Peter Adam points out that the Reformation sought to reform the praying of the church, and Peter seeks to continue that reform in our lives today.
Peter Adam is Rector Emeritus of St Jude’s Carlton. Vic.
We all need help in our praying. Let’s enrich our prayers by getting someone to coach us. And a good person to do so is Thomas Cranmer, the Reformation Archbishop of Canterbury. One of his most significant contributions to the welfare of God’s people was showing people how to pray, and providing good models for prayer. We might no longer use the prayers he provided for us in The Book of Common Prayer (or perhaps you still do), but he can still challenge and coach us in our prayers today. 3
The Reformation was about reforming and renewing doctrine, as it was about reforming and renewing ministry, daily life, church life, education, the structure of society, and much else. It was also about reforming and renewing prayer, and this included who prayed, to whom people prayed, what they prayed, why they prayed, and how they prayed!
Daily prayer was now done by ordinary people, not by monks, nuns, and clergy. It was ‘Common Prayer’ for all people. People prayed only to God, and not to Mary and the saints. People prayed in their native English language. People prayed through Jesus Christ, trusting in his finished work of salvation on the cross: their only access to God was through Christ, not through Mary, through saints, or through their own good works. People prayed in response to God’s grace, not in order to gain it. And people’s prayers were shaped by the Bible and by the gospel. 3
Cranmer’s services of daily Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer provided both prayers for individuals to pray each day, and also prayers for the church to pray. Cranmer’s prayers can enrich both our own personal prayers, and also our corporate prayers when we meet as a church on Sundays.
At the heart of Cranmer’s approach to prayer – both private and public – was that they ought to be gospel shaped. Here is the shape Cranmer used for Morning and Evening Prayer:
Begin with a Bible verse. Confess your sins and be assured of forgiveness. Pray the Psalms. Read the Bible, and respond to the Bible. Praise God by saying what you believe. Pray for the church and the world.
This list includes some key ingredients. And this is one possible shape to your prayers or your service, but not the only possibility.
Here is an extended check and challenge list for you. Let Thomas Cranmer enrich your prayers!
Your daily prayers
Your Sunday church prayers
Begin your prayers with a Bible verse. Hear God invite you to come to him in prayer, to welcome you into his presence
Begin each prayer with a recognition of the God to whom you are praying. Not just ‘God’, but, ‘gracious heavenly Father’, ‘King of kings and lord of lords’, ‘God of mercy and compassion’, ‘God of everlasting love’, ‘God of truth and justice’. This will shape and encourage your prayers.
‘Through Jesus Christ our Saviour.’ Remember that it is only through Christ that you can enter God’s presence. So pray all your prayers ‘through Jesus Christ’, or ‘through Jesus Christ our Saviour’, or with similar phrases.
Confess your sins. Remember that the only barrier between you and our God is your unrecognised and unconfessed sins. This is true of your personal sins as an individual, and your corporate sins as a congregation. Cranmer had people confessing their sins twice a day! Better than never!
Be assured of God’s forgiveness through the atoning death of the Lord Jesus, and his shed blood. Know God’s love and acceptance in Christ’s death!
Include the reading of the Scriptures and meditation on that reading as the foundation and fuel for your praying.
Allow time for God to speak to you through his word, the Bible. Don’t dominate the conversation or the air-time!
Include praise, thanksgiving, and worship, as well as intercession. Don’t just do praise, thanksgiving and worship … or just do intercession!
Remember to pray big prayers as well as little prayers. Pray for God’s name to be hallowed, his kingdom to come, his will to be done on earth as in heaven, as well as praying for your daily bread! God loves big prayers, and God loves little prayers.
Pray for the world as well as for the church. Don’t be selfish in just praying for your own needs or for the needs of the congregation!
Follow Cranmer’s example and use Bible content in your prayers, Bible phrases in your prayers, and Bible words in your prayers. Rather than just praying that God would ‘bless’ people, find out from the Bible what God wants us to pray for others. Whenever you read the Bible, turn what you have read into a prayer. Whenever you pray, find out from the Bible what and how to pray in this situation.
Pray the Psalms, and other Bible prayers.
Look at the ingredients of Cranmer’s Collects as model prayers. [Collects are short Bible based prayers]:
Take for example Cranmer’s prayer about Scripture, which includes references to 2 Timothy 3, Ezekiel 3, and Romans 15.
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of eternal life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Here is another example, based on Ephesians 2.
O Almighty God, who has built thy Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the head corner-stone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made an holy temple acceptable unto thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Make sure your prayers are theologically deep rather than theologically light! Think not only what you want to pray, but also why you want to pray it, why God wants you to pray it, and what God wants you to pray.
Don’t be afraid to use a mixture of prepared prayers and spontaneous prayers. Both are equally spiritual!
Ensure that what you say and sing to God is Biblically sound, and reflects and expresses God’s will. Make your prayers and songs God-focussed, celebrating the works and words of God.
Come to God with faith in him, his character, his revelation, his Son, his gospel and his promises.
Here is the passage I use for my morning prayers each day.
‘Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus…and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith’ [Hebrews 10:19-23].
 If you want to find some examples of corporate sins, read Revelation chapters 2 and 3, and the New Testament letters.
 You will find my daily prayers at https://australia.thegospelcoalition.org/article/daily-prayers-introduction etc.
1. My thanks to Kurt Langmead for help in preparing this article.
2. See Peter Adam, The 'Very Pure word of God': The Book of Common Prayer as a Model of Biblical Liturgy, London, Latimer Trust, 2012.