When words fail us: 5 ancient prayers that could change your spiritual life

A step into the past could reignite your prayer life.Community of St Anselm/Lambeth Palace

We live in strange and sinister times. Just an occasional glance at the news easily elicits horror, cynicism, or just deep upset. What do Christians, preaching a message of life and hope, do and say in such a world? When crises strike, it's easy to lose that hope, to cease believing that God really cares – or wonder if he's even real at all. Faith can also wither when our lives become so manic and stressed that contemplation of God becomes a luxury. We get too busy for the spiritual life.

There's a vital Church tradition however, that evangelicals are the most likely to miss: praying other people's prayers. Ancient prayers remind us that we're part of something bigger, stretching across time and beyond individuals. You may like to explore options like the Church of England's Daily Prayer, the app for which invites you to join the church in set readings and devotions for that day.

Here are five ancient prayers for a modern world.

1. Look upon us, O Lord,
and let all the darkness of our souls
vanish before the beams of thy brightness.
Fill us with holy love,
and open to us the treasures of thy wisdom.
All our desire is known unto thee,
therefore perfect what thou hast begun,
and what thy Spirit has awakened us to ask in prayer.
We seek thy face,
turn thy face unto us and show us thy glory.
Then shall our longing be satisfied,
and our peace shall be perfect.
(Augustine, 354 - 430)

2. Before the ending of the day, Creator of the world, we pray,
That you, with steadfast love, would keep,
Your watch around us while we sleep.
From evil dreams defend our sight,
From fears and terrors of the night;
Tread underfoot our deadly foe,
That we no sinful thought may know.
O Father, that we ask be done,
Through Jesus Christ, your only Son;
And Holy Spirit, by whose breath,
Our souls are raised to life from death.

(From the Church of England's Night Prayer [Compline])


3. Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

('The Prayer of Saint Francis', an anonymous prayer often wrongly attributed to St Francis of Assisi)

4. Blessed are you, Lord our God.
How sweet are your words to the taste,
sweeter than honey to the mouth.
How precious are your commands for our life,
more than the finest gold in our hands.
How marvellous is your will for the world,
Unending is your love for the nations.
Our voices shall sing of your promises
and our lips declare your praise.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Blessed be God for ever.

(An Anglican 'Prayer of Thanksgiving')

5. May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

(Traditional Gaelic blessing)