May 25, 2024

Lancelot Andrewes


People often wrote to John Chapman, a respected 19th-century monk and abbot, asking for his guidance on prayer. He often advised them, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” Scripture introduces us to a wide variety of ways to pray that can be adjusted to fit our various temperaments. I mention this by way of introduction to Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626). While I doubt any of us are in his league, we can learn from his deep devotion to prayer. He rose daily at 4 AM to begin five hours of personal prayer and meditation. He converted a spare room into a chapel situated for prayer, equipped with an altar, prayer desk, kneeler, and candles. He began with a prayer “before prayer” in which he asked to be in the right frame of mind and free of any “troublesome or wandering thoughts when I pray.” He centered the first portion of prayer on confession, the middle part on praise and thanksgiving, and the concluding time in intercession and petition. Regarding confession, I appreciate his candor when he prayed, “Two things, I recognize, O Lord, in myself: Nature, which thou hast made;’ Sin, which I have added.” He found the practice of writing prayers an invaluable way to organize his thoughts and engage his senses. His prayers were often written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew since he regarded these ancient languages as more expressive for prayer. He prayed for everyone who had associations with him, from people in the mines to royalty in the court. Nothing seemed to escape his prayerfulness. Most of his prayer practices would have been lost to us but his assistant compiled Lancelot’s writings and prayers after his death into a collection titled Private Prayer. It’s organized around a series of morning and evening prayers since he believed prayer should be “The key to open the day and the bar to shut in the night.” Keep in mind the following prayer was not intended for publication, but as his own personal prayer to open the day:

Glory to you, O Lord, glory to you.Glory to you, who gave me sleep to refresh my weakness
and to repay the toils of this weak flesh.
To this day, and all days,
a peaceful, healthy, sinless course,
Grant, O Lord.

The angel of peace,
a faithful guide, guardian of souls and bodies,
to encamp around me
and to encourage all that is good,
Grant, O Lord.

Pardon and forgiveness of all sins and offenses,
Grant, O Lord.

To our souls, whatever is good and convenient,
and peace to the world,
Grant, O Lord.

Whatever is true,
whatever is noble,
whatever is right,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable—
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
such thoughts and such deeds,
Grant, O Lord.

A Christian death,
without sin,
without shame,
and if it pleases you, without pain,
and a good answer before the judgment seat of our Lod,
Grant, O Lord.

Marianna Dorman, “Lancelot Andrewes and Prayer”
Service and Prayers for Home as cited in A Collection of Prayers.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.