Today I want to speak about short prayers. There are two powerful short prayers in our Reading from Jeremiah. The first of them is, “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.” (Jer. 20:7). The second one is “Sing to the Lord; Praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.” (v. 13)
The first of these was the acknowledgment of a call from God, a vocation to the life of a prophet. It brought with it humiliation and some sense of being shunned by others. But Jeremiah also overcame that and persevered in his vocation. That brought him to trust in God and commit himself to serving God.
The second one is written in the third person as a statement; praising God for answering prayer. But at the same time the Prophet was singing God’s praise and Glory in those few words.
I have been reading a book about prayer recently, Toward God, by Michael Casey, an Australian Cistercian monk. One of his chapters is about the importance of short prayers. I am very much in agreement with him on that topic.
When I was a small boy, about the age of 3 or 4 years old until after the death of my paternal grandmother when I was 12 years old I was taken by my father to the Presbyterian Church that he belonged to.
I was exposed every Sunday to the long pastoral prayers that were part of Presbyterian worship in those days. Those long prayers were to me just times for drawing pictures in the margins of the bulletin, or later for reading the bulletin.
My mother was an Episcopalian, and I was occasionally taken to Sunday Evensong at the Cathedral in Spokane, which was her parish. I came to appreciate the shorter prayers of the Episcopal Church.
In his chapter on short prayers Michael Casey uses the 4th century monk, John Cassian, and the anonymous 14th century author of the Cloud of Unknowing as his references. He said that one of the reasons that Cassian favored short prayers was the belief still held in those early days that short prayers didn’t give demons time to get into one’s soul. With longer prayers sometimes they could sneak in during the pauses.
The Cloud of Unknowing advocated the use of short words, preferably only one syllable, such as God or love, because the intent of prayer put into that word could the more easily penetrate the cloud separating us from God.
In my own experience shorter prayers prayed more frequently can be much more effective. I find when I offer prayer to God, the concerns that are on my heart, my contrition, my penitence, as well as the offering of praise and glory, shorter prayers, of just a few words help me to concentrate and focus my prayer.
I wonder what short prayer might focus your life with God today?
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