N.T. Wright on "Discovering Help in Prayer" from Simply Christian:
"Help is at hand not least in those who have trodden the path ahead of us. Part of our difficulty here is that we moderns are so anxious to do things our own way, so concerned that if we get help from anyone else our prayer won't be "authentic" and come from our own heart, that we are instantly suspicious about using anyone else's prayers. We are like someone who doesn't feel she's properly dressed unless she has personally designed and made all her own clothes ... We are hamstrung by ... the idea that things are authentic only if they come spontaneously, unbidden, from the depths of our heart."
I deeply appreciate the recent move in evangelicalism over the past few decades toward conversational prayer with our Father; however, I believe that Wright has a very valid point. So valid, that he could have written this paragraph about my own life. So often, prayers in our evangelical communities turn into "Father Weejus" prayers (check out the Spring issue of "Leadership" magazine), when we pray "Father, we just ask you...Father, we just want you..." Many of the prayers that have been prayed down through the centuries by the "great cloud of witnesses" that have gone before us, are prayers that are concerned more with directing our focus toward God's name and God's glory, rather than a preoccupation with being a creative wordsmith in our conversation with God.
Without a doubt, if our prayers become a heap of legalistic phrases, rather than a cry of the heart, then we should move on to new forms in prayer. Wright gives a few suggestions for guided prayer, not the least of which is the Lord's Prayer, a prayer that Jesus gave directly to his followers. When they wanted to learn to prayer, Jesus didn't give a seminar on finding the perfect words, but instead he offered a prayer directly to them.
Our Father in heaven
Hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we too have forgiven our debtors.
Do not bring us to the time of trial,
But rescue us from the evil one.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,
Now and forever.
I'll be the first to confess that prayer is difficult and I have great lengths to grow. Sometimes, the simplest prayers are the most authentic, as the tax collector revealed to us: "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."