Artists learn to paint by imitating the masters; can praying people do something similar?
Not long ago I visited a magnificent art museum near my home. It exhibits many masterpieces including some by Titian, Rubens, Monet, Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper. While strolling through the galleries, I stopped occasionally to watch someone sketching in front of a painting or statue. I didn’t ask, but my short and ancient experience as an art student made me suspect that they were students too. It is a long and honored tradition for artists to learn by imitating the masters.
For example, Vincent Van Gogh's favorite artist was Jean-Francois Millet. He converted many of Millet's works into vibrant oil paintings. In fact, Millet’s oil painting, “Starry Night,” may have inspired Van Gogh’s more famous work of the same name.
If learning from the masters is good practice for artists, why not for praying people? Both are creative acts. Both require faith. And both are best learned not by talking or reading but by doing. So, who are the masters of prayer we can imitate and so learn how to pray well? Here are 12 of my prayer “masters” along with brief samples of how they prayed:
“Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:2-4, NIV).
“Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:23-25, NIV).
“Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain” (1 Chronicles 4:10, NIV).
“I pray that out of his glorious riches [God] may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV).
5. Clement, Bishop of Rome 88-99 A.D.
“We beseech Thee, Lord and Master, to be our help and succor. Save those among us who are in tribulation; have mercy on the lowly; lift up the fallen; show Thyself unto the needy; heal the ungodly; convert the wanderers of Thy people; feed the hungry; release our prisoners; raise up the weak; comfort the fainthearted. Let all the Gentiles know that Thou art the God alone, and Jesus Christ is Thy Son, and we are Thy people and the sheep of Thy pasture” (1 Clement 59:4, tr. Lightfoot).
6. Augustine, Early Christian Bishop, Theologian, Philosopher
“Here is my heart, O God, here it is with all its secrets; look into my thoughts, O my hope, and take away all my wrong feelings; let my eyes ever be on you and release my feet from the snare. Amen” (from The Confessions of St. Augustine).
7. Martin Luther, Protestant Reformer
“I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen” (the daily morning prayer of Martin Luther).
8. Teresa of Avila, 16th Century Mystic
“From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, spare us, O Lord” (attributed to Teresa, source unknown).
9. Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), English Bishop and Scholar
“Give grace and strength to lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us; all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, every motion of flesh and spirit alienated from the will of Thy holiness, to be poor in spirit, that I have a portion in the kingdom of heaven; to mourn, that I be comforted; to be meek, that I inherit the earth; to hunger and thirst after righteousness, that I be filled; to be merciful, that I obtain mercy; to be pure in heart, that I see God; to be a peacemaker, that I be called the son of God; to be prepared for persecutions and revilings for righteousness' sake, that my reward be in heaven” (from Lancelot Andrewes and His Private Devotions).
10. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), “Prince of Preachers”
“Lord, grant that by the blessed Spirit we may always be sensitive of the presence of God wherever we are. Yours are the beauties of nature, Yours the sunshine which is bringing on the harvest, Yours the perfume which loads the air from multitudes of flowers, Yours the insects which glitter around us like living gems” (a prayer of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, slightly revised).
11. John Baillie (1886-1960), Pastor, Theologian, Author
“Today, O Lord—let me put right before interest; let me put others before self; let me put the things of the Spirit before the things of the body; let me put the attainment of noble ends above the enjoyment of present pleasures; let me put principle above reputation; let me put Thee before all else. Amen” (from A Diary of Private Prayer, Day 14, Morning).
12. Peter Marshall (1902-1949), Pastor and Chaplain of the U.S. Senate
“I do need thee, Lord. I need thee now. I know that I can do without many of the things that once I thought were necessities, but without thee I cannot live, and I dare not die” (from The Prayers of Peter Marshall).
Many others could be mentioned and quoted, of course, from the psalmist David to Susanna Wesley, the mother of Charles and John Wesley, and more. Those prayers above that resonate most with you may supply a master to imitate and, in so doing, become a better prayer artist yourself.