Prayer – Written or Spontaneous?

The prayer which I used this past weekend in worship was written for the contemporary service in which the prayer was incorporated into a music set including: Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble? and All Creatures. I worked to incorporate some of the lyrics that were sung by the congregation into the prayer. My intention was to write a different prayer for the traditional music services as there were different songs for the congregation, but I didn’t find the time.

At Resurrection, the pastors are encouraged to write prayers for the services as it encourages more thoughtful consideration of what is being prayed, and increases the intentionality around this part of the worship service. What do you think?

  1. Do you find written or spontaneous prayers preferable during a worship service? What do you do or what happens at your place of worship?
  2. If prayers are prepared or written before hand, how important is it to incorporate other elements of the service into the prayer (song lyrics, for example)?

By Andrew Conard

Christian, husband, son, brother, homeowner

9 replies on “Prayer – Written or Spontaneous?”

As someone who has been involved in worship and leading worship in a lot of different places, especially places where extemporaneous prayer is the norm/preferred method, I have found that I actually prefer pre-written prayers. Personally, I like to incorporate liturgical prayers and those of the church fathers, because I am all about finding connections to the rich stream of Christian tradition that is often jettisoned in modern American Protestant Christianity, especially among the non-mainline churches. I think, however, that this type of prayer may find a resurgance within the emergent movement.

As I have taken time to really listen to the ‘spontaneous’ prayers of both myself and others, I have noticed that each person tends to develop a pattern of prayer that invovles certain phrases, words, themes, etc. Even within pentecostal churches I have attended/particpated, I noticed that the glossalia involved always used the same syllables, and the interpretations were always incoportaing the same themes and at times even the exact same phrasology.

This leads me to believe that there really isn’t such a thing as ‘spontaneous’ prayer, but rather that each individual draws from common themes and langauge from their own understanding/experience to develop what is seen as spontaneous prayer.

Oh, and in response to question 2- I think it’s good to try and make the whole service, and not just the prayers and lyrics, to be moving in the same direction. In my experience within evangelical protestantism, this is rarely realized, and if it is, it seems that everything is developed to fit around the sermon.

I have never been one to pre-write my prayers. I’ve always felt that it was more authentic to allow the Spirit to move my words. However, I’ve been noticing lately that my prayers in a communal setting have become stagnant and don’t seem to really say anything except for the same thing every time. So this week as I was the worship leader for our traditional service, I decided to try and write one out before. Here’s what it said…
Thank you for your word that you have given to us. Though it we can better understand who you are.
You are justice – for you have given us your commandments to bring goodness to earth
You are grace – for you saved us when we didn’t deserve salvation
You are power – for you control the wind, the seas, nations, and armies
You are righteousness – for you are without sin and cannot look upon evil
And you are love – for you sent your own son to lay down his life for us

It is through your word that we know you and because of your justice, grace, power, righteousness, and love that we worship you.

For you are God alone
From before time began
You are on your throne
You are God alone
And right now in the good times and bad
You are on your throne
You are God alone

And now as a community of believers, we pray together the prayer that Jesus taught us.

Our Father….
I felt really good about this prayer and felt that it expressed in a more eloquent way some things that I have been thinking about. So I would say that I like both now 🙂

I think there must be a balance. Until recently, I attended a church that did not prepare prayers, but simply identified certain congregational members to prayer at certain times. Honestly, some people had the ‘knack’ and some didn’t. Which really probably applies to the pre-written prayers as well. If the prayer can truly be integrated into the themes and worship of that session AND still be heartfelt and real then do it. I just often feel like pre-written prayers sound like we are reading poetry in school. And while as much as it can be pretty, sometimes the “pretty” can get in the way of the benefit to my soul.

deviantmonk – Thanks for the correct use of terms. I should have used the word “extemporaneous” instead of the word “spontaneous” in this post. I was corrected by a colleague this morning.

deviantmonk – I appreciate your insight about the incorporation of the prayers and liturgy from the history of the church. This does add a deeper level of richness and continuity. Fascinating observations about glossolalia – I have not had enough repeat experience to notice continuity. In regard to your second comment – here at Resurrection, sermon series’ are often mentioned in worship planning. I think perhaps more helpfully – worship series’ would be used. Thoughts?

Todd – Excellent prayer. Thanks for sharing it here. 🙂

Adam – I think that you hit on a very important note. Whether or not a prayer is written on paper or not – it does need to be prayed and not just read. I think that there is a difference, and I have to remind myself of this as well – particularly during the last service of the weekend.


I guess my dissatisfaction, if it could be called that, stems not necessarily from whether or not there is a sermon series or not; rather, I think it’s more of an overall questioning of the propriety of focusing everything around a sermon.

For most of Christian history, the service of the word has led into the service of the table; that is, the more propositional elements of worship lead into the experiential moment of participation in the life of Christ through the Eucharist. However, it seems to me that by devoting over half of a gathering to propositional exposition, that is inverted, in that the apex of the gathering is generally found in the sermon, which, in our personality driven culture, becomes driven by the personality, no matter how much one tries to avoid it.

Obviously this inversion stems from a number of factors coming out of the reformation- the elevation of the service of the word per sola scriptura and the absence of any formal catechetical structure , the eventual ‘optionality’, practically speaking, of celebrating the Eucharist in many quarters of modern christianity, stemming from Zwingli’s (and other’s, whether theologically or practically) purely symbolic conception, and others.

I’m not saying I have a problem with long sermons, per se, although I remember, when I attended a catholic and episcopal church when I lived in Michigan, that I really liked the fact that the homilies were only 15 minutes long. Not because I dislike long sermons (I have preached some long ones myself) but rather because

1. the homily was based upon the gospel reading for the day, which fit with the rest of the service as well

2. the homily had one simply point, which i found much easier to remember and think about throughout the entire week. (I do like how the study guides we provide attempt to do this, along with the prayer guides.)

3. the movement of the whole thing was towards the eucharist, which seems to contain both the essence of the christian faith and the bond that holds christians together.

It could be that I’m simply a product of the reaction to modernism, and I’m trying to deconstruct even my ecclesiastical experiences. I’m just finding it harder and harder, no matter what church I’m at, to keep tracking when the majority of the worship is propositionally presented. I think for the post-modern person, it’s not that they crave simply experience, but rather that they see their spirituality as much a part of their experience as eating or sleeping or going to the park. An analogy would be that focusing a majority of a worship time on the propositional is like telling me how to drive a car but never letting me do it- knowing how is essential, but without being able to drive it, that information is useless. I know that the balance between the cerebral and the heart life has always been an issue- I just think it is now we may be seeing a shift towards the experiential because the cerebral has been emphasized so much in the modern era.

I may just be inebriated by experientialism, although I like to at least pretend that I think deeply about things as well. 🙂

This probably isn’t coherent, because it’s nearly midnight. Time for bed.

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