Prayer is paramount to our lives as Christians. As the 19th-century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote:
Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.
Saint John of Damascus defines prayer as:
The raising of one’s heart and mind to God.
Raising our hearts and minds to God, however, is no easy task.
We’re often taught or given particular models of prayer which teach us that prayer is a long list of either asking or thanking God for particular things, events, or people. Petition and thanksgiving are a part of prayer, but they are not the entirety of prayer.
The key question is: Are we being moved into a place where we are truly raising our hearts and minds to God? Are we contemplating God and his will for our lives, or are we somehow seeking to placate him and get something we want?
Put simply: Whose heart are we actually trying to change? God’s, or our own?
A Daily “Quiet Time”
Many Christian traditions promote what is called a daily ‘quiet time’ – this typically consists of a piece of Scripture that is read and meditated upon for a short period of time to inspire prayer.
There is merit to this–reading God’s Word and allowing it to form our thought processes, our desires, and our own words–but how do we know that our thoughts and meditations during this time truly are from God, and not a product of our own vanity and sin?
For all this, we need guidance–without it, our prayer can easily become prayer to nobody at all, or worse, prayer to ourselves! Our desire should be to discern the will of God, not to glorify ourselves as the Pharisee did in the Gospel of Luke:
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get’ (Luke 18:11b-13 ESV).
Not to say that a daily quiet time always becomes self-centered, but there is a danger that it can become purely based on how we’re feeling at that particular time. We may be tempted to always pick out and interpret our favorite passages in a way that makes us feel better emotionally, thus missing out on the richness of all of Scripture, and how God speaks to us through it in every facet of life.
The Daily Office
In the Anglican tradition we have what is termed the Daily Office – a blueprint for daily prayer, covering Morning and Evening Prayer for every day of the year (as well as Midday and Night Prayer for the extra enthusiastic).
The office consists of a rhythm of psalms, Scripture readings, canticles (portions of Scripture, such as Luke 1:46-55,known as the Magnificat or Song of Mary, to read or chant responsively), including prayers and responses for the various needs of the world, the Church, and ourselves.
Now, the Daily Office has certain characteristics of a daily quiet time–it forces us to set aside a regular period in our busy lives to contemplate the divine.
It takes this concept, however, and enhances it in a number of ways:
1. The Daily Office has a systematic schedule.
The psalms, readings, and prayers in the Daily Office follow a regular schedule. The Daily Office Lectionary takes us through the vast majority of Scripture, and the cycle of prayers directs us to pray for the various needs of the Church and the world. Additionally, the collects (simple set prayers on a particular theme) and readings follow the Church year, keeping us in touch with the wider church and reminding us each day of the great salvific truths of the faith.
This is meant to accomplish much the same thing as the Anglican Sunday liturgy. The set parts of the liturgy are not dictated by the whim or mood of the pastor or the person praying. This should help to keep our prayer focused on God.
There is absolutely a place for our own prayers in the Daily Office, but we are not the only people in the world who need prayer! There is also a place for reading and meditating on our favorite passages of Scripture, but the Daily Office stretches us to read the rest of the Bible as well.
2. The Daily Office is communal.
Our Lord Jesus promises that whatever two or three agree on will be granted to them (Luke 18:19-20). Praying the Daily Office as a small group, a couple, or a church tangibly realizes this promise for Christians, and as many Anglicans throughout the world will be praying these exact same prayers, so does praying the office on your own!
3. The Daily Office connects us to the history of the Church.
Many of the prayers and phrases found in the Daily Office come not only from Scripture itself, but from some of the most saintly Christians to have ever lived (such as the prayer of St. Chrysostom, the ‘golden-tongued’ 4th century bishop and preacher of Constantinople).
Who better to model our prayers after than our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us?
I have found the Daily Office to be a tremendous blessing in my walk with the Lord. It has served to bring me out of the depths of despair, inspired me to pray for those I may not ever have thought to pray for otherwise, and has given an accessible, yet richly deep, framework to my own personal prayers and devotions.
I would strongly encourage each of you reading this to, in some way, make the Daily Office a part of your regular prayer life. It doesn’t have to be the full Morning and Evening Prayer at the same time every day–any sacrifice of time will be honored by God as we make these prayers the prayers of our own hearts, and cultivate St. Paul’s maxim of prayer without ceasing.
To start doing the Daily Office, consider trying out Anglican Pastor’s Daily Office Booklets, or Christ Church Plano’s Pray Daily resource. For more on the benefits of structuring prayer life using the Daily Office, take a look at Anglican Pastor’s 5 Things You Can Learn from Morning and Evening Prayer.