Advent Weekly Practices—Week Three: Daily Prayer
Our practice for the third week of Advent is daily prayer. We’ve been aiming to stretch our daily prayer practices all season long, but we’ll focus this week on a particular type of daily prayer known as “fixed-hour prayer” or the “Daily Office.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, we’re urged to “Pray without ceasing.” How do you respond to this verse? How many of us read this and think, “Sounds good. Done!”? Probably none of us. In fact, most of us feel miles away from this reality. Feelings of shame or guilt can rise in us as we read this command. Excuses and justifications come bobbing to the surface. Or maybe we’re encouraged; maybe we’re inspired to muster up more willpower to try it again today! Or maybe we’re exhausted even just thinking about it. Regardless of your initial reaction or current prayer practices, the truth stands beneath the exhortation: we were created for communion with God. We only need to read a few pages into Genesis to see that God’s original design was for humanity to walk in constant communion and relationship with Him in His presence. More than that, it’s also what eternity holds for the people of God: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God’” (Revelation 21:3). Scripture is bookended with the presence of God, but we find ourselves here somewhere in the middle—somewhere between the design and its ultimate fulfillment. In this wilderness-esque place, Jesus offers communion with Him as an invitation to us, but this God-communion is not as easy as it was in Eden. We forget that He has promised to be with us always (Matthew 28). Our misaligned desires, poorly-ranked priorities, sinful hearts, busy calendars, and distracted minds steer us away from abiding in and with Christ. And yet, that is exactly the invitation of Jesus in John 15: to be with Him. To abide in Him and in His love. To allow Him to abide in us. To receive His love consistently. A branch doesn’t remain attached to a vine for only one day of the week (or one hour in the day!), only to live detached the other six days. Similarly, we’re invited to a life with God that remains attached to Him, giving and receiving love throughout the entirety of our days. This is where disciplines come in. Dallas Willard defined a discipline as “something in my power that I do to enable me to do what I cannot do by direct effort.” Did you catch that? Read it again. If we’re aiming for continuous prayer (something we cannot do by direct effort), perhaps there are tools we can employ (with direct effort!) that may eventually grow our capacity to commune with Jesus consistently. This week’s practice is designed for this: to help our soul return its attention toward God a few times per day, so that, increasingly, our default disposition might be one that is pointed God-ward. Whether we’re working, resting, or playing, we hope that we might also find ourselves praying without ceasing. Find a few suggestions below on how to explore this practice as individuals, households, and Gospel Communities:
INDIVIDUALSPeter Scazzero, in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, makes a case for employing a Daily Office by pointing out the potential inadequacy of limiting our time with God to one morning prayer time (often called a “quiet time”):
“Within a couple of hours after being with God in the morning, I easily forgot God was active in my everyday affairs. By lunch I was grumpy and short with people. By late afternoon God’s presence had disappeared from my consciousness. By the time dinner was over, he felt a long way off. After observing my behavior for a couple of hours, my wife and children were always wondering, ‘What happened to Dad’s Christianity?’ And by nine o’clock at night, I was asking myself the same question!”He goes on to outline the discipline of the Daily Office (sometimes called fixed-hour prayer, Divine Hours, or liturgy of the hours) as “the practice of stopping multiple times throughout each day to be with God.” In Scripture, we see Daniel praying three times per day (Daniel 6:10), David praising God seven times in one day (Psalm 119:164), and the early church praying at specific hours as well (Acts 3:1, Acts 10:9). Throughout church history, men and women of God have engaged in this discipline in varying forms to “practice the presence of God,” as Brother Lawrence puts it. The invitation for Park Church this week is to consider how we might employ the Daily Office to help train our hearts to abide with God throughout each day. Like many of the disciplines, there isn’t one “right” way to do it. We’re all wired differently and find ourselves in different seasons of life. However, here are some tips to using this practice:
- Make a plan. Choose two or three times throughout the day that will work well for stopping to be with God. This could be the first activity in the morning, during lunch, and right before bed. It could be a mid-morning break and right when you get home from class or work. Many will choose to set a watch alarm or create calendar events to remember to pray.
- Start and/or end your time with two minutes of silence. It’s important that you’re able to stop what you’re doing, slow down, and focus attention on Him. Make use of Week One’s practice of the “prayer of silence.”
- Focus on being with God, not merely trying to receive something from Him. Your relationship with God is a relationship! He’s not a genie or a Santa Claus. He wants to be with you, to speak to you, and also to hear your thoughts and desires.
- Use Scripture to guide your time. Reading or praying through one Psalm or The Lord’s Prayer is a great place to start. Again, consuming is not the goal; relationship is. If you end up spending the entire time praying and meditating on one verse, that might be more fruitful than reading five chapters.
- Share your day, desires, hopes, fears, and emotions with God. Invite Him into what you’re feeling, experiencing, and working on. Ask Him to remind you of His presence with you throughout the rest of the day.
- Spend as little or as much time as you’re able. Sometimes you may only have five minutes. Others may afford 20 or 30 minutes.
- Give yourself grace. Rarely do disciplines come easy at first. Remember this is an invitation to communion with Jesus—not a rule that should produce pride when going well or shame when going poorly.
Questions for individuals to consider or journal about in prayer, before or during a Daily Office:
- How might I order my schedule with the Daily Office this week to orient my heart toward God?
- What am I typically wanting when I spend time in prayer?
- How do I view my relationship with God? Do I see him as similar to a friend? A king? A spouse? etc.
- What are my heart and mind focused on today?
- What emotions am I experiencing? What can I share with God?
- What truth of God do I need to meditate on today?
HOUSEHOLDSFamilies, begin as parents by reading through the “Individuals” section above and thinking through how you’d like to engage this practice personally and as a family. The goal is to help everyone remain focused on the presence and love of God together throughout the day. There’s no one right way to do this, and it will often feel clunky or less put-together than you plan. That’s okay! If your children are a bit older, consider including them in the planning process by asking what times of day you could all stop what you’re doing to pray and remember together that God is with you. Here are a few ideas you might want to choose from:
- Set one or two alarms to go off so that the family can hear the sound and come together to pray for a moment. Depending on ages and levels of understanding, you may choose to spend a minute in silence, read a Psalm together or stop to say, “Thank You, God, for being with us while we play/eat/read/etc.”
- Think about the daily rhythms you already engage with each day and use those activities as a set time for prayer. Potential rhythms maybe eating meals, brushing teeth, cleaning up toys, doing homework, or bedtime. At the start the activity, take some time to pause and pray. Example: before brushing teeth, say something like, “God, we remember that You care about every part of our day…even the time we take to brush our teeth! You are with us always. So, as we brush our teeth we remind ourselves that You are here with us. Thank You.”
- Once or twice a day, go around the room and have each person say one thing they’re thankful to God for today. If possible, explain that the reason you’re doing this together is because God is always with us and that He cares about the everyday things we do. Since we often forget that, this is one way for us to remind ourselves that He is here!
Questions for kids and families to consider:
- What is daily prayer?
- When we pray throughout the day, what does it teach us about God?
- What kinds of things can we pray about?
- When can we pray to God?
- God is with us always, but sometimes we forget He is with us. What daily rhythms could we use as reminders to pray together this week?
- What are we feeling today? Let’s include God in our day by telling Him what we’re feeling.
- What truth of God do we need to remember today?
Questions for housemates or spouses to consider:
- How might we structure our Daily Office to increase our awareness of God and His love this week?
- What are our obstacles, excuses, or resistant feelings toward this discipline?
- What is meant by “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17)?
- What are some of the benefits of praying without ceasing?
- Where have I seen God in my day today (or yesterday)?
- What are my primary emotions? What have I been focused on?
- Where is my need for God today?
- What truth of God might we need to meditate on today?
GOSPEL COMMUNITIESBefore meeting, read through the introduction above as well as the “Individuals” section. Like last week, at the beginning of your time together, set a timer for 2 minutes to engage in silence as a group. Encourage everyone to breathe slowly and think about Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Afterward, read Luke 2:22-38 together and feel free to ask some of the questions below. If time permits, read John 15:1-17 and discuss. Remind the group that the goal of any Christian spiritual discipline is relationship with God and others, not performance. Our union with God (salvation) is secure in the work of Christ, and nothing can take that away. From the starting point of His pursuit and love for us, we are then invited to join Him in communion throughout our days—free from guilt and shame even when we fail or don’t accept this invitation. Because we’re stretching our prayer lives during this season, make sure to prioritize spending time in prayer together when you gather. If fitting, end your time in a couple minutes of silence as well.
Questions for Gospel Communities
- What struck you this week about the life of Anna in Luke 2:36-38? Anything different than last week?
- What do you think it looked like for Anna to worship “night and day?” Is that possible for us in our contexts today?
- What does it mean to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) when we have responsibilities, jobs, families, friends, homework, sleep, etc.?
- Why is it so difficult for us to remember that God’s presence is with us always?
- Has anyone attempted the practice of the Daily Office, or something similar? What has your experience been?
- Read John 15:1-17 and discuss the passage. What is compelling about the invitation of Jesus? What would our lives look like if we all were abiding in Him? How can we grow in abiding in Him?
Spend time praying together that God would increase our awareness and understanding of His presence with us and of His love for us.