I had a very disciplined prayer life 10 years ago. During my gap year I would get up early, eat a big bowl of oatmeal and dig through my bible for new insights. I felt like Jesus or one of the disciples was sitting at the table with me opening my eyes to God’s story in the bible. (Like in the story of the Emmaus road or the Ethiopian Eunuch)
In the following years I’ve felt the same way on and off. But, somehow it’s seldom felt so visceral. Maybe I’m falling in the Golden Age thinking criticized by the movie “Midnight in Paris” (Totally recommend it!). Maybe this is just the fog of life introduced by three beautiful children, an awesome wife and quite a bit less time than when I was an 18 year old single guy. Living at my parents.
Why talk about my prayer life?
In the last six months I’ve meet lots of people who struggle in their prayer lives. They “have never felt connected with God” or feel that they want a guide to the spiritual disciplines. They want to open their ears to Gods spirit and tune out the messages of the world. I’ve felt similar things. Especially in the cross cultural stress and generally mental fogginess caused by living in Manila. God please give me clarity in my mind and focus in my actions.
So I’ve gone back to discipline.
I started reflecting through the spiritual classics and new books on spiritual disciplines. My pastor calls them “Sacred Pauses” and I think that’s a nice touch.
I’ve been going through The Celebration of Discipline, Sacred Pauses, Following the Footsteps of Christ (Love love love this book!) and most recently: Day By Day These Things we Pray by Arthur Boers.
Boers book is on my daily reading pile right now and it has inspired me significantly. He writes about awakening the Jewish and early church practice of morning and evening prayer today.
Scheduled prayer has fallen from popularity in protestantism . Scripted prayer and prayer books have disappeared with it. But, Boers opened my eyes by writing about the thousands of years when scheduled prayer was standard. For the early disciples, scheduled prayer was it. Not spontaneous prayer.
Jesus and his early disciples followed the Jewish prayer schedule. When we look we’ll see scripture point us to this schedule.
Boers writes, “People familiar with the Gospels and the book of Acts (especially the older translations like the King James Version) know that some times there are intriguing references to the ‘third’, ‘sixth’ or ‘ninth’ hours. Without clocks, people divided daytime (however long or short) into 12 hours. The third hour was approximately three hours after sunlight, the sixth hour was around noon, and the ninth was associated with three hours after noon. These hours were announced publicly and were a convenient opportunity to gather to pray. In scripture these are the only times specifically and repeatedly associated with prayer. They were the moments every day when Jews prayed.”
In the book of Acts prayer is directly connected to this schedule:
- Pentecost happened at the “Third hour” while the disciples gathered to pray (Acts 2:15 RSV).
- Peter and John pray at the ninth hour the “Hour of Prayer” (Acts 3:1).
- Cornelious’ vision to pray for Saul the terrorist before he became the Apostle Paul happened while keeping the ninth hour, “The hour of prayer” (Acts 10:3 RSV).
- Peter has an amazing vision while praying at the “Sixth hour” (Acts 10:9).
Then in Jesus’ life we see his pattern of morning and evening prayer.
- Jesus prayed in the morning (Mark 1:35).
- Jesus prayed in the evening (Matt 14:23, Mark 6:46).
- Maybe the last supper was spent singing hymns and Psalms at the regular evening prayer? (Mark 14:26, Matt 26:30).
The Gospel writers even associated the cross and resurrection with these times. Boers suggests that Christian’s started to associate these hours of prayer with some of God’s most significant actions. The early church would remember them as daily reflections and remembrances of God’s acts of salvation.
For example in the Gospels:
- Jesus was crucified in the third hour (Mark 15:25).
- There was darkness from the sixth hour until the ninth hour (Matt 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44).
- Jesus cried out to God and died on the ninth hour (Matt 27:46, Mark 15:34).
These examples led me to embracing the possibilities in the discipline of scheduled and scripted prayer (The early church used the Psalms to pray most of the time) rather than unscheduled and spontaneous prayer. I practice both, neither are right or wrong. I need this time to explore the way God’s spirit will shape me while I practice this new discipline for the next few weeks.
The final point from Boers writing that encouraged me in this direction was a note about the popular idea to “pray without stopping” written by the Apostle Paul (Romans 12:12). Boers notes that the New Jerusalem Bible translated this instruction to “Keep praying regularly.” This might have been an instruction to keep up with scheduled prayers? Sounds possible to me. Especially after seeing this previous evidence in the Gospels and Acts.
I’ll be practicing morning prayer for the next four weeks. If all goes well I’ll invite others into practice with me. Anyone else want to join me now? Maybe I’ll start a morning prayer and exercise group :).
Connect with me here and I’ll report back about anything I learn.
Let me know if your interested to hear more about how this scheduled prayer transforms me.