Teacheth Us to Prayeth, Mortimer

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When I was a boy my dad consistently called on a wrinkled old sage named Mortimer Hawk to offer the closing prayer at church. He was so old that the congregation’s stillness deepened as soon as he opened his mouth. “Most Holy Father,” he quietly boomed. (I know that sounds impossible, but that’s how I remember it; he boomed—quietly. Honest.) “We thank Thee for Thy bounty, and humbly seek Thy guidance as we depart this place to proclaim in word and deed Thy merciful affection.”

So he began. That’s not verbatim, but it’s the general vibe of Mortimer’s weekly supplication. The way he pronounced every “Thee” and “Thy” assured me that in his mind they were capitalized. He transported the whole church back about a hundred years, and reminded us how rich and humble a prayer could be. And that was the weird thing—he didn’t speak that way in normal conversation; he reserved his King James prayers for church, but somehow it never struck me as pretentious or put-on. It was merely this humble old saint’s way of honoring the King to whom he spoke. He didn’t pepper his prayer with mindless repetition (“FatherGod, we pray, FatherGod, that you, Jesus, FatherGod, Jesus, would be with us, Jesus, God”, etc.), a habit many of us have acquired which strikes me as dangerously close to “babbling like the pagans do” (Matthew 6:7). My guess is that this odd repetition that’s so pervasive in our prayers is either nervous habit, an oratory device employed to buy us time to think of what to say next, or maybe we’ve grown up thinking it’s just what you’re supposed to do. I’m sure someone out there will demonstrate that I’m wrong to reference that verse here—but hopefully you see what I’m saying: sometimes our public prayers are padded with nice sounding words and phrases that don’t mean a whole lot. (This is what is known on the Internet as “opening a can of worms.”)

I admit that it might just be a matter of preference. I’ve voiced my opinion about this stuff to a few people and have noticed when they pray afterward that they feel awkward and self-conscious. That’s not what we’re going for here; I don’t want to be the prayer cop. I may have a hard time with “prayerspeak”, but we can all agree that it’s the heart that matters. I doubt God is up there rolling his eyes just because someone keeps repeating (and repeating) “FatherGod.” He adores us. He can see through our habits and foibles and silliness to what we’re really saying, or trying to say, or ought to be saying—he can hear the Spirit’s groaning on our behalf. Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about it. As I said in an earlier post (the one about “Creatives”), this is me raising my hand in the back of the class and asking if there’s a better way to think about the issue.

Allow me to pick on myself for a moment. Almost every time I pray with my family before we go to bed, I find myself saying, “Be with us, Lord,” or “Please be with Jody”, as if God isn’t already with us. He’s told us in scripture again and again that he’s with us. I can’t tell you how many times my kids have heard me say, mid-prayer, “Why do I keep saying that? I know you’re with us, and you’re with Jody. What I mean, Lord, is, ‘Help us to believe that you’re with us; give us an overwhelming sense of your presence.'” It’s not a huge difference, I know, but little things matter. I find that when I’m no longer pleading for God’s presence but thanking him for it, my heart rests a little more. And yet, tonight when I prayed with the kids, I did it again. Old habits die hard.

But old Mortimer Hawk wasn’t using empty words. To the contrary, each word seemed full to the brim, spoken with purpose and beauty. It seemed as though he were alone in the room, speaking with his King and Father, and we were eavesdropping, affirming his quietly booming words. I remember as an eight-year-old boy wanting to write down his prayers, thinking how cool it would be to tell my dad on the day Brother Hawk finally died that I had written down his last prayer. I tried to transcribe a few of them but there was never enough room in the margins of the bulletin.

Now that I’m all grown up I don’t often pray in public, and when I pray in private I tend to keep it simple and straightforward. I converse with God with as little pretense as I can manage, though I try to maintain an attitude of reverence. I confess, I don’t know what I’m doing. Many times I find myself fresh out of words, and instead let my mind wander, mustering an awareness of God’s presence and reality. But when it comes down to it, I need words. That’s why the Psalms are such a blessing. They give voice to the feeling in our bones. We need the ancient, vast community of the saints to teach us to pray, to trumpet our unutterable longing. That’s why the Mortimer Hawks of the world are a blessing, and the authors we love, not to mention songwriters and poets. The Lord has put in his church people who are blessedly bereft of self-consciousness, who can stand in the assembly and pour out their hearts with all the eloquence of a statesman and none of the political posturing—the rest of us whose prayers falter are grateful to mutter, “What he said.” Or, “Amen,” if you like.

A few years ago some good friends bought me a book called A Diary of Private Prayer (1936), by Scottish theologian John Baillie (1886-1960, pictured above). I’d never heard of it, but it’s since become indispensable to my devotional time, partly because I’m so bad at having devotional time. The book makes it easy. It’s divided into morning and evening prayers for each day of the month, each prayer is a page long, and each is different enough in focus and theme that they don’t get old. And the writing is beautifully old school. It’s like I’m hearing the ghost of Mortimer Hawk in my head.

The problem was, I kept getting hungeth uppeth on the (truly beautiful) language, kept forgetting it was supposed to be me praying, not him. So now when I read, I jettison every “Thee”, “Thou”, and “Dost” and replace it with “your”, “you”, and “do.”

What’s amazing to me is that the prayers are just as stirring. That tells me he wasn’t using the language to trick me into thinking the prayers were more eloquent than they were. He was saying something, and saying it beautifully, regardless of how many -eths he used. This morning I read these words:

Dear Father, take this day’s life into your own keeping. Guide all my thoughts and feelings. Direct all my energies. Instruct my mind. Sustain my will. Take my hands and make them skillful to serve you. Take my feet and make them swift to do your bidding. Take my eyes and keep them fixed upon your everlasting beauty. Take my mouth and make it eloquent in testimony to your love. Make this day a day of obedience, a day of spiritual joy and peace. Make this day’s work a little part of the work of the Kingdom of my Lord Christ, in whose name these my prayers are said. Amen.

That’s what I want, Father. I don’t think I’d have quite known how to ask for it without John Baillie’s help.” A prayer like that is as beautiful in Nashville, 2012 as it was in Scotland, 1936. What a joy it is to be a part of this timeless congregation of saints, whose need, longing, and adulation for the Lord is as deep and desperate today as it was when King David wrote his poems and read them in the temple courts, perhaps in a quietly booming voice.

 

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


42 Comments

  1. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    It’s so strange that, out of the blue, just the other day, I was thinking about Mortimer Hawk and how awesome his prayers were and wishing I could use his name for a character in a book. Then I also remembered that one Saturday evening as he lay down for bed, he told his wife that tomorrow would be a good day to go home. His wife, confused, asked him what he meant; he was already at home after all, in his own bed. Sometime in the wee hours of that Sunday morning, he died. I always thought that was crazy and amazing. I can’t wait to hear him pray again.

  2. Aaron W.

    Amen. Thanks for sharing, both of you Peterson brothers.

    Thank God for these sorts of maps in the wilderness of prayer. I have to think Jesus had in mind our propensity to wander when he taught the disciples to pray “like this.”

  3. yankeegospelgirl

    I will say that when I read a non-KJV translation of the Bible (even a good one like the old NIV), and I see every “thee” and “thy” of the KJV rendered as “you” and “your,” I can’t help feeling something has been, poetically, lost. Just my .02.

  4. Paula Shaw

    Oh geez, I would’ve loved to have met Mortimer, and to have heard him pray! And Pete, you made me cry here. I’m one who has a hard time with all the “babbling pretentiousness”, if you will. But I do love the eloquence with which some people pray. I pretty much think it takes a while to develop a “comfort” in praying in public. Being a natural introvert, I have a terrifically hard time, but then, when I take a deep breath and focus on with Whom I’m speaking, it just come out, and there it is.
    Andrew, I can’t, for the life of me, imagine that you would have a hard time articulating anything. Even prayers; public or not. I have to say here, that God has spoken to me, comforted me, and healed me over and over through the words you have spoken in your songs. And I really think those songs are prayers, or thanksgivings, or just plain old shouts of praise.
    Oh, and I’ve had the sheer pleasure of knowing a few people like Mortimer; my maternal grandmother, being one of them. I’m totally convinced SHE is the major reason I am a Christian today. “The effectual prayer of a righteous man (or woman) availeth much.” (James 5:16) I don’t see anything in that scripture about “eloquent prayers”, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter if they’re eloquent or stumbled through. It IS the heart and righteousness of a person in conversation with their Maker that counts. 🙂
    PS. Thank you for such a beautiful post. And Pete, thank you for such a beautiful picture of Mortimer’s last day on this earth. 🙂

  5. Janet

    Thanks for these thoughts. As one who also struggles to find the right words in prayer, I have often used the prayers recorded in the Bible and other prayers from books like “The Valley of Vision”. I love the prayer that you posted from John Baillie and am interested in reading more.

  6. Chris Whitler

    As a church congregation here in California, when our worship gets to a quiet spot, I try to stop for a bit and just let us be quiet. We have a blue collar congregation with lots of folks that did not grow up in church services and I often take advise I got from an old guy quite a few years ago. He encouraged me to, when leading public worship and prayer, prompt the people to pray “conversationally.” That is, to help them know that public prayer doesn’t have to be long or sound a certain way, but can be a simple offering of thanks that’s one or two short sentences.

    We seem to respond well to that. “I’m so thankful for 230 days sober.” “Thank you that I found the tire I needed at a price I could afford.” “For my family.” “For forgiveness.”

    Of course, we also have had our own Mortimer. Except his name was Otto who has passed on. When he began a public prayer, we all settled in and rested in his beautiful, King James-y words. And in that same way, his prayers were not at all showy but lovely and wise and quite long and we were all ok with that.

    In private prayer, it helps me to write them instead of say them. And the Lord’s prayer has been so helpful. Also, the Jesus prayer and the Kyrie for when words fail.

  7. Peter B

    Pete, I wish I could click “Like” on your comment.

    Andrew, thank you for introducing us to Mr. Hawk. Such faithful giants reawaken in me the sense of spiritual immaturity that urges me toward growth.

  8. Jud

    This post reminded me of my grandfather, who always prayed with a “quietly booming” voice. I can still hear him closing with “for Jesus sake, amen”. I miss him.

  9. Sally

    I love John Baillie’s DOPP. A friend sent it to me a year or so ago with a little note that it was gathering dust on her shelf and she thought I would be “into it.”

    I am so into it. Between that and the Book of Common Prayer, my whole prayer life has been transformed to a much more meaningful focused conversation with “FatherGod.”

    Great post!

  10. Carl

    This is a very pertinent topic in our church this week as this past Sunday we had a guest speaker who essentially stated, “God doesn’t love our eloquence in prayer, he loves us.” Remember, we are like babes crying “Abba, Daddy!” in his presence. When I open the door after coming home from work, my four-year-old daughter runs to me and says, “Daddy, daddy, daddy!” and my one-year-old son, he of few words, greets me with an elongated “Hi!” that rises to a squeak. I love them for who they are: God’s kids, and by His strange and wonderful wisdom, my wife and I’s to care for as our children for as long as we are here in this present life.

    One last story- my dad did nightly devos with our family and I remember him praying nightly, “and we thank You for your care for us…” My brother and I insisted that “care for us” always sounded like “air force” and we always wondered why dad was so thankful for it 😉

  11. Dan Foster

    I certainly struggle with the words to say and find my prayers before meals and bed to sound very similar day after day (though not insincere – I truly am thankful for the food and I really do want all the kids to get a good night sleep).

    But I wonder if part of the problem is simply that we do not pray enough. Practice makes perfect, ya know. If I was truly wrestling with the Lord in prayer every morning for several minutes (which I fancy I do, but in reality don’t come close), would that not overflow into the words of my prayers at all other times? O, to be a people who pray more.

  12. Lynda Turley

    Wonderful words and thoughts, thank you for sharing them. I too am guilty of counting the “filler” words of someone praying aloud. So grateful for a Heavenly Father who delights in us….often like a sweet daddy who listens to his little boy or little girl singing all the wrong words to a song.

    Andy Stanley at NPCC is doing a series on prayer this month. This past Sunday’s message was great….maybe we’re missing the point of prayer.

  13. Gina Gallagher

    Andrew,
    I have been blessed by your music for quite some time…the lyrics and the melody together. I think the thing that touches my heart…is the same thing that touches the Father’s heart…transparency.
    To be vulnerable and uninhibited with our words…is the best kind of prayer.
    The mask removed…exposed before our Father who knows us best.
    I am glad that you had Mortimer Hawk. We all need an example like that.
    Perhaps, we need to be an example like that.
    Perhaps we are…without even knowing it.
    God sees right inside our heart.
    Nothing is cloudy to Him.
    The words of your songs and your books have to come from somewhere.
    I call it a Reservoir…a place that we can draw from on a dry day and know that He is there…He is close.
    That everything we say and do comes from the springs of Living Water within us.
    Even our prayers TO Him are FROM Him.
    What an awesome God we serve.

  14. Diane Kunkel

    My Bible commentary for Matthew 6:7 states that the pagans “used long lists of the names of their gods in their prayers, hoping that by constantly repeating them they would call on the name of the god that could help them.” How exhausting! I’m so glad we know exactly Who hears and lovingly answers our prayers, no matter how stutteringly we may utter them.

    I want John Baillie’s book–wouldn’t it be great if someone published a “New King James” version of it?

    By the way, Andrew, we are eagerly awaiting Wingfeather Book 4! When my 13-year-old daughter found out it likely won’t be out until spring 2013, she let out a long groan. 🙂

    Blessings on your ministry.

  15. April the Whiner

    Margaret Feinberg posted a great article last Lent titled Why I Gave Up Prayer for Lent (or something like that). She hadn’t, of course, given up prayer, but gave up babbling and took up what she called the 3-word prayer. “give them peace” “thanks for beauty” “help me trust”…that sort of thing. It was a very helpful discipline for me, a former pastor/ public pray-er, who tends to babble with the best of them and not do much listening after all.

    And, as an aside, as a flamingly liberal (and not very charitable) seminarian, we’d regularly perform a little schtick on prayer in the style of some of the evangelicals we encountered who used the “Father God” refrain so quickly that it became “Fug-Gah”. We, of course, always used gender-neutral language to refer to God. Later in life, as I came to know Jesus differently, personally, the ability to refer to the Holy in such an intimate way as “Father” or even “Daddy”…well, it was mind-blowing. That Abba hears our most inarticulate groans and understands that which is beneath our most pretentious noisy going-ing…what a gift.

  16. Loren Warnemuende

    It’s encouraging to know I’m not the only who analyzes my prayers! I’ve caught myself on the “be with so-and-so” phrase, too. So often I realize I’m just rambling. It’s been a good challenge in the last few years to pray with my kids because I want them to know Christ is real and that talking with him isn’t some rote requirement. When we pray before meals, there’s purpose; when we pray with each child at bedtime, it can help in their growth. I’m still learning a lot, and greatly appreciate the Mortimer Hawks I’ve had in my own life.

  17. dawngreen

    Few things in life bring me more joy than sitting in my Sunday school class and listing the prayers of the members in our prayer journal. Praying out loud on behalf of those I love fills me with an awareness of God’s presence that continues to astound me. I am very grateful for the gift of prayer. It’s very comforting for me to remember than we pray in the name of the One who has overcome.
    Thanks Andrew, for the discussion of a favorite topic. Praying often for this community is very important to me.

  18. Felicity

    My grandfather employs beautiful and useful phrases in his prayers – prayers I’m sure he heard from his grandfathers before him. Gems like “make us ever mindful of your tender watch and care” and “bless now the hands that prepared it” and “help us always to use it [the strength from the meal] in accordance with Thy righteous will”. Good stuff.

    Phyllis Tickle’s writing got me started with the Book of Common Prayer and I’ve enjoyed lingering over some of those faithful words when mine feel flat, empty, or simply missing. And the Psalms have become my most frequent go-to. Bonhoeffer writes of how brilliant this is for many reasons, but I’m not too proud to say I do it because it makes it easier for me.

    The funny thing is, I grew up in a very charismatic/pentecostal situation and we would have laughed at anyone using someone else’s words to pray. And yet when I think back to those years, there were plenty of phrases and prayers and I could spit out right now from memory. We just didn’t write them down, I guess.

  19. April Pickle

    For the thoughts this post has provoked in me and in others, I thank you, Lord.
    (Why do I put more thought into writing an email or a Rabbit Room post, than I do into a prayer?? How could I years ago have been so conceited to think that a written prayer wasn’t really a prayer, or at least not an honest one??)
    For filling me with awe on Sunday as I worshiped with your people and recited The Lord’s Prayer, pondering the fact that Christ himself composed its very words, I thank you, Lord.
    For Mortimer, for Pete’s timely rememberance of him, and for the beautiful comments of my fellow rabbits, I thank you, Lord.
    For a community whose words and music inspire me to see the magic and create as it points me to You, I thank you.
    “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” Ps. 116:7

  20. April Pickle

    My grandfather would pray in King James English at the dinner table, with such a loud and different tone that as a child I would catch myself opening my eyes and looking around to see who the stranger was who had entered the room! But I think, like Mortimer, it was his way of showing respect. But unlike Mortimer, I wasn’t sure if the relationship was there. It felt to me like maybe he was wearing a mask to talk to God. Of course, our modern “Be withs” or “Father Gods” can also be used as a mask or a barrier of some sort. Jason Gray’s “Help Me, Thank You” song (that I think was co-written by Mr. Goodgame) comes to mind here.

  21. SaraS

    Our church’s pillar in matters of prayer was a man named Chauncey Thacker. When he was called upon to close the service in prayer, I would lean into the pew in front of me and prepare for a long one.

    As I grew, in stature and in faith, I forgot my fatigue and my hunger, and stood in awe of the God Chauncey knew so intimately. His formal and reverent words were often paired with humble tears and a faltering voice. Even in this most public setting, he never failed to thank God for his ‘companion,’ his dear wife. His awareness of the gift he had been given in her resulted in gratitude to the Father, and profoundly affected the young couples in the congregation.

    Listening to his heartfelt supplication on behalf of his own granddaughter– suffering and dying of brain cancer– I felt both the weight of his burden and the depth of his faith. It may have been the first time I saw a person’s theology tested and proven in the theatre of suffering.

    Chauncey has been in heaven, speaking face to face with the Savior, for nearly 10 years now, and I am guessing that the intimacy has not diminished the reverence of his tone.

  22. Bruce Hennigan

    Wow, Andrew, what a wonderful remembrance and I was just reflecting on a similar occasion last week. I brought my 98 year old father to my house from the nursing home for lunch on the Fourth of July. He is still spry and mentally all there even though he now tools around on his scooter and courts the young sitters at the nursing home. My wife, Sherry asked him to pray for our dinner. My father was a bivocational music minister during his younger days and to hear this frail man’s voice suddenly fill with tembre and power and depth as he pounded out the “thee”s and “thou”s humbled me beyond words. Yes, as you mentioned, it was the King James language but it sounded so RIGHT and his prayer lifted all of my family a little off the cold floor and into the warmth of God’s radiance. I fear this may by my father’s last 4th of July and that one prayer transported me back in time to his powerful voice echoing over the dinner table when I was a child or chasing away the monsters by my bedside as we prayed before I turned out the light. What wonderful memories you have brought back to me today. I thank thee.

  23. shelly cardish

    Andrew, I recently had a health scare and needed a biopsy (I’ve survived two brain surgeries and a ruptured appendix already) Everyone, including my beloved was worried. Not me. I told everyone the following….
    “If He calls me ‘home’ then I go into Glory. If He lets me live, then I will press on until the day He calls me ‘home’ to Him.”
    Biopsy = Benign
    I press on…
    In Christ, Shelly

  24. Paula Shaw

    I don’t know, but I pretty much think Chauncey Thacker and Mortimer Hawk could be some really cool characters in some adventure book about how they brought God’s word to the wild west or something. You guys seriously need to think about what book you’re gonna put these guys in! 🙂

  25. James Witmer

    Andrew, I too am fighting to stop the pleading & fussing for God to “be with” me, and to scrape off a residue of insincere rhetoric. I have felt that the simplicity I’m left with is weak, and I’m certain that it is unfocused, so I appreciate your comment that you “need words!”

    Carolyn Arends’ recent RR article has quietly changed my life. The more I pray the simple prayer she mentions, the more I find it applicable to everything from my anger to my loneliness:

    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

    Thanks for speaking up again, encouraging me to keep thinking about this.

  26. Justin

    It totally drives me up the wall when people repeat the same phrase again and again in prayer (“LordGod” punctuating not only every sentence, but every clause).

    Coincidentally, I was wondering if this bothered God. I know that the squishy standard response is that no, God loves you and knows your heart and so won’t be bothered, etc. etc. Which is certainly comforting, but I don’t know that it’s scriptural to assume that whatever you say is fine. Besides, that has a pretty strongly negative implication: that nothing you say matters to God. If God is just cool with whatever happens to come out of your mouth (and knows what is in your heart anyway), prayer is basically pointless.

    But from what I read of scripture, prayer does matter. It’s not enough to be an artistic person–you need to actually create art, and the quality and craftsmanship of the art is important. In the same way, it’s not enough to have a heart for God and nothing else. God knows your heart, but the expression of that heart (through prayer, among other things) is important.

    I’m not saying that prayer should be a big, formal production all the time (or even most of the time), but I am saying that in my life, at least, I sometimes have a very lazy and self-indulgent approach towards prayer. I guess I haven’t figured out how to have an intimate relationship but also fully appreciate the holiness and divine nature of God. I suppose that one of the benefits of good liturgy is that it helps us understand Ecclesiastes 5:2.

  27. Rachel

    My prayer journals are full of song lyrics.

    “My mind is full of many thoughts that clutter and confuse…”

    “I wish my mind wouldn’t argue with my heart. It splits the day apart into time well-spent and time just thrown away…”

    “Caught again, your faithless friend. Don’t you ever tire of hearing what a fool I’ve been…”

    Actually, that’s a pretty good one…

    “Guess I should pray, but what can I say? Oh, it hurts to know the hundred times I’ve caused you pain. The ‘Forgive Me’s’ sound so empty when I never change. Yet, You stay and say You love me still. Forgiving me time and time again…”

    I’m thankful for those who are able to speak what my heart cannot say.

  28. KC McGinnis

    My Bible study group introduced me to “pithy prayer.” It’s really great: The group goes around in a circle, and each person limits their prayer to one sentence or less. It’s kind of hard at first, but it makes it nearly impossible to pray pretentiously, because all you have time to say is, “Help me, God” or something like that. I do this with groups when I can tell there’s some discomfort; maybe some old believers mixed with new new ones who are worried that their prayers won’t sound smart or spiritual enough.

  29. Stacy

    I immediately thought of this passage from a favorite book….

    “My dear,” he said, “love, your God, is a trinity. There are three necessary prayers and they have three words each. They are these. “Lord have mercy. Thee I adore. Into Thy hands.” Not difficult to remember. If in times of distress you hold to these you will do well.” ~The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge.

  30. Katelyn

    This article was wonderful. I have felt the same way so many times. Have anyone ever read “Valley of Vision”? It’s a collection of Puritan prayers, and they are all incredibly authentic and helpful for me, as a person who also longs for good words to be found in prayer. When I read and pray them, I am often shocked by the straightforward nature of them, and I find that I am not genuine enough before God to actually say the words, because they are too hard and true. But then I get to the end and always recognize the endless power of God’s grace, and that’s one of the beautiful things about prayer. Anyway, although I cannot pick favorites, here is one I thought I might share (also minus the thees and thous):

    O Changeless God,
    Under the conviction of your Spirit I learn that
    the more I do, the worse I am,
    the more I know, the less I know,
    the more holiness I have, the more sinful I am,
    the more I love, the more there is to love.
    O wretched man that I am!
    O Lord, I have a wild heart, and cannot stand before you;
    I am like a bird before a man.
    How little I love your truth and ways!
    I neglect prayer, by thinking I have prayed enough and earnestly,
    by knowing you have saved my soul.
    Of all hypocrites, grant that I may not be an evangelical hypocrite,
    who sins more safely because grace abounds,
    who tells his lusts that Christ’s blood cleanses them,
    who reasons that God cannot cast him into hell, for he is saved,
    who loves evangelical preaching, churches, Christians, but lives unholily.
    My mind is like a bucket without a bottom,
    with no spiritual understanding,
    no desire for the Lord’s Day,
    ever learning but never reaching the truth,
    always at the gospel-well but never holding water.
    My conscience is without conviction or contrition, with nothing to repent of.
    My will is without power of decision or resolution.
    My heart is without affection, and full of leaks.
    My memory has no retention, so I forget easily the lessons learned, and your truths seep away.
    Give me a broken heart that yet carries home the water of grace.

  31. jdjcpa

    As a PK myself, I love your “King James prayers” term. And know the goosebumps of a well-prayed offering, or a pipe organ booming – quietly, or not.

    I was led here after gushing to Pete over Fiddler’s Gun/Green, and have immersed myself in your site (and Story Warren’s) of late. With the political and societal world crumbling around us, I often find myself silently pleading, “God, help us!” The beauty of words here is simply breathtaking. I thank God for introducing me to fellow travelers choosing also to take the path less trod, who do so with such courage and conviction – and for allowing me to teach my children (through great literature, et al) the Way which will lead us Home.

    When words fail me, my prayers take the form of music. Sarah Clarkson recently pointed me to Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhfrG_AsbxQ)

    Thank you, God, for being Light Eternal.

  32. Nathan

    I am just now reading this, but it brings to mind a statement I heard Allen Levi make about removing “me” and “my” from his vocabulary. It’s amazing how the little things belie the big things, which are so often out of kilter. Mortimer. What a fabulous name.

  33. Scott Richardson

    This is what I love about singing old hymns (especially old ones set to more modern tunes, such as the group ‘Indelible Grace’ has been putting out in recent years, or Fernando Ortega) — it gives me such an appreciation that we “moderns” did not invent this pursuit of God. No, he’s been pursuing us for ages. My prayers are often of the sort that begin, “God, help me with X. Help me with Y. Bless A. Bless B.” But the “ancients” like Mortimer Hawk or Isaac Watts or John Baillie help keep me a bit more grounded.

    Thanks for the suggestion on the “Diary” — just added it to my reading list. I aim to pray these prayers and see what I can learn from Mr. Baillie. Even more important, I hope they help me love my God just a bit better. Bless AP today, Lord. 🙂

  34. Scott Richardson

    Wow. Just downloaded the “Diary” on my iPad and read today’s prayer (25th morning) prayer. Incredibly relevant to this discussion, it ends with:

    “Grant, O Father, that I may go about this day’s business with an ever-present remembrance of the great traditions wherein I stand and the great cloud of witnesses which at all times surround me, that thereby I may be kept from evil ways and inspired to high endeavour.”

    Amen. What he said.

  35. Ginger

    I always chuckle a bit to myself when I hear someone pray that God would “lead, guide, and direct” us. It’s just so redundant! I can never imagine walking up to anyone, dear daddy or mighty King and asking for the same thing, in a list, three times.

    But we all have trouble with “prayerspeak” as you aptly called it. Wonderful article to chew on for days I’m sure.

  36. Brad Cloud

    I’m getting the feeling that I need to read the book you referred to. My family was gifted with many books just today (a day after reading this post), and in the collection is the Diary of Private Prayer. Should I be amazed? I shouldn’t, after seeing God’s hand working in my life for over 20 years, but I still find myself amazed at the way He weaves each day!

    Thanks for sharing.

  37. Carolina

    John Ballie’s book sounds like a book we have, called The Valley of Vision, (edited by Arthur Bennett); have you heard of it? From what I’ve read, the prayers are similarly eloquent and beautiful.
    🙂

    P.s I didn’t check the comments to see of this has already been mentioned.

  38. jeff stumph

    Pray with Simplicity Matthew 6.5-6 MSG

    5 “And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

    6 “Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

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