Do the written prayers of others help you to better pray? Should all prayer be of the sort that springs from the heart spontaneously? Is God so near that you might converse with him as you would a friend over coffee?
C.S. Lewis in reference to the words of prayer writes:
...they (words) are the movements of a conductor's baton: not the music. They serve to canalise the worship or penitence or petition which might without them--such are our minds--spread into wide and shallow puddles. It does not matter very much who first put them together. If they are our own words they will soon, by unavoidable repetition, harden into a formula. If they are someone else's, we shall continually pour into them our own meaning. At present--for one's practice changes and, I think, ought to change--I find it best to make 'my own words' the staple but introduce a modicum of the ready-made.
Lewis speaks of the benefits of using what he calls, the ready-made modicum.
It keeps me in touch with sound doctrine. Left to oneself, one could easily slide away from 'the faith once given' into a phantom called 'my religion."
It reminds me 'what things I ought to ask' (perhaps especially when I am praying for other people). The crisis of the present moment, like the nearest telegraph-post, will always loom largest. Isn't there a danger that our great, permanent, objective necessities--often more important--may get crowded out?
They provide an element of the ceremonial.
On the last point Lewis is concerned that we keep a proper perspective of God and our relationship to him. Our relationship is both intimate and distant. He wrote to his friend Malcom, You make things far too snug and confiding. Lewis thought that Malcom's sense of intimacy with God needed to be supplemented by I fell at his feet as one dead.
Lewis was opposed to devotion to apostles but he did view them, like Dante, as mountains. He said, There is lots to be said against devotions to saints; but at least they keep on reminding us that we are very small people compared with them. How much smaller before their master?
Lewis closes with these words:
A few formal, ready-made, prayers serve me as a corrective of-well, let's call it 'cheek.' They keep one side of the paradox alive. Of course it is only one side. It would be better not to be reverent at all than to have a reverence which denied the proximity.
What about you? Do you use ready-made prayers? Have you found a book such as The Valley of Vision to be useful? Do you think that a prayer book helps you to stay grounded in truth, keeps fresh in your mind things that you should request in prayer and helps you to maintain a right perspective of God as both distant and near?
1. Let spontaneous prayer spring from a heart well cultivated by Scripture.
2. Use a good prayer book, on occasion, to help keep you grounded in sound doctrine, to remind you what to pray and to keep a right perspective on God.
3. Remember when you pray that God is very near but that he is also infinitely distant.
C.S. Lewis quotes from: Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer