayer is emotionally grounding, that is not the only reason to do it.
Here is the first of three reasons prayer is much more profound than a balm to help you sleep at night:
We just don’t get it
From the very beginning we haven’t gotten it. When God walked with the first humans in the early evening breeze, it was the sweetest time of day in the most luscious garden imaginable, but that wasn’t enough for us.
In spite of the perfect setting and knowing God was there with them, people forgot what God imparted to them on those walks. They forgot both God’s love and God’s instructions. The result of this forgetting is powerlessness and severe jeopardy. I know this from my own experience and because the same story, different characters, is repeated over and over in Scripture. And just understanding the story doesn’t help me remember it.
Scripture uses repetition to help us remember. God begs us over and over in various ways to listen. God formed an entire people to serve as an example. Remembering the overarching story of their life with God was perhaps the most important part of being an example. They remembered this out loud together by repeating the story at festivals. Set prayers help me remember this same story.
God sent us prophets who used familiar bits of scripture, poems and prayers as lectures and warnings not to forget the big picture. The prophets also begged us to cry out to God for help. An entire book of Scripture, the Psalms, instructs us in remembering and crying out. I doubt the psalms were given to us only to be read once and then put away as irrelevant.
But we rarely call out to God in this way unless we are really suffering like Job or Hannah. The set prayers use the Psalms. The first words I pray each day are from Psalm 51. “Open my lips, Oh Lord….” Reminding me I need God even to speak and that there is a larger story that my life fits into. The story of what God did for us and will do for us, most profoundly in Christ.
When God came to walk with us again, to tell us directly the good news of God’s love for us, did Jesus have instant mind-meld with the Father? No, Scripture tells us Jesus regularly turned to prayer.
Jesus thought that prayer was important enough that he gave us specific instructions about it and a specific set prayer. Jesus thought that prayer was powerful enough that it was the very last thing he did on the cross. And Jesus thought crying out through scripture was worthy enough that his last prayer was also recognizable set prayer, a psalm.
I hope you will consider joining us in daily set prayer.