The breadth of Christianity embraces all forms of prayer; private, corporate, contemplative, expressive, extemporaneous, recited, etc.
Now and again you get the zealous Christian who condemns those who “have to pray out of a book.” I suppose there are those who mumble over pages without ever engaging God, but then there are also those who sing and exult out of their own emotional projections rather than engaging the living God.
One advantage of praying time-tested written prayers is that they express not just ideas about God, but create conversation with the very personality of God. I experienced (eww, can one really experience anything while offering prayers out of a book?) God’s personality this morning, offering words of confession from The Book of Common Prayer (USA, 1928). Here’s the beginning of that prayer, with emphasis added:
ALMIGHTY God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live…
That’s quite an assertion about who God is, what God thinks and feels and what God wants to see happen via my prayer. But it engages me in what God has revealed in His Word –
In the Law: This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)
In the Prophets: Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 18:31, ESV)
As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die? (Ezekiel 33:11, NLT)
And from the mouth of Jesus Christ the Lord: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15, NASB)
Have you ever been trapped in a “conversation,” maybe with a pushy salesperson or a bad blind date, where who you are and what you want is not even regarded? I think that must be what God experiences when we fling some of our extemporaneous prayers at Him.
Well composed and tested prayers of the church reflect time – centuries and even millennia in some cases – invested in getting to know God and speaking with Him in honesty and intimacy.
Again, nothing’s perfect. Heretics write prayers, too. And plenty of saints pray without scripts. But it’s worth considering that a mark of Christian maturity is the ability to encounter God in the prayers of the church as well as the movements of the heart and mind.