From the editors of Cloud of Witnesses: A Treasury of Prayers and Petitions through the Ages

Each of the prayers in this collection were authored by real people who went through many ups and downs, and we were careful to select prayers that represent this variety. Our hope is that as you read these prayers, you will be comforted and encouraged by how God has preserved their authors, who walked through both valleys and mountains, to the very end.

Books of prayers have been the subject of much controversy. For example, one could argue that the English Reformation itself was a contest over the Church of England’s prayer book. But why? Because prayer books influence the future worship patterns of churches. During the English Reformation, one faction wanted the Book of Common Prayer — the Anglican church’s book of prayer — to retain Roman Catholic influences. On the other side of the English Reformation were the Puritans who sought to purify those same influences in light of Scripture and regulate public worship accordingly. Thus, long before the worship wars of the late twentieth century, there was an internal struggle over the nature and content of worship among Protestants.

In his work on prayer, the eminent Puritan John Owen rejected the notion that written prayers must always be used in public worship, insisting that the Holy Spirit alone could animate and grant grace for believers’ prayers. Though Owen allowed the use of written prayers as helps for the Christian learning how to pray, he remained concerned that these written prayers not be forced on the congregation to the exclusion of impromptu prayers guided by the Spirit.

He certainly did not want more written prayers to supplant the Spirit’s direction, but he did want his students, congregants, and broader readership to use “any proper means” that would encourage more sincerity, higher frequency, and greater biblical faithfulness in their prayers.

In the preface to his own prayer book, hymn-writer Isaac Watts wondered if the stagnant religious life of Christians could be attributed to the lack of “assistance,” especially in the way that most adults had seen prayer modeled when they were children. While he hoped that spiritual maturity would eventually render these helps obsolete, he believed that “in such a degenerate age as this … all the assistance we can obtain, are little enough to uphold and promote serious Religion.” He hoped his prayer book would serve as a help.

In one of the most famous and poignant passages of Scripture, Jesus’ disciples recorded one of his prayers. Moved by his words, ashamed of their own anemic prayer lives, encouraged by a desire for righteousness, or some combination of these and sundry other motivations, the disciples then make a simple request — “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).

That same request has been repeated to the Lord in the intervening millennia. With the arrival of each new generation, the godly are called to pass on the faith, remind the community of saints of the goodness of God and of his actions throughout history, encourage supernatural trust in him, and help each other learn to take all requests to the God who created and sustains the universe. Prayers that have been written and published by a few of those godly followers aim to accomplish — in some small way — those goals.

Jaroslav Pelikan, the great scholar of the history of Christianity, famously said in The Vindication of Tradition:

Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.


We have been guilty of painting the past with a broad-brush stroke that obfuscated the complexities of personal faith, and we have certainly been guilty of seeing the past in binary, black and white scenarios rather than struggling with both the brilliant colors and even the grays that are so often present in Scripture and in history. As historians, we see those weaknesses grated against every sensibility we had cultivated in our training. The realization of this weakness in our own lives created a desire to hear from the past. We longed to hear the voices of history. We longed to learn from their failures and successes. We longed to find camaraderie among the people of God. We longed to raise our voices alongside theirs, to lift our hearts in unity with them. We longed to pray with and as God’s people.

We believe that our own experience has been diminished because of our tradition’s unwillingness to do the hard work of training people how to read history, including prayers from the past. We believe that using these prayers does not impair individual faith or preclude the practice of extemporaneous prayer. We believe that we can learn from the tradition — the living faith of the dead — without falling into a dead traditionalism.

The original authors of these ancient prayers are not in some way more godly than other Christians. They have no unique connection to God. They are nowhere near perfect; indeed, many struggled publicly with their own besetting sins. Many even failed miserably at times in their righteous fight against those sins. Some may have made bad neighbors or contentious church members. They did not have perfect theology, nor did they get everything correct in their pastoral ministry or their personal relationships. But they all had a desire to be heard by God and to hear from him. They all pleaded the righteousness of Christ as their only right to relationship with the triune God, and they all longed for others to learn from their mistakes. They hoped that, in some small way, their congregants, co-laborers, and readers would be taught to believe, pray, and depend on God — even if imperfectly.

Written prayers are intended to encourage you to greater faith, remind you that you are not alone even in your struggles, provide a template for prayer when you are at a loss for words, and allow you to see that we are all walking this journey of faith among a great cloud of witnesses to the faithfulness of the one, true God. Here are a couple worth keeping.


Prayer for the Church

Hippolytus of Rome (ca. 170–ca. 235)

We ask that you send the Holy Spirit as a holy offering to the holy church. As we assemble, give to all the saints the fullness of the Holy Spirit for the confirmation of true faith so that we may praise and glorify you through your Son, Jesus Christ, through whom glory and honor to the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit in your holy church are yours now and forever! Amen.



Prayer for Divine Assistance

Henry Bull (d. ca. 1575)

Modern Version (Adapted from the Early English Text)

You know, oh Lord, what is most profitable and expedient for me. Therefore, do with me in all things as it seems best to you, for, despite the way things might seem to me, what is best for me is that you do whatever is most just and blessed according to your godly wisdom. Thus, whether it be by prosperity or adversity, loss or gain, sickness or health, life or death, your will be done.

Cast out of my heart all unprofitable cares of worldly things. Suffer me not to be led with the unstable desires of earthly vanities. Rather, give me grace that all worldly and carnal affections may be mortified and may die in me.

Grant unto me the strength of your Holy Spirit to subdue this body of sin with the whole lusts thereof so that it might be obedient both in will, in mind, and in members — that it might do your holy will.

Assist me with your grace, oh Lord, so that I may be strengthened internally and be armed with your holy armor — the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the hope of salvation for a helmet, and the sword of the Spirit, which is your holy word. With that I may stand perfect in all that is your will and be found worthy through Christ to receive the crown of life that you have promised to all them who love you. Give me grace that I may esteem all things in this world as they are, temporary and soon vanishing away, and let me see myself also with them drawing toward my end, for nothing under the sun may long abide, but all is vanity and affliction of spirit.

Content taken from Cloud of Witnesses: A Treasury of Prayers and Petitions through the Ages by Jonathan W. Arnold and Zachariah M. Carter, ©2024. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.