Regarding prayer in general, I am both fond of and convicted by the following excerpt from Tennyson’s well-known poem.
If thou shouldst never see my face again,
Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
(From: “Le Morte d’Arthur” Alfred Tennyson)
When I was very young I would often recite an abbreviated version of the popular children’s nighttime prayer, “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep;” it is still a prayer that is very much worth reciting. My favorite best version of this 18th century prayer goes something like this:
Thank you lord for another day,
The chance to learn, the chance to play.
Now as I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
Please, guard me Jesus through the night,
And keep me safe till mornings light.
But if should I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
And should I live for other days,
I pray that God will guide my ways.
Now, at the other end of my life, I find I am once again embracing written and “liturgical prayers.” I think there is a good case to be made for the tried and true rites of worship. The danger, of course, is obvious: if the words are not internalized, processed and born of a life-changing encounter with the Holy Spirit then they are as lifeless as a stillborn child. John Burton cautions his readers:
I often say my prayers,
But do I ever pray;
And do the wishes of my heart
Go with the words I say?
I may as well kneel down
And worship gods of stone
As offer to the living God
A prayer of words alone.
For words without the heart
The Lord will never hear:
Nor will he to those lips attend
Whose prayers are not sincere.
Still, having acknowledged this pitfall, there is much to be said for the reciting of prayers that have endured through the centuries. Of course, we do this with the “Lord’s Prayer,” the doxology, the Gloria Patria or making Psalm 23 the prayer of our heart. But there are others that have resonated with me; one, that of late I frequently turn to is an evening prayer of Saint Augustine of Hippo; in addition other places, it may be found in the compline (night office) of the “Divine Hour: Prayers for Autumn and Winter time” by Phyllis Tickle.
"Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch or weep tonight,
And give your angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend your sick ones, O Lord Jesus Christ.
Rest your weary ones. Bless your dying ones.
Soothe your suffering ones. Pity your afflicted ones.
Shield your joyous ones; and all for your love's sake. Amen.
Sometimes, I personalize this prayer by filling in the blanks; that is, under each category, like those who are awake, or the sick one, or dying ones I supply the names and concerns of people I know who are being challenged in their lives by these afflictions.
Finally, I close with the Nunc Dimittis (Canticle of Simeon)
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.
Well, I pass these few thoughts along to you as an encouragement for your prayer watches in the night and should you make it through the night, here is a prayer for the morning light:
Gracious heavenly Father, you have sustained me through the watches of the night and brought to the beginning of a new day. Now, grant me by your grace that throughout this day I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by the cares of the world; in everything that I do, may my thoughts and affections be pleasing to you and may I accomplish what you purpose to do in and through me to the glory of my Lord Jesus Christ.