Do you ever wonder how to pray? I sure do. That’s especially true when I am confused or worried, when the situation is too complex to think my way through it and know exactly what to pray for. Sometimes I recognize my motive for praying isn’t the purest and so taints my prayer with self-interest if not self-righteousness. Then there are times when I think I know what’s right and want to tell God how to run His universe ... which is when I’m reminded that that’s farabove my pay grade.
So, I’ve been asking myself—what are some “perfect prayers.” You know, prayers that are always in accord with God’s working and in His will even when I don’t know exactly what that is.
Yes, we start with the “prayer our Lord taught us to pray.” That’s one reason Pope Francis called all Christian people, regardless of denomination, ethnic background, language and creed, to pray the “Disciple’s Prayer” at noon today [3/25/20]. As the prayer Jesus taught us to pray as His followers, it’s His gift to us which makes it our prayer to pray. [To see the Lord’s Prayer, the one He prays as only He can pray it, look at John 17.]
Anyhow, this is a great place to start:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
My quest has taken me some other places to add to my list of brief “perfect prayers.” They can be prayed in a breath or two, in quiet or on the fly. One result is a kind of “daily office” I can pray anytime, anywhere [which is at the end of this reflection].
As you’d expect, one of those “perfect prayers” is a line right out of the longer Disciple’s Prayer. It’s to pray Thy Will Be Done. In Gethsemane Jesus models the appropriateness of this prayer in the face of great trial (Matthew 26:39,42,44).
Another I call “The Prayer of St. Anthony” although it’s not from the monastic desert saint of the 3rd and 4th centuries, nor it is even linked to a 13th century Portuguese Franciscan Friar of the same name. Rather it was a gift given to me by my good friend Tony Pagnatto who used to pray every morning as he began his day: “Lord, You know what I need today.” Simple. Surrender. Trusting.
So, I’ve made it one of my “perfect prayers” adding another phrase so that it’s become: Lord, You know what I need today ... and what I don’t.
A third prayer comes from the Eastern Orthodox tradition is known as “The Jesus Prayer.” It’s a prayer rooted in the gospels. For instance, in Mark 10 Bartimaeus cries out (beseeching, as in prayer) “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Another source is Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in which the despised publican prays “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). The Jesus Prayer combines the two pleas into one prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Sometimes, it gets abbreviated to a prayer found in the worship life of most Christian traditions—“Lord, Have Mercy” also known as “The Kyrie Eleison.”
Another “perfect prayer” is Jesus’ last utterance from the cross: "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Jesus was quoting Psalm 31:5 ~ Into your hands I commit my spirit. Admittedly, it’s both a dangerous and hard prayer. For it’s a prayer of relinquishment, which is a complete laying down of human will and surrender into God’s hand of all we are and will be. That’s why it’s tough. It’s also why it can be so freeing.
The Psalmist prays in Psalm 119:18, Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things of your torah – which literally means “instruction” rather than a code of rules that we think of as “law.” Again, I think of Bartimaeus for whom the first thing he saw was Jesus the Rabbi! I think of Paul, as when the scales fell from his eyes in Acts 9:17-18 following the touch of new friend in Christ; and of three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration who when the cloud lifted saw Jesus and Him only (Matthew 17:8).
Open my eyes that I may see—Jesus and Him only; and to see others through the eyes of Jesus, to see the world of God’s creation through the eyes of Jesus, to see differently.
As that prayer is one asking for a different set of eyes, another “perfect prayer” is for a different set of ears. It’s Samuels prayer in 1 Samuel 3:10 when he: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. It’s a prayer to hear the Lord speak to us clearly and follow wherever He leads us.
Describing His followers as sheep, Jesus (the Good Shepherd) says the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice (John10:3-4).
The last prayer on my list, which will probably grow longer sooner or later, is based on Paul’s counsel to Christians in Thessalonica and Ephesus when he tells them (and us) to thank God at all times for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20, JB Phillips NT) and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus(1 Thessalonians 5:18). It’s the simple prayer: Thank you, Father.
None of these “perfect prayers” are long. Yet in their pithiness they’re profoundly in accord with God’s will for us at all times.
Earlier, I mentioned that I’ve come to use four of these “perfect prayers” as a kind of mini-Daily Office or mini-Liturgy of the Hours. Here’s that pattern:
Upon rising in the morning (like Prime) ~ Lord, You know what I need today ... and what I don’t. To allow trust to set the tone and direction for the day.
Around noontime (like Sext) ~ Thy Will Be Done. A mid-day reminder of surrender, since I’m too likely the grab the reins of my life out of His hands. It’s a “mid-course correction” for the day.
Late afternoon/early evening (like Vespers) ~ Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. As the end of the “working day” comes, I know that I need His mercy and forgiveness for all of my screw-ups.
At bedtime, when laying down to sleep (like Compline) ~ Into your hands I commit my spirit. Seems appropriate for those hours when I’m asleep and God’s awake. Not too different from the “Now and lay me down to sleep” that we learned as kids and which we teach our young children.
Any other possibilities of “perfect prayers” we can share with each other?