I came to faith in a church that emphasized personal experience, where prayer was something instinctive—the more free-form, the better. And there’s something beautiful and true about that. But when I first encountered written prayers, I was struck by how quickly they transformed my own prayers by giving me words for those feelings I couldn’t name or that, when joy or grief submerged me, I couldn’t articulate.
As my daughters grow and we look for ways to help them deepen and mature in their own faith, I find myself reaching for written prayers—not because they teach us The Only Way to Pray, but because they connect us to the Christians who came before us, those who wrote their verses on papyrus or in ink dipped from a pot nearby. These old prayers remind us that the psalmists and writers of long ago wrestled with doubts and praised the Lord with emotions still recognizable to us.
But there are new prayers being written today, too—in a coffee shop, maybe, with a phone buzzing nearby, or on a park bench, as the writer looked out over the water. The means and the language differ, but the things the writers wrestled with rarely change. The conviction of sin; the delight of grace; the blank absence of doubt; the joy of deliverance—all are familiar to us, from the time King David penned his psalms to today.
I love how these collections of prayers set our aim a little higher than we might think to reach on to our own. They draw us out of our own particular worries (though God loves to hear about them, too) and remind us just who it is we’re talking to: the God of all things, the maker of the universe. The God who tends to needs both big and small.
And so, I love a good collection of prayers, whether old or new. Here are a few favorites we’ve gathered over the years that have blessed our family with words when we struggled to find our own and that have inspired us to praise the Lord from the heights as well as the depths.
The Valley of Vision, ed. by Arthur Bennett
This classic book of Puritan prayers was my first introduction to written prayers. These are beautiful, theologically rich prayers that model a deep, stirring, challenging faith, and they cover everything from confessing sin to praising the Lord to preparing for the Sabbath.
Every Moment Holy, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey
These books (both Volumes 1 and 2) encourage us to meet every trial and celebration by drawing near to God. Though they’re meant to be read corporately as liturgies, these work well as private prayers too. I love how specific these prayers are: some deal with small concerns and others (especially in Volume 2) deal with some of the deepest griefs we can face. (Read the full review.)
Into His Presence, by Tim Chester
Into His Presence reads like an updated, more accessible version of Valley of Vision, with prayers drawn from the Puritans and lightly edited so they read a little more like contemporary works. Each chapter deals with a different circumstance (“Prayers of Gratitude,” “Prayers for the Lost,” etc.) and reminds us that the Lord meets us in every season.
Sheltering Mercy, by Ryan Whitaker Smith & Dan Wilt
Sheltering Mercy is a collection of responsive poems written in the wake of Psalms 1-75. These read beautifully as prayers and show us that Scripture is something we can engage with: we can read it, pray it, and write poems by its light. (Read the full review.)
And one late addition, discovered after I photographed the other books. But I just couldn’t leave it off this list!
Jesus Listens: 365 Prayers for Kids, by Sarah Young
Our family is reading Jesus Listens right now and it’s an unexpected pleasure. This collection of prayers includes one for each day of the year, each accompanied by a few verses that connect the prayers to Scripture. The language in this book is so warm and inviting, it deserves (and shall receive!) a full review, but I couldn’t bear to pass over it here.