While prayer may be likened to a symphony, where many threads of the music blend together, or to a concerto where a soloist performs with a supporting orchestra, these are only reflections of the activity when we come together. The Christian life involves a tidal ebb and flow where we gather together and then withdraw to our individual lives. The nature of our society means that we spend more time apart than together. Does that mean that, when we are apart, we cannot pray? On the contrary.
When we are apart the music of prayer takes on a different form. The sonata is an old form of music which has evolved over several centuries. Consequently it can take on different patterns but these are distinctive. One such pattern involves a fast section (or movement), followed by a slow one and concluding with a fast one again. Within each movement there will be phrases of music which are repeated or played in a different key. Sometimes the musical ideas can run through more than one movement or even the whole sonata.
Apart from the earliest examples the sonata is either a solo instrumental piece or else a soloist with an accompaniment. When we engage in prayer more time is spent as a soloist than in any kind of orchestra. There is much to be said for a discipline of form which similar to that of the musical sonata. Using simple patterns can help to keep our prayers fresh. One such is the four movement pattern ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. Another pattern is to be found in Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17 where the first movement is prayer for himself, the second for those close to him and the third for the wider world. Two different kinds of sonata, and like the musical form they are not prescriptive. They can be varied, or changed completely. I believe God encourages us to be creative in prayer. But whether we use an ‘off the shelf’ formula or take a more creative approach, one thing is certain. It will music to God’s ears.