How do you enlist people to pray? Simple: You make them a great offer. For instance, you tell people, “Short prayers are better than long prayers.” Now, that is a great offer. But often, great offers don’t turn out too great. After the Romans were defeated by Hannibal’s army at Cannae (216 BC, but I’m sure you already knew that), Roman army recruiters found it difficult to enlist potential soldiers. Apparently, men were hesitant to join a losing army. And so, the marketing division of the Roman army put their heads together and came up with an innovative plan. They promised any slave who enlisted in the army and then, in battle, brought back the head of an enemy soldier would be granted their freedom.  It was a great incentive, and it worked like a charm. Thousands of slaves joined the cause for a chance at emancipation.  But while the plan was good, there was a hiccup with the implementation. Unfortunately for Rome, many of these slaves used their heads and quickly figured out the perfect loophole. As soon as they killed an enemy combatant, instead of pressing on with the war like they were supposed to do, they stopped their fighting and started to “get a head” on their application for their release from slavery. For these slaves, this wasn’t a head-scratcher. As soon as they could hold “their head” up high, they left the battlefield and went to claim their liberty.  We might say that each one of these slaves just didn’t have a good head on their shoulders, they also had a head for freedom. And once they turned someone’s head (in), they “headed” for home as free men. Ask any of these slaves: it must be true; two heads are better than one!

Last week, I made an offer. I proposed that we not worry about long prayers and instead focus on praying short prayers. My thinking is this: short, direct prayers with some serious thought going into them are far better than long prayers where we just meander. There is something about precision and conciseness in our prayers.  Scot McKnight in his book, To You All Heart Are Open, quotes LEH Stephens-Hodge saying: “This perennial vitality of the ancient collects is due to the fact that they give expression to our basic needs and are couched in very simple terms. They make their appeal to the hearts of all of us by their very directness and by their complete honesty. Here is no attempt to bluff God or buy his favor by specious pleas or multiplicity of words. The collects are more in keeping with the arrow prayers of Peter on the lake, ‘Lord, save me,” and with the prayer of the penitent publican, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’” I rest my case. I think it is a very sound offer, one that once you get used to doing it, will have you head over heels in love with praying deeply rich, meaningful, but short ‘arrow’ prayers.

We began last week be saying that the best way to compose a short prayer (a collect, to be more precise) is to use these five steps (we did steps one and two last week—here’s a recap).

Step one: We must start with our request. Answer the question as clearly and as succinctly as possible: What do you want? We are here to ask God for something. Be bold. Be clear. Be done.

Step two: Express why you believe God would want to answer your prayer. We want to remind God who he is and what he has done. Be biblical here. Be theological here. Be honest here. Remind God about who he is that makes you believe that he will not only hear your prayer, but will move in response to it. Remind him that he is good. Remind him that he is compassionate. Remind him that he is a God of outrageous grace. Remind him that he is our King. Remind him that he is our mighty fortress and our help in ages past and our hope for years to come. Biblical prayers remind God about who he is. There is great strength in our prayers when we know our request is in line with God’s character, history and will.

And now, on to Steps Three through Five.

Step three: Consider the best address for your request. The Book of Common Prayer utilizes four main addresses (“Almighty,” “God,” “Lord,” and “Father,” or any combination of these four), but there are many other titles of God to which we can turn. Think about it. Are you coming to God because he is sovereign or because he is your Father? Are you praying because God is the Almighty King and you need a miracle or because he is the Lord of heaven and earth, the giver of all good things? Are you crying out for justice to the God who sees everything or are you coming in worship to exalt God Most High? Now, there is no right or wrong answer here, but the names we use matter. We need to think seriously about how we want to address the God to whom we are praying so that our prayer has cohesion and focus. Will God not listen to our prayer if we address him using the wrong title? Of course, not. But it is awkward. When we were in college, lots of my friends though Jo’s first name was Jo-Mae (back in the day, there were a whole slew of southern names where Mae was the extended first name, like Elly-May, Celia-Mae, Rylee-Mae, Hailey-Mae, Lucy Mae and so forth). And they would greet here, “Hi, Jo-May!” But May was Jo’s last name (that’s right, here whole maiden name consisted of just five letters). Saying, “Hi Jo-May” was not wrong, but it was awkward. Who greets someone using their first and last name? Choosing the right name to use in our prayers is helpful. And while it may not be crucial, it removes us from being awkward in our prayer.

Step four: State why you want God to answer your request. Now, we usually don’t think about doing this, but it is important. We need to ask: What do we expect will happen if God answers our prayer? What will be different if God hears our plea? In the Book of Common Prayer, we find this step often signaled by the words “so that” or “that” or “in order that.” Doing this also helps us weed out selfish prayers and makes us think about what we are hoping God will do with this request. What will be the implications for those for whom we are praying if God answers this prayer? See, we are not asking just to ask. We are asking God to do something that will be consistent with his divine purposes and for the sake of the Kingdom. We need to think about the possible and desired consequences or outcomes of our prayers.  Consider these examples. When we confess our sins, we are praying that we may obtain from God “perfect remission and forgiveness” (as in the “Collect for Ash Wednesday.”” When we pray for God to do a new work of grace in us, we are praying that we may “please God in both will and deed” (as in the prayer, “Sixth Sunday after Epiphany”). When we pray that God would cleanse and purify us, we are praying that we may “perfectly love God and worthily magnify his holy name” (as in the “Collect for Purity”). When we pray that we would die to sin more and more each day, we are praying that we may “evermore live with Christ in the joy of his resurrection” (prayer for “Easter Sunday”). When we pray for God’s grace to flood over us, we are praying that “we may continually be given to good works” (“Proper 23”). What outcomes do you want to see as a result of your prayer? What are the larger consequences to which your request acts as a stepping stone? Now, of course, my examples were just a sampling. There are an almost infinite number of things we could expect God to do as a result of our prayer. Our job is to think seriously what outcome best fits with God’s will, God’s character, and God’s dream for us. Where do we want to see God work and why?

Step five: Commit your prayer to God’s will by praying through the grace and merits of Jesus. I love the way the collects of the Book of Common Prayer end: “Through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” Let’s face it: when we pray, we are in way over our heads. We have nothing in of ourselves that would cause God to hear us, let alone move in response to our prayers. But we don’t come in our own strength or in our own merit. We come only because Christ is our redeemer and we are incorporated in him. We come to the Father as sons and daughters because we have been incorporated into Christ and, as a result, have been adopted into God’s family and given the Spirit of Sonship. The way we end our prayer reiterates and emphasizes that we know this is true, but it also underscores that we boast in our Savior. We close our prayer rejoicing in the good news that it is not about us; it’s about Jesus.

I offer this simple prayer as an example.

Here’s the request: Teach us to pray.
Here’s the reminder: Who tells us to cast all our care upon you, because you care for us.
Here’s the address: Abba Father
Here’s the expectation: So that we may always know you are with us and that we stand continually in your presence.
Here’s the basis: Through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Or properly prayed:

Abba Father,
Who tells us to cast all our care upon you, because you care for us,
Teach us to pray
So that we may always know you are with us and that we stand continually in your presence;
Through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

Here’s a prayer from Scot McKnight that I really like (again it is in his book, To You All Hearts Are Open):

You are the one who heals,
you are the one who has healed,
and your Son was sent as our healer:
Grant that N. be healed from this sickness,
that she can return to her work
and flourish in the ministry to which you have called her,
for which there is no replacement and which is greatly needed.
Through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

Now, that is a great prayer; short, concise, bold, theologically rich, honest and moving. (Warning: puns are coming). Plus, it dives right in there and doesn’t get lost in a long and wordy and long-winded prayer. Here’s a proper heads up for all of us beginners at prayer: don’t lose your head in prayers that ramble and don’t get in over your head in esoteric ideas that seek to impress God with your vast head knowledge. Instead, wrap your head around short prayers that turn your head and heart towards God’s majesty, goodness, grace and love. Here’s my prediction: in just a short time, you’re going to be head over heels in love praying like this.