Little secret...I'm miserable at keeping a habit of bible reading and prayer on my own. That's probably a horrible thing for a padre to say, but it's absolutely true. Left to my own, I go back to the same parts of Scripture over and over again, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but isn't really good either. Also, while I'm a firm believer in extemporaneous prayer (i.e., prayers from the heart), I sometimes find myself praying the same things over and over again, concerned with my own little circle of family, friends, and parish.
These are a few practical reasons I delight in using a prayer book. Here are a few other things I look for in a good prayer book:
- Lectionary readings -- to read areas of Scripture I might otherwise miss and keep in sync with the cycles of the church year
- Hymn selections -- to draw from the riches of our Christian hymnody devotionally in personal worship
- Guided prayers and Collects -- short prayers that lead me to pray about concerns I might otherwise omit
- Devotional readings -- gems from the pens of Christian thinkers, writers, pastors, and theologians who have gone before us
One of the big questions about using a prayer book for one's private worship is, "Which one?" There are dozens of potential options, including some very revered and very solid works. Doubtless the most famous is the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which is used by Christians from multiple backgrounds and traditions. This work contains a two-year lectionary and 30-day Psalm readings used in many other prayer books. It would be very hard indeed to overstate the importance of the BoCP on English-language liturgies.
In 2009, Concordia Publishing House published the excellent Treasury of Daily Prayer that checks all the boxes I listed above regarding features and even includes others, like the entire text of Luther's Small Catechism, multiple liturgies for morning and evening prayer services, a year-long reading plan for the Book of Concord, and special biographical sections of Christian saints through the year. As good as this work is, it is not without its drawbacks. First, it uses a novel, one-year lectionary, which is solid but is unique and disconnected from any of the other popular lectionaries in use by various Christian traditions. Second, because the Treasury includes all of the Scripture texts for each day's reading, it is massive, even in its 'Personal Size' editions. To help connect what I'm reading with the rest of the bible and make marks and notes, I prefer to do my daily bible readings in a bible instead of having the entire text in a separate work. While one can certainly use the Treasury with a full bible alongside, toting both around in a rucksack can be a bit bulky. I used the Treasury for several years and enjoyed it, giving it up primarily because of its choice to move away from the two-year lectionary. As a chaplain, I found value of using daily readings that I know are used in bigger circles than just the LCMS.
Without a doubt, my favorite prayer book is John Doberstein's Minister's Prayer Book. It was first published in 1959 and has stood the test of time well. I was introduced to it in seminary and have had a copy for over ten years. It uses the two-year lectionary from the BoCP, draws richly from the Small Catechism for its prayers and confessions, has a wide selection written prayers, contains a weekly cycle of topics for guided prayers, and has a tremendous anthology of devotional material that draws from across the spectrum of Christian traditions (i.e., not just Lutheran works). Many of the written prayers are drawn from traditional sources, and some are written in older, Elizabethan-ish English. This might put some people off, but I find the style is certainly no reason to overlook this fine work. While this book is clearly directed toward pastors and clergy--hence the name--it is also definitely suitable for anyone in a teaching, leadership, or parenting role...or anyone for that matter who wants to mature in their faith and understanding. I have come back to Minister's Prayer Book again and again through the years as a solid and valuable prayer book. While there is definitely no such thing as a 'perfect' prayer book, this is as close as you can get, in my opinion. There is a catch, however. It seems that Fortress Press, who publishes Doberstein, is currently not publishing this wonderful work. You will have to pick up a copy second-hand, but if you get the chance, you should definitely get a copy.
So, do you use a prayer book to guide your time of devotion and prayer? If so, which one and why?