Books of Prayers

April 11 2018
April 11 2018


Some, on priciple, do not like to read prayers written by others. One hopes that this principle is set aside for the many prayers in Scripture, like Hannah's prayer of praise (1 Sam. 2.1-10) or David's prayer for deliverance (Psalm 3) or Jonah's prayer of salvation (Jon. 2.2-9). In fact, the prayer of Jesus (Mt. 6.9-13) has been a model prayer applied by Christians from the New Testament church to today. We can only assume that God's design is that we would read, and even offer back to Him, the prayers of others.

It was many years ago that I read Alan Paton's stirring novel, Cry, The Beloved Country, about a pastor searching for his wayward son by following the trail of destruction left by his sinful choices. I'll never forget the words of Pastor Stephen Kumalo at one point: "There is no prayer left in me. I am dumb here inside. I have no words at all." All of us know what it feels like to have the vital energy of prayer drained completely out of us; there are any number of griefs and hurts and fears that shake the vocabulary of prayer right out of our souls!

We know that the Holy Spirit is divinely apppointed to aid God's children in precisely these moments (Rom. 8.26; Gal. 4.6; Jn. 14.16). And while we ought not babble mindlessly (Mt. 6.7), we also ought not be lethargic (Lk. 18.1-8). When the heart is weary, or the words hard-to-come, at least consider taking a look at prayers written by fellow believers in the history of the church.

I regularly use the collection of prayers compiled by Arthur Bennet (d. 1994), The Valley of Vision. These prayers are exclusively gathered from English Puritan sources (and Spurgeon). There are two contemporary collections of prayers from Barbara Duguid and Wayne Duguid Houk that match prayers with a scriptural confessions of sin and word of assurance, followed by a relevant hymn: Prone to Wander and Streams of Mercy. Many of these scriptural components have found their way into worship services at Faith. I have recently been made aware of collections of prayers written by Andrew Case: Prayers of an Excellent Wife and Water of the Word: Intercession for Her and Setting Their Hope in God: Biblical Intercession for Your Children (PDFs available free).

What I am particularly excited about is the little book of prayers by Elizabethan playwright, Thomas Dekker. Dekker lived and worked in London, remaining even during the plague seasons of 1608 and 1609 while Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and others returned to the country. Dekker's world was bleak and difficult, himself spending seven years in debtors' prison even though his play, The Shoemaker's Holiday, and satire, The Gull's Hornbook, were sucessful. He appears to have lived the life of a rogue not unlike the other literary artists of his day, but his collection of prayers, Four Birds of Noah's Ark, are beautiful testimonies of not just a knowledge of the Bible, but genuine faith. Various scholars have commented on Dekker's sincere religious devotion, including C. S. Lewis. While not all of the prayers are equal, many are beautifully written and full of elevating imagery.

In a prayer written to help guide a young chambermaid, he writes:

Bestow upon my youth a prosperous flourishing,
but let it be in goodness. As I grow up in years,
let me grow up in grace; and write my name,
O you Eternal Register, in that general pardon
wherein you forgive the follies of our youth.

He provides prayers for business people, soldiers going into battle, men and women in prison, during seasons of war (and plague), struggling with lust, morning and evening, prayers of thanksgiving, etc. Each prayer is written with a careful literary quality unlike that found in other prayer books.

Dekker's Four Birds of Noah's Ark, and the prayer books mentioned above, are very worth having at your fingertips for times when there is 'no word in you,' when you feel like there is 'no prayer left.'


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