Dear Lord, I refer you to Appendix A.

April 1, 2004 | 7 comments
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Outside a few key ordinances, we don’t like written prayers, by which I mean planned or prescribed prayers. We have some scriptural support for our position in the saying of the Lord, But when you pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do. We have repeated prophetic guidance, usually quoting this saying. (See, for instance, Russell M. Nelson, ?Sweet Power of Prayer,? Ensign, May 2003, 7). Instead of reading from a prayer, we try to pray what’s in our hearts and what the Spirit directs.

We have good reasons. From our own experience with cant phrases in prayers, or on trying to concentrate on the sacrament prayers, we all know that repeated phrases tend to lose their meaning (although the quest for novelty can also be a distraction from meaning). Unstructured prayer is also an attempt to maintain a personal relationship with God and reinforces the doctrine that He is in a sense one of us and can be spoken too in the unplanned way we speak to each other (although, again, our conversations with other people are often deeply structured by what we’ve planned to say or by cultural models for the conversation). This emphasis on conversing probably goes hand in hand with a democratic emphasis–everyone can pray and know special rhetorical skills are necessary. Finally, I think we have a mostly true idea that spontaneity and openness to the Spirit are connected (the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life). If we know to say X, we are less likely to seek the Spirit’s guidance on what to say. This varies: we feel that teachers and speakers should do some preparation, but we dislike it in prayer.

I accept all that and yet, I think we go to far in unstructuring our prayers. I’m not saying that those who pray on behalf of the congregation should prepare in advance the way we do with talks, though such a practice would avoid the problem of repetition, might improve prayers, and should be as open to inspiration as giving a prepared talk is. It might, on the other hand, run counter to the democratic aspects inherent in the idea of prayer as conversation; since the unplanned prayer will probably lack polish, any one Saint can do it as well as another.

But why do no planning at all? I’ve seen how planning can work to strengthen prayer. In my personal prayers I’ve jotted down reminders when I’ve needed to pray over particulary complex or varied problems. Those jottings have strengthened the prayer, and the preparation of them served as an avenue of revelation. In Church, I’ve been in a ward that put the names of the missionaries on a list on the pulpit. Instead of praying for the missionaries, we prayed for ‘Elders Johnson and Mendez, and Sisters Ridley and Latimer.’ We could all feel the difference in our plea.

We have no reason to avoid preparation of this kind except, I feel, a foolish exaggeration of the spontaneity of prayer. As Luther would put it, having seen too many people fall off the horse on the side of formality and structure, we’re now trying to fall off the other. That must be why we avoid any preparation and why we avoid another fruitful practice, that of jotting down notes during the prayer, or soon thereafter. Pen and paper, forethought and postthought, are all features of important conversations with our fellows. I think they ought to feature when we speak to God.

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7 Responses to Dear Lord, I refer you to Appendix A.

  1. Nate Oman on April 1, 2004 at 1:29 pm

    Could you jot down notes and simply say “Dear Lord, I incorporate by reference the contents of my notes.”

  2. Russell Arben Fox on April 1, 2004 at 4:22 pm

    As in so many things along these lines, Adam, I agree with you. As I understand it, temple dedicatory prayers are written beforehand, and always have been, which I think should indicate that there is a place and a role for prepared or at least semi-prepared prayers in our faith life. Spontaneity can be its own crutch: an excuse from thinking seriously, and picking our words carefully, in making our offerings to God. Making something formal, even something as small as the specification of names of missionaries during public prayer, I think can only increase the sense that an act of consecration is taking place, on not just one more random bit of pleading. Makes sense to me.

  3. Adam Greenwood on April 1, 2004 at 5:00 pm

    I didn’t know that about temple dedication prayers, but it makes sense (I had just assumed that the prayers were heavily edited for print).

    Incorporation by reference is OK, but I prefer a broad delegation of praying authority with judicial review to restrain discretion.

  4. MDS on April 1, 2004 at 6:24 pm

    My personal prayers are generally more meaningful when I take the time to write down a list of issues I want to make sure to address prior to embarking on the journey.

    This often includes individuals over whom I have stewardship in my particular calling at the time, as a Home Teacher, as a Father, the sick in the ward, etc.

  5. Bob Caswell on April 2, 2004 at 2:05 am

    I used to make sure and say “strengthen and nourish” rather than “nourish and strengthen” when blessing food. But then I realized I just replaced one problem with another.

  6. Jordan on April 4, 2004 at 10:06 am

    Very insightful, Adam!

    Please know, by the way, that we are remembering your family in our prayers.

  7. Matt Evans on April 4, 2004 at 11:41 am

    I like your ideas, Adam. An experience that directly relates to your idea was one closing prayer at Sacrament meeting where the person mentioned each speaker by name and asked God to help us live the principle the way we’d been admonished. (“Help us to live the law of the fast, and be mindful of our dependence upon thee, as Sister Gomez reminded us”). The specificity was invigorating.

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