Part XI of our series on Healing and Comforting
In our last post, we explored how adding fixed prayers at fixed times during the day to our prayer repertoire can help us grow as pray-ers and focus our time on God (not ourselves).
At this point, we may be quietly musing to ourselves, “But I don’t have enough time to pray that much! It’s hard enough to pray before I eat and before my meetings! If I added fixed hour prayer, then…” Then what? Then it would fundamentally change your schedule? Require you to work around him instead of him working around you? Make you cut back on your own activity so that you would have to rely on his more? That’s really the purpose of it, you know!
Or you may be thinking, “But isn’t that legalistic? I mean, praying at the same time every day and praying prayers someone else has written?” Answer: Yes, of course—if we think we’re gaining merit from God by doing it. Truth is, God does it for our sakes, not for his!
It shapes us in his image—and gently stops us from shaping him in ours.
Also, as with every spiritual practice ever undertaken—from Bible reading to church attendance—it can become legalistic if we focus on the practice rather than on God. But that’s no reason not to read the Bible, go to church, or pray the hours. That’s just a reason to not do it on our own. If we undertake these practices with others, and we combine them with ongoing healthy accountability practices like the five questions from John Wesley that we learned about in this post, we can avoid the fall into the pit of legalism and we can grow up spiritually, to the fullness of Christ.
To put it a bit differently, it would be hard to imagine us growing into the fullness of Christ if we don’t undertake spiritual practices like reading the Bible, going to church, and praying the hours.
But “praying the hours” is a broad term. There are a lot of ways to do this. I wouldn’t recommend that you begin by instituting services of worship for yourself at 6, 9, 12, 3, and 6, because then your focus will be on “praying the hours,” not on the God who is the owner of the hours!
Instead, begin by asking yourself: What are the “turning points” of your day where you are likely to turn somewhere else other than the Lord? They may not be 6, 9, 12, 3, and 6. For me, for example, my “turning points” are when I wake up, when I go work out at the YMCA, and when I get ready for bed. During meal times and evening prayer, I’m naturally drawn to focus on God. It’s on these times that I am alone that I recognize the special need—and opportunity—to “pray the hour.”
And “praying the hour” can be as simple as praying a particular Psalm with your family or meal companions (you’re not still eating alone, are you?) from the Bible after each meal that week. In other words, instead of speeding through the book of Psalms and reading a different one each meal, do what we do with the Scriptures in general and focus on going deep with one Psalm for the week.
Or you can try out one of the books on praying the hours. Phyllis Tickle’s are some of the most well-known, and I’ve found them somewhat helpful in the past. I say somewhat because they’re a bit too elaborate for me—a lot more than Psalms or Scripture here; they put in devotional thoughts from different books and lots of responsive liturgies and things. Thus, they’re sometimes confusing, especially if you’re praying on your own. (Another reason to do this with others, I guess.) Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts does a simpler one called The Little Book of Hours that might be worth looking at.
Another option for praying the hours that I like is the podcast or iPhone app. There are a lot of options available that are free and that download and update automatically so that whenever you check your iPhone, the updated prayer is right there for you. In the podcast format, there are ones where the Psalms are sung, which I enjoy because the melody helps me to hear the Psalms differently and remember them better. The good thing about the podcast format is that you can “pray the hour” as you exercise, for example, or drive in your car.
The version I like the best is called The Divine Office—Liturgy of the Hours of the Roman Catholic Church. Yes, it’s Catholic and I am not. But it’s very focused on the Psalms, which are the same regardless of what branch of the Christian family tree you’re from. This particular podcast does different Psalms and worship services for each of the hours, but what I do is to use a single “invitatory” for the week. An “invitatory” is a Psalm that’s sung by the leader, with an “antiphonal”—a response that’s sung by the congregation, in this case: me! I like this approach because it’s the way Christians prayed for centuries. Many were illiterate, and there weren’t printed Bibles to hand out to everyone, so the leader would “line out” the congregation’s part for them to memorize, and then they’d sing it as part of the Psalm.
However you choose to “pray the hours” and whichever hours you pray, the point is to anchor your day in the Lord by doing something other than just praying about your own needs at times that your schedule permits.
What are the turning points of your day? What resource do you think would be helpful in praying during those turning points?