When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! [Matthew 6:7-8 (NLT)]
While I enjoy cooking from scratch, I’ve never found recipes that produce better results than those from certain boxed mixes. Conceding that someone else has created better and easier recipes than mine for cornbread and brownies, I occasionally resort to using them. Nevertheless, I usually add chopped green chilies to the cornbread and chocolate chips or crushed Oreos to the brownies to make the finished product uniquely my own.
Like a boxed mix, there are times when we want to use a ready-made prayers when talking with God. Ready-made prayers are well written and, like Kraft mac ‘n cheese, comforting in their familiarity. They help us to convey thoughts we just can’t seem to find the words to express, clarify our concerns, or guide our prayers in God’s direction instead of in our own. Believing they kept him in touch with “sound doctrine” rather than his version of “religion” and fixed his focus on the long-range rather than the immediate, C.S. Lewis often used prayers from The Book of Common Prayer.
Just as I occasionally resort to a baking mix, like Lewis, there are times I use ready-made prayers like the ones found in the Psalms, The Book of Common Prayer, John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer, or The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. Sometimes other people’s way with words—their passion, vulnerability, repentance or joy—are more expressive than anything I could articulate. Reinhold Niebuhr’s words, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference,” say it better than I ever could.
Nevertheless, much as having the same recipe prepared the same way over and over again can get boring, saying the same prayers over and over again can get humdrum. The disciples were warned about the mindless repetition of prayers. Our prayers should never be dull and routine and we should be cautious of reciting words that are overly familiar or insincere. It helps if we’re sure to add a little something of our own thoughts to ready-made prayers just as we might do with a boxed mix of cornbread or brownies!