The philosopher, Charles Taylor, famously described the day in which we live as an “Age of Authenticity.” Considering the state of the church and the world, I’d be hard pressed to disagree with that assessment. #LiveAuthentic is trending on social media after all.
Some of what we mean when using the word "authenticity" is good: honesty, straight forwardness, and a willingness to be open about our shortcomings and struggles. But, when you think about it, this ethos can creep in to the church in ways that are really silly. We are often quick criticize those who pray written prayers rather than improvising. The Christian leader who walks to the pulpit with a few paragraphs written is in danger of being accused of, “not really praying” or "just reading a script”. To us, this method may seem contrived, or inauthentic. We might even call it, “religious” and not in the good way…
When did we start to think the surest mark of sincerity was improvisation? The worship songs we sing are not improvised, the lyrics are rarely, if ever, made up on the spot; we read them off the screens… or from our hymnals. The best of worship songs are rooted in the scriptures and sometimes even direct quotations from the Psalms. Are they inauthentic? The pipe organist and the electric guitarist play according to the sheet of music in front of them; does this diminish the sincerity of their worship? The preacher who spends hours before the Lord in study and preparation so that he might rightly preach God’s word to his people, are we really willing to assert that he is not practicing authenticity because he is not improvising his sermon?
To be sure, we can, and should, come before the Lord and pour out our hearts before him. We needn’t use a prayer book to truly pray: He is able to make sense of our deepest groans and our greatest joys. But, let’s not be so silly as to think that He has stopped His ears to those who sincerely pray something they have written beforehand. There is, in fact, great value in studying and meditating on the deep and rich prayers written by the saints of old. After all, Mary’s prayer of thanksgiving in Luke 1 is very similar to Hannah’s own prayer of thanks in 1 Samuel 2. Mary is a brilliant example of what it looks like to be steeped in the prayers of God’s people and His Word. Perhaps the more that we study good prayers, the more we will learn to pray well ourselves.
With that in mind, I would like to offer the transcript of a prayer recently written and prayed at our College + Career service. I believe it is a brilliant example of a thoughtful and honoring prayer of repentance before our Triune God, and supplication to Him.
A Prayer of Confession
Glorious Father, I come to You, humbly asking for Your perfect forgiveness as I confess my wickedness. Father, I am guilty of finding pride in myself and not boasting in the work of Your Son. I stand guilty of pride, and thinking myself deserving of Salvation because of my own strength, which is mere weakness before You, because of my own wisdom, which is the purest of folly's before You, and because of my own power and glory, which are utter destitution before You.
Jesus, radiant glory of God, I confess that I have made little of Your sacrifice for me, Your stepping down from Your throne for me, Your putting on of flesh for me. I have thought myself worthy, even deserving of Your salvation, or have found myself too sinful to be saved by You. Both claims are foolishness; I have both placed myself above You or considered You weak in the presence of my sin, though the grave itself could not hold You and You now sit at the "Right Hand of the Throne of Majesty", far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.
Holy Spirit of wisdom and truth, I confess that in my pride I have ignored Your convictions and Your truths that You have graciously given. I have forsaken Your teaching, thinking myself wiser than You, the very Spirit of The Lord of Hosts.
Triune God, I thank You and praise You, for You are faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us of all our wickedness when we confess them to You. I praise Your glorious majesty and Your unchanging greatness.
Oh God, I ask and submit all these things before You in the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.