You know you can write out your prayers, right?

by K.W. Leslie, 19 January

Y’ever meet someone who’s articulate on the internet, but when you meet ’em in person they stumble all over their words? Very same thing happens when talking with God. It’s not because God’s intimidating; he’s actually not. It’s because verbal communication isn’t their thing! It’d be better if they had a script.

For such people, rote prayers kinda appeal to them. But they’d prefer it be their words, not just those of some well-meaning God-seekng saint. And they’d like to be specific, whereas rote prayers tend to be more generic. But they struggle to get the words out. Sometimes we all have those moments.

If you’re one of those people, relax. Load up your word-processing app, or grab a pen and paper, and start writing your prayers. Stop thinking of prayer as a phone conversation, and start thinking of it as texting. You can text, right? Then you can pray.

Write out your end of your conversation with God. Or write a monologue: A whole prayer of your own thoughts and feelings and requests and praise. Write what you’d like to pray. Then pray it. Aloud or silent; up to you.

Didn’t realize this was an option, didja? Lots of Christians haven’t. And lots of Christians have; where’d you think all our prayer books came from? People have been writing out their prayers since the bible. It’s why we have prayers in the bible. And it’s something you can do too: If you struggle to pray aloud, start writing to God.

Getting started.

This isn’t a hypothetical exercise: “Write out a prayer as if you were writing to God.” You are writing to God. This is prayer. God will read this.

Yeah, God is also watching you think it up, compose it, and write it down. Same as he watches what’s going on in your mind when you figure out what to say next. (And is fully aware of how honest you’re being with them.) Just because he sees how the sausage gets made doesn’t mean he’s not gonna accept it; it only means you’d better take care in how you make it.

Still, written prayer isn’t an exercise. It’s not a way to practice prayer, then pray “for real” later. This is prayer. It’s as valid as speaking directly to God. As valid as reciting and meaning a rote prayer. As valid as meditation or fasting or any other form of prayer you tackle. It’s your offering to God, as true as any other prayer. So don’t take it lightly.

I mentioned the bible. You’ll notice the Psalms are written prayers. So are a lot of the things in the Prophets. I know; people tend to treat ’em as if they were spoken aloud first, and then written down into books. Wrong they are. Most of them began as writings. So check out the bible’s examples.

And check out prayer books. Check out rote prayers. People have deliberately written out prayers for other people to pray. How’d they do? What topics to they pray for, which you also oughta pray for? Do they quote bible?—and how do they do it, and how well? In what ways do they praise God? Is there anything they do which you don’t—which you haven’t even thought of? Anything you might want to give a try?

Try not to plagiarize, of course. Nor follow someone else’s style too closely. Remember, when you’re communicating with God, he doesn’t care to hear your interpretation of some other saint. He wants you. He wants to hear what’s in your heart. (Pray anything you don’t mean and it’s hypocrisy.) There needs to be a great deal of unfiltered, unembellished you in your prayers. Get personal. Get uninhibited. (You don’t need to share these prayers with anyone, y’know.) Be real with God.

Getting better at it.

Ever notice how often spoken prayers tend to ramble? Or get repetitive, or insert lots of filler words like—

  • Um
  • Uh
  • Er
  • Father God
  • Lord Jesus
  • Praise God hallelujah

—and the more Pentecostal you get, or the more bible verses you can quote back at God, the longer the fillers get. People who don’t have a lot to say, or can’t come up with anything better, tend to fall back on fillers. People who aren’t strong writers tend to do that too.

But most writers recognize the benefits of economizing words. Yeah, it produces shorter prayers, but so what? Longer isn’t better. Concise language is potent. A written prayer, when it doesn’t ramble, keeps us focused and organized. It gets to the point.

Praying silently also tends to ramble. Our minds naturally wander. It’s why I remind people to pray aloud. Not that the mind doesn’t wander when we write out our prayers—and it should; it’s part of the writing process. But the great thing about writing is the ability to edit. Cross out anything which doesn’t work. Use that backspace key. Fix it till it expresses just what you want to say to God.

If you keep your old written prayers, you can look back at what you’ve prayed in the past. Maybe pray ’em again. Maybe revise them: Take back certain things that you naïvely prayed for, and ask for better things. That’s growth and maturity. It’s good.

Phrase things better. Spoken prayers are like going with our first draft—and some first drafts are embarrassing. If only we could’ve said it better! Well, when we write to God, we can say it better. We can keep tweaking our words till these prayers get us right. (And if we remember what we’ve written, that’s always material we can say in any future spoken prayers.)

As you practice praying your written prayers, you’ll find you also get better with your spoken prayers—and your public prayers. When you’re in a prayer group, and tend to be unable to contribute when you’re called upon to pray, you now have a notebook or a computer full of prayers. Pull one out and pray it. Nobody will (and nobody should) have a problem with that. In fact you’ll find most of ’em really appreciate it. ’Cause compared to most extemporaneous prayers, written prayers don’t ramble, get to the point, and are well-phrased. As they should be when we work on ’em.