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Borrowing Other People’s Words to Pray

Written by Bob Martin on

Leaders and Coaches

I often struggle with prayer. I feel empty-headed, and I revert back to simple words and phrases that I’ve used again-and-again to speak to God. Fortunately, I have found three places where I can borrow others’ words to help me pray.

1. Book of Common Prayer

When I lived in England for a half year during college, I was surprised to discover that the Church of England had such a long-standing resource for daily praying which I had missed out on most of my life.

The Book of Common Prayer (online, hardcover) was most helpful to me in my morning devotional time: praying the “morning office” that made my prayer time gospel-shaped—confession, restoration, praise, petition.

Because it’s built as a guide to group prayer, the word “we” used throughout reminds me that I’m not alone in this spiritual journey, and others are praying all over the world even as I do. This book has provided me a richness of words that my own mind wouldn’t quickly conjure up. For instance, after the confession of sin:

“And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.”

Since most of the morning office contains direct quotations from Scripture, it’s also a means of praying God’s words back to him. I still keep this book handy among my devotional resources and occasionally find myself inadvertently quoting it’s language in my own impromptu prayers.

2. Valley of Vision

In spite of the complicated history of some Puritans, this collection of Puritan prayers has become a trusty companion in my mornings. There is a depth and vitality that these prayers contain to provide me the ability to pray beyond my maturity.

Prayers like this help to give me words about dynamics I forget to acknowledge, and they reshape my affections as I pray them. For instance:

“In thy awful presence we are less than nothing.
we do not approach thee because we deserve thy notice, for we are sinners;
Our necessities compel us,
Thy promises encourage us,
Our broken hearts incite us,
The Mediator draws us,
They acceptance of others moves us.
Look thou upon us and be merciful unto us…” (Third Day Evening: Before Sleep)

3. Psalms

What better prayer book could we ask for than the Psalms? As professor and author Donald Whitney has said, if we don’t want to “say the same old things about the same old things” in our prayers, we can pray Scripture: especially the Psalms. For example, he shares how we can use Psalm 23 to pray:

“Lord, I thank you that you are my Shepherd. You’re a Good Shepherd. And you’ve shepherded me all of my life. But, oh, Great Shepherd, would you shepherd me through this decision I have to make about my future…”

Often, when I feel dry or don’t know what to pray, I turn to a psalm to use deep, refreshing, inspired words to praise and petition God.

Borrowing Words to Pray

There are many other places to borrow words for prayer—like from the apostle Paul or from songs—but I have personally used these three resources over-and-over to fill my mouth and heart with words that are a little more lofty in the worship of our great God.

Bob Martin

Bob first joined staff at College Park as a Pastoral Resident in 2011 and has served in several important roles since that time. He now serves as the Pastor of Membership & Connection. Bob is passionate about seeing men and women enter into community with others to find hope together. He enjoys spending time with his wife, family, and friends.

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