There is nothing inherently wrong with reading or reciting a pre-written prayer—as long as the prayer doesn’t contradict Scripture. Writing down a prayer before delivering it publicly can aid a speaker in saying exactly what he or she means to say, lessening the possibility of distractions due to poor wording or mental lapses. Even if the prayer is written by someone else, reading it as one’s own prayer to God is not wrong, per se. God is most interested in the condition of our hearts when we pray: are we focused on Him instead of on ourselves? Are we using prayer as a means of talking to Him and fellowshipping with Him?
Jesus encourages us to cry out to God day and night (Luke 18:7), to pray with humility (Luke 18:9–14), and to ask for things that glorify God so that we can experience His joy (John 16:24). The psalmist said, “Pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:8). The point of prayer is to develop a closer relationship with God, to rely on Him more, and to submit to His will. He wants us to be intertwined with Him; connected like branches are to a vine: “Abide in Me,” Jesus says (John 15:4). As we learn more about God’s character and fall more in love with Him, our prayers become more heartfelt and natural. God isn’t concerned about the words we use when we pray; He’s not looking for eloquence. A prayer can be as simple as Peter’s cry to Jesus when he was sinking in the sea: “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30).
Scripture contains many written prayers, and many people have found it helpful to pray some of those inspired prayers back to God as their own personal prayers. There is nothing wrong with this. Often, when we don’t know what to pray, Scripture can give us the words. The book of Psalms contains hundreds of prayers, and many of them have already put our thoughts into words. When a believer is under spiritual attack, for example, he might pray the words of Psalm 70. The goal is to pray specific Scriptures that express what is in our hearts.
Jesus taught His disciples a model prayer that’s recorded in Scripture (see Matthew 6:9–13 and Luke 11:2–4). At churches of various denominations, pastors lead congregations in reciting the Lord’s Prayer together, and there’s nothing objectionable about this. When a group of people have learned a prayer and recite it together, they develop a sense of unity and fellowship, which is pleasing to God. But, ultimately, the Lord’s Prayer was intended as a pattern for our prayers rather than something to regularly recite to God.
Singing a song to the Lord can also be a form of praying a pre-written prayer. Many of the old hymns are addressed to the Lord: “Cleanse Me,” “Take My Life and Let It Be,” and “Thank You, Lord” serve as prayers in their own right. Many modern songs do the same: “Blessed Be Your Name,” “Awesome God,” and “Lord, I Lift Your Name on High” are some examples.
One concern with praying a pre-written prayer is that we can run through the words unthinkingly. Praying prayers by rote is not usually beneficial to the one offering the prayer, and it runs the risk of becoming “meaningless repetition” (Matthew 6:7, NASB). Praying prayers written by other people can be a helpful tool in oratory, but it carries the danger of being impersonal. John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, spent twelve years in prison because he refused to use the Book of Common Prayer in his church, believing that such pre-written prayers were unbiblical insofar as they were used as a substitute for people’s own prayers from the heart: “He that hath his understanding opened by the Spirit needs not so to be taught of other men’s prayers, as that he cannot pray without them” (A Discourse Touching Prayer, 1663). “In prayer,” said Bunyan, “it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart.”
The bottom line? Pray to connect your heart with God’s. If that involves praying pre-written prayers on occasion, use that tool. Guard against using written prayers as a replacement for your own heartfelt communication with God. And keep the conversation between you and God going (1 Thessalonians 5:17).