The disciples asked Jesus a simple question: “Teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). He gave them, in response, the Lord’s Prayer. Today’s wired Christian might ask that same question not only of Jesus, but also of Jeeves, an electronic concierge/search engine located at www.askjeeves.com. What he or she gets in response will show that in the daunting task of putting words of prayer on the lips of God’s people, good help is hard to find. Hard, but not impossible.
There are at least two different types of prayer sites of interest to worship leaders. The first and easiest to find are basically prayer request sites. Hosted mostly by evangelical organizations and individuals, they have catchy names, like “eprayer.com” and “answers2prayer.org.” They usually have links where you can submit your own prayer request, to be prayed for by an army of volunteers or by other visitors to the site. Other links provide stories of answers to prayer. Still others offer a daily devotional tidbit or short articles on the power of prayer. One of the better sites is www.prayercentral.org. Run by a husband-and-wife team ordained in the Vineyard fellowship, it is well designed and offers lots of tools for freshening or strengthening your prayer life. I especially liked the three buttons that trigger a small pop-up window offering random tips, quotes, or rules for prayer (“If you want your prayer answered, pray what’s on God’s heart”). Sites like these are valuable if you need to be prayed for (and who doesn’t?), or if you need advice on how to pray for something particular.
And particularity is always helpful when looking for resources on the Web. So, for example, when faced with a specific event or crisis (AIDS Day, the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01), you can find not only advice-givers in Christian chat rooms but pointed prayers written for the occasion. For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has a great page of sensitive and beautiful prayers for peace in the tumultuous Middle East (www.elca.org/dgm/holylandprayer.html). And if you sign up to a listserve at worship.lcms.org/insert/announcements/94prayersonline.html, the Missouri Synod Lutherans will send a “Prayer of the Church” each week of the year to your e-mail inbox. The prayers are comprehensive, up-to-date with events around the world, and meant to be edited and adapted.
Other prayer sites gain particularity from the church year. So a charming Australian site, www.laughingbird.net/Seasonal.html, offers prayers of all sorts (congregational, invocation, confession, and so on) linked to the seasons of the church year. And the Episcopalian Diocese of Louisiana has a whole collection of congregational prayers keyed to lectionary readings (members.cox.net/oplater/prayer.htm).
Of course, these prayers are relatively “high church.” In fact, the second category of prayer sites to be found on the Web comes from the opposite end of the liturgical continuum from the Baptist, Evangelical, and Free Church traditions. These sites offer thoughtfully composed prayers written by practiced prayer patriarchs along with other prayer-related resources. For example, some of the best prayers of the Eastern Orthodox Church are available at www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPag/prayers/index.html. The De La Salle Brothers have a wonderful collection of prayers at their site—a guided reflection and prayer for each day of the year (www.prayingeachday.org/reflect.html) and a nice collection of general prayers (www.prayingeachday.org/100Prayers.pdf). Similarly, the Methodist church in the UK has an appealing “prayer of the day” site (www.methodist.org.uk/cgi-bin/potd.pl). Each day’s prayer is taken from its Methodist Prayer Handbook 2001.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada site has a specific page (www.worship.ca/docs/l_pray.html) on crafting and praying the “prayers of the people.” It outlines four prayer forms (collect, bidding, litany, pastoral), and gives instruction and examples of good congregational prayer in each form. The site at www.oremus.org includes a prayer bulletin board, like the evangelical sites mentioned above, but it also has resources for daily prayer—not just a small paragraph, but a devotional exercise that includes a series of set prayers, hymns, psalms, and readings from the NRSV Bible. The folk at “Bread on the Waters” (www.cptryon.org/prayer/day.html) also offer an outline for daily prayer, both morning and evening. And if you’re serious about praying without ceasing, check out www.universalis.com/cgi-bin/display/index.htm. It offers an explanation of and help with the ancient Liturgy of the Hours—a series of prayers for each hour of every day. Just enter your time zone and other information, and it guides you through step by step. You can even download the information to your Palm Pilot!
Many of the prayers at these sites are taken or adapted from the classic Book of Common Prayer—which can be found, in its entirety, in any version from 1662 to 1979, at justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/ (see sidebar). If the entire BCP seems too daunting to tackle, a smaller “best of the best”—a collection of collects—can be found at hometown.aol.com/cfortunato/Prayers/Collects.htm.
Poking around sites like these can be a blessing to your own private prayer life and a great help informing and funding your public prayer life. Protestants will have to step around prayers to Mary and other such things, and a stray click could land you in Latin limbo. But the beauty, depth, and richness of these offerings is often extraordinary. Though hard to find, much good stuff is available on the Web—and that is an answer to prayer.
Calling all Palm Pilot Fans
I’m hoping to do a column soon on Palm Pilot software available for download on the Web. E-mail me with cool stuff you’re using and where you found it.
Some Print Resources on Prayer
Revised Common Lectionary Prayers, proposed by the Consultation on Common Texts. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2002. 256 pp.
All worship planners, especially those who follow the Revised Common Lectionary, will benefit from this collection of brief prayers (each two sentences long). Beginning with the first Sunday of Advent, each Sunday includes three prayers in collect form: thematic, intercessory, and Scripture-based. The thematic prayers are gathering prayers; the intercessory prayers are intended as a frame around spoken or silent intercessions; and three collects based on Scripture are included for each Sunday, one for each of the three years of the lectionary cycle. The Consultation on Common Texts, an ecumenical forum for consultation on worship renewal among many denominations in the United States and Canada, consists of one or two worship staff members from more than twenty denominations in the United States and Canada.
The Complete Book of Christian Prayer. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. (SPCK), 2000. 490 pp.
A treasure of an anthology; more than 1,200 prayers from more than 560 sources, from the earliest centuries of the Christian church to our own day (for a sampling, see the prayers included in “Six Biblical Characters, Six Traditions of Faith,” p. 9). The introduction, “Approaches to Prayer,” is itself a little anthology, with paragraphs by such people as Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen. The fourteen sections of prayers range from “Prayers for People in Special Need” to “Prayers for the World” to “The Christian Year.”
The Book of a Thousand Prayers, compiled by Angela Ashwin. London: Marshall Pickering (HarperCollins), 1996. 461 pp.
In this collection, Ashwin “cast a net widely” to find prayers that are “poetic, prophetic, or even passionate.” Each is identified with name and date of the prayers, which range from Scripture, through all of church history, and to contemporary church leaders; Ashwin also contributed 150 prayers. The prayers in each section begin with more personal language and then move to the more communal expressions. The prayers are collected into fourteen sections, beginning with “Our Relationship with God” (76 prayers), and ending with “Prayers for Use by Teenagers” (5). In between are prayers organized around large themes. The section “In Times of Difficulty” (100 prayers) is subdivided into many parts, providing a rich resource for anyone, whether praying alone or congregationally.
The Book of Common Prayer is the service book used in the Church of England and in other churches of the Anglican and Episcopal Communion worldwide (see “The Uncommon Book of Common Prayer,” an article commemorating its 450th anniversary, in RW 53). It includes the psalms as well as liturgies and prayers for both regular church services throughout the church year and services held on special occasions. It was written or translated largely by Thomas Cranmer in the sixteenth century. Although it has undergone many revisions since, it remains one of the great works of the English language and a foundational book of prayer for English-speaking people. Every Protestant worship book today reflects its influence, often adapting or directly borrowing from this treasury of prayers for public worship, including the Book of Common Worship (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993) and The United Methodist Book of Worship (United Methodist Publishing House, 1992).