Most days we have morning devotion as a family using the order of daily prayer from LSB (Lutheran Service Book), p. 295. When we get to the prayers "for others and ourselves" our custom is for the devotion leader, usually my husband but sometimes me if he is gone, to start and then for others to follow, adding their own petitions. We follow the form of the day-by-day suggestions given on page 294. For example, on Tuesday, the suggested petitions are as follows: "For deliverance against temptation and evil; for the addicted and despairing, the tortured and oppressed; for those struggling with sin." We usually pray these and then add our own in the form of general petitions--"For those who are sick"--and specific ones--"For Dad's trip to Congo."
In addition to the obvious benefit of simply starting the day with prayer, I am seeing the benefit of all of us learning how to pray better and becoming comfortable doing so as a family. And I can't help but be reminded of several times in my life when I found myself in a group of fellow Christians who decided to pray together. My first reaction was usually panic. WHAT? You want me to pray out loud, in front of people? I used to think that my reaction must mean that there was something wrong with me--that I was not as spiritual or fervent in my belief as my friends for whom spoken, ex corde ("from the heart") prayer seemed to come so naturally and easily. I have come to understand that there are good reasons for having misgivings about that sort of group prayer. In the first place, considering the sinful condition of the human heart, I'm not sure "from the heart" prayer is a good thing! Additionally, when there is not a pastor present to take spiritual responsibility for the group and when no one else in the group can properly fill the pastor's role (such as a father does with his own children), the prayer is like a captainless boat, floating directionless on the waves, in danger at any time of getting slammed against the rocks. I think when I have found myself in the position of being asked to pray out loud on behalf of others I have realized in my gut that it is not appropriate for me to do so. It's one thing to say the Lord's Prayer together--they are the words Jesus gave us to pray and we know we can't go wrong with them. When we pray those words together Jesus is the pastor in the group, providing the needed oversight. But I am very uncomfortable with one Christian--myself included--who does not have that sort of responsibility for another presuming to pray on behalf of the other. I don't trust myself to speak rightly, and I don't trust most others to do so for me.
But when we pray as a family the appropriate spiritual oversight is there in the form of my husband and by extension, my pastor. Even if neither one of them is there and I am called to lead the prayer, I feel secure in doing so because I have been provided with a framework that will assure that the prayer is faithful. I don't have to worry about putting the words together because they have been laid out for me. We pray the Lord's Prayer, move on to the recommended petitions for the day, and then add our own. What is wonderful is to see the comfort level of our children with this sort of prayer. Our 7-year-old loves this part of family devotion and usually offers up more petitions than anyone else at the table. Sometimes the petitions are quite simple: "For Mommy," "For Daddy," "For the military," and "For our friends." But he has begun adding "that" clauses that make the prayer much more precise. Yesterday, his thoughts were on his cousin's upcoming visit this summer, and he prayed, "For _____, that she would have a safe flight when she comes to visit this summer" and "For Aunt _____, that she would not be lonely when _____ is away." In my opinion, those are fairly advanced prayer constructions for a 7-year-old. And the older I get the more I realize I am not much different from that 7-year-old. I need a framework. I need the words that God has provided for me. If I try to pray without either, my thoughts quickly wander to all sorts of other things that my sinful mind deems more important.
If you are wondering how to begin praying more regularly either on your own or with your children, you can't go wrong with LSB Daily Prayer, available in the hymnal or on laminated cards you can purchase from Concordia Publishing House. I'm thinking we should start using the cards because the pages in our hymnals are getting worn from daily use! There are orders for morning, noon, evening, and night. You don't have to worry about what to say or how to say it--it's all there for you. So relax. And pray.