You may be familiar with the phrase lex orandi lex credendi – it is a Latin phrase roughly meaning “the law of prayer is the law of belief”. It is a principle that what we believe, we must pray; and what we pray, we inevitably believe. Praying and believing is a two-way street, and when there’s a disconnect between the two, something has to give. A bad prayer life will erode orthodox beliefs; good theology requires good worship to support it.
That is why (as most of you readers probably already know) the historic, liturgical, tradition of Christian worship is full of carefully-worded prayers, dialogues, exhortations, and quotations. Entire essays and theological debates can turn on the interpretation of a single word in the Communion prayers! It should come as no surprise, therefore, that this attention to theological content and tone is applied even to the Occasional Prayers – a collection of 125 extra prayers near the back of the 2019 Prayer Book that (like its predecessor in 1979) probably goes mostly unnoticed.
If you peruse this list with that in the 1979 book, it’ll look very similar at first – same basic arrangement, lots of identical prayers, and so on, but you’ll also find that greater care for orthodoxy has been exercised. As a result, you can even use these prayers to help point in the right direction for some basic theological questions. For example, what is a biblical view on the government? The intersection of politics and religion is a hot topic in any age, but it is perhaps especially perplexing in the modern era of democracy and representative government.
Pages 654-8 contain the “The Nation” section, prayers #27-39. Not only are these good prayers to pray often, but they can be good prayers to study. It might be a challenge to reverse-engineer their Scripture allusions (and that is on my longer bucket-list), but there is much to discern. How is God described in each of these prayers? What is the relationship between him and an earthly ruler? What is the purpose of government and kings and rulers? What are they supposed to do – what are their responsibilities – and how does God hold them accountable? These prayers, while uplifting our national leaders (who desperately need all the prayer they can get, let’s be honest) also guide us toward what to look for in them, and recognize when they’ve fallen short. Are our leaders “continually mindful of their calling to serve this people in reverent obedience to [Christ]”? Do they “walk before [God] in truth and righteousness”?
When we pray for states, governments, and leaders, it’s very easy to bring our political views into the picture. “May __ never get elected!” “May __’s administration survive the other party’s character assault!” “God save us from the ___ party!” Prayers like these help us keep the main things the main things: a godly people, a righteous model citizen in office, thankfulness and humility, faithfulness and virtue. Perhaps these can help us be more honest as well as accurate, getting past all the excuse-making and the partisanship and the “what about __?” distractions.