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Prayer: Form or Free Verse Part 1 by John Knapp II

Do you follow a pattern¹ when you pray alone?  Or do you just sort of wing it and let your heart take flight?

(Be aware: Once again, don’t overlook the numbered endnotes!)

I believe both ways are important in approaching God, but I, the English teacher, am going to spend the next few paragraphs telling why I think “form” is useful for more than just assembling poetry and creating ways to have effective discourse.

Then I’m going to present a prayer form I’ve put together, and have revised and revised.   I’m not going to tell you how to pray.  For the most part I consider that sort of thing private.  As is my private prayer life.  But this is the best thing I’ve written and I’d like to share—and defend—it.

Many churches and synagogues haven’t been short on handing us ways to pray together.  Strangely though, both Old and New Testaments of the Bible—except for Jesus’ 30-second lesson that we call the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer,” and his admonition to approach God with humility²—offer no required patterns or postures for publicly or privately harnessing Godward adoration, expectations, requests, thoughts, or whatever.

In the Bible, there are many examples of people praying, and the urging of others to do likewise, but ironically few detailed directions about how to proceed³.  It’s as if everyone was born knowing how. Still there are many examples of specific prayers⁴—long and short—made by people with good or bad reasons; and it would be interesting to find and analyze what they said and why.

But that’s not where I’m going.

Let me first emphasize that the “free verse”⁵ posture of talking to—even crying out to God in joy, anguish, frustration, and even anger—has the stamp of approval in the Bible through accounts of those who believed in God and took him seriously.

A person can open himself to God and say whatever he wants as, we hope, moved by God’ Spirit.  This is what matters most.

But how do we keep our lives in balance as time passes?  And not forget what God taught us yesterday?  Last week?  Last year?   Let’s not forget that if we forget history we often repeat it.  What about the everyday memory loss in our personal life?

A form prayer, despite being branded by some as a crutch, a vain repetition, or a mindless “babbling,” can be useful—unless it replaces all personal, unrehearsed prayer, or degenerates into little more than a public performance.  Spontaneous personal prayer is the foundation of our relationship with God.

That said, here’s a prayer that I wrote years ago and have revised at least seven times.  Use this as you will, but please, only to supplement personal conversations with God.  Better yet, modify this or create your own form prayer, setting down principles or teachings you’ve learned to keep a properly aimed—and balanced—picture of yourself before God.  The personal version of my prayer appears below; the group, or corporate version will appear next time along with about a hundred Bible references that apply to both.

(Both versions, properly formatted for 8½˝ X 11˝ paper, can be freely and more easily copied at “Resources” on my website, www.johnknapp2.com.  There you can also “jump ahead” for Bible passages that relate to continuation of this discussion.)

Parts will be numbered for future discussion.

                                      A 21st CENTURY PRAYER

                                          (A Personal Version)

                                              by John Knapp II

 1          O God, my Father,

                           through the power of your Holy Spirit

 2          May I love you as I should:

                 

 3          May I seek you daily for what I must know.

 4          May I understand your Word

 5          And may Truth be my guide

                           with the help of

                           and in spite of,

                                          the several traditions that

                                          bear your name.

 6          May I share your love with those around me.

 7          May I actively serve in your Church

                           wherever I live.

 8          May I properly obey authority

                           wherever I go.

 9          May my eyes open

                           only to what I should see;

10         May my ears open

                           only to what I should hear;

11         May my lips open

                           only to what I should say,

                           to what I should eat and drink.

12         May I dwell upon what is true,

                          pure, right, holy,

                          and proper.

13         May I not lie to myself.

14         May I see any sin that hides in me.

15         May I confess, turn from,

                          and be forgiven of

                                    any sin in my life.

16         May I not cause anyone to stumble;

17         And if I sin against others,

                         may I stop

                         to ask their forgiveness.

18         May I also be quick to forgive others

                         as you have forgiven me.

19         May I live to please your Spirit.

20         May I be bold at the right time

                         and quiet at the right time.

21          May I run when I should run,

                         walk when I should walk,

                         wait when I should wait.

                   

22          May I follow the path

                         you have pressed under my feet.

23          May I obey you in all things.

24          Thank you for all you have given me:

25          May I accept and use those special gifts

                         you have given me;

26          And may I give wisely and generously

                         to those in need.

27          May I not be dulled

                         by the false brightness around me;

28          May your light shine in me

                         the remaining minutes of my life.

29          May your kingdom come

                         and your will in everything

                                    be done.

30          And may my life forever rest in your hands.

31          May I be part of all you desire,

32          And may I desire what you want

                         every day.

33          In Jesus’ name,

34          Amen.

This summarizes most of what I regularly want to bring before God—minus details about private things: the names of people with ongoing needs, certain needs of my own, special projects and plans, fears and hopes, appreciation of things I’ve recently seen and learned about God and his creation, and so on…

Next time I will present a group, or “corporate” version of this prayer, discuss why I said what I did, and I’ll present Scriptures that, I hope, support my words.

 by John Knapp II

========================================================

¹Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic, has recently observed—and rightly so, though he doesn’t intend it as flattering—that Transcendentalists (i.e. religious believers) “tend to believe that everything is interconnected [which to him it obviously isn’t] … for a reason” and introduces the intriguing term “patternicity” (Scientific American, Sept. 2009, p.30).  That’s a great term, however, and is friendly to where I’m heading!  Those who take the God of the Bible seriously are “patternists” (my term), looking for and seeing purpose in creation and living.  Praying, especially with a pattern, helps individuals connect the dots about what has happened, what is or is not happening, and what should happen in daily living.  Of course, every pair of dots doesn’t demand a line between them.

²Mt. 6:9-13 and Lk. 18:10-14.

³This perhaps does seem a bit unusual.  My suggestion to the believer, one considering becoming a believer, or even a “card-carrying” skeptic (see above) is that if a person wants to pray—out of joy, or simple inquiry, or desperate need—a simple calling out to God in ordinary familiar words is acceptable.  Even with sincere doubts, starting with “God, if you are there, please…” or “God, if you exist…show me what I need to know” is something God can handle—and often has.

⁴The Bible offers little pattern for regular, everyday “ordinary” prayer other than “The Lord’s Prayer” cited in Note 2.   But “patterns” by example of key believers for special times are frequent.  For example are Moses (troubled by the burdens of leadership), Numbers 11:11-15; David (many psalms in the book of Psalms are by David and are directed to God in sorrow, gratitude, praise, etc.); Solomon (dedicating the temple he built), I Kings 8:22-53; Hezekiah (when Jerusalem was surrounded by an enemy), Isaiah 37:15-20; Daniel (about the future of the Jewish people), Dan. 9:4-19.

⁵Though I am using “free verse” as a synonym for “without form” as most people do, to prosody (or form) aficionados this is naïve.  I know better, but let me not waste time saying why.  Here I simply mean “not employing any set pattern or order.”

A common criticism of form prayers is that when used often (particularly in public) they can become too repetitive and familiar turning the mind off, and with it sincere communication.  Yes, that can happen.  However, I maintain that many who eschew forms to be more open and “heartfelt” often fall into the very error they criticize, uttering over and over hackneyed jargon inferior to the crafted form they want to avoid.

⁷At “Resources” on www.johnknapp2.com click on “21st Century Prayer personal version” to get a clean copy on one sheet of paper, plus some additional info.  This can be folded “in quarters” neatly so it can be tucked into a Bible.

⁸Take a sneak preview of much of my next article!  At the website above click on “21st Century Prayer, Corporate Version” and get a clean copy of a group version of the same prayer, plus the bonus feature of some brief discussion and more than a hundred Bible citations as to where these 34 parts come from—again, all on one sheet.  And if you’re on friendly terms with your printer, you can get both versions (see above note) all on one 8½˝ by 11˝ sheet—front and back.  These may be used, as is or adapted, freely according to directions on the sheets.  If you use this, please let me know through the website here!  Then I’ll know I’m not alone in my computer corner. 

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