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:
Peter 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.
If you’d like a resource designed for 40 days of the Daily Office (with two prayer times per day), the “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day” book is available at Park’s Info Table for $5.
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?
Families, 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!
Teenagers may want to set reminders throughout the day, or use something like social media as a prompt to practice daily prayer. Each time you check social media, take a movement to stop and pray. It may help to move the location of the apps on your phone or even place them in a new folder labeled “prayer” to cause your brain to stop and remember to pray. Consider a simple prayer like, “God, you know me fully. There is nothing that I can share on social media or that I can learn about my friends that you don’t already know. Thank you God for caring about me and my world. I want to care more about what you say than what my friends are posting. Help me to know and love you more.”
Spouses and housemates, read through the “Individuals” section above and decide if you want to practice the Daily Office together or in the same manner. You may choose to graciously keep each other accountable to practicing it (regardless of whether you practice it in the same way). Use the questions below to guide discussion or prayer time together:
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?
One way to stop and remember that God is with us is to listen or sing along to “Have I Not Commanded You?” together.
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?
During a Daily Office together:
- 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?
Tell God what you are focused on or what your primary emotions are. Choose a Psalm to pray through together. Pray that God would increase your awareness of His presence and love throughout each day.
Before 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.
Nikki’s Faith Journey
By Nikki Rasmussen, as told by Liz Grant
Growing up with Belief
My parents tried to instill general Christian morals in me and my brother as we grew up: we said prayers before bedtime, we prayed before dinner, and my dad sang us “Amazing Grace.”
When our first family pet died—a bird named Gracie—I was only five. Apparently, I was devastated over this little bird. And the morning after hearing Gracie had died, my mom found a note under my pillow, asking God to take care of Gracie. I had put it under my pillow just like God was the tooth fairy or something, which just shows that, as a kid, I accepted that God was real; I never questioned it.
I grew up in Boulder. You find a lot of people there who have been seriously hurt by the church in one way or another, and by middle and high school, I had made friends with people who were very, very against organized religion. I started hearing all these stories from people who had been hurt by Christianity. At the time I didn’t understand that those people were being hurt by other people, not necessarily Jesus. So, my response was to shut that part of me down.
Looking back, I realize that I continued seeking faith in my life even during that season. I explored different religions and philosophies as a teenager, getting really into Buddhism in high school. I even read about Hinduism and Wicca! I kept seeking something to fill that gap, but nothing really stuck.
Things Fall Apart
I met my ex-husband at 17, and we started dating when I was 18; he was 25. We started a business together and got married in 2015. From the beginning, our relationship was toxic. He’d already had his life established, and I was this little 18-year-old still figuring life out. I just pieced myself into his life. But he’d always had unhealthy relationships with women and alcohol, and that continued after we were married.
Meanwhile, I tried to change myself to become what he wanted. I was always seeking attention, even from other men, just because I wanted anything I could get. I wanted to make myself worthy of my ex’s attention.
Yet everything that I’d poured my life into—five years of my life—was slipping through my fingers, and I began to struggle with depression. I was so unhappy and ashamed about who I’d become. I couldn’t even keep sleeping pills in the house, just in case I’d want to overdose when I was in a worse state of mind, and I didn’t want that temptation. I just wasn’t myself; I wasn’t who I wanted to be; I wasn’t me anymore. And you can only pretend to be someone else for so long before it starts chipping away at you.
I didn’t have anyone to turn to: my ex and I worked together and I didn’t have any friends, really, because after I left high school, we started dating right away, and I was so focused on him that I didn’t make friends during college. All my friends were his friends. I mean, I had my family, but as things got worse, I just became more alienated from them. I didn’t want to admit that things were bad. So, it was a hard couple of years before we were divorced in 2017.
Ironically, my ex was actually raised Christian, so I first engaged with Christianity again through his parents. Though he wasn’t a Christian anymore (he’d gone way left-field), they were Christians. So my in-laws would talk with me about Christianity. They’d pray for me, and they even gave me my first Bible for Christmas. And I was still seeking something. So, I was like, okay, let’s just learn more about this, even if I’m just reading it as literature (since it’s an incredible work of art). I convinced myself that I should read the Bible.
As I became more open to God, one of my ex’s friends invited my ex to church. And then my ex invited me to go with him and his friend to an Easter service. I said, “Yeah, you know what, I don’t know why, but I want to go.”
But walking in the church that Sunday—it was so terrifying. Oh, god, talk about a black sheep! Where I was in my life, the person I’d become, was such a far-reach from the person I wanted to be. I had made so many moral sacrifices in order to make myself what I thought other people or my ex wanted from me. So, really, I felt that I didn’t belong at that church because of my past. As soon as I walked through the door, I felt like everyone knew that I wasn’t a believer, that I was an outsider, that I wasn’t one of them, and it was absolutely terrifying.
The service that day was mostly a testimony, and it hit so close to home. A man got up in front of everyone and told his story. He had been your typical 70’s hippie: sex, drugs, rock and roll, all of that. He had gone way off the map and eventually became an addict.
Then, when he was at rock bottom, he reached out to his dad and asked him to meet him at a bank to help him get a loan to restart his life. At that point, he was living out of his car, and he looked homeless. The man hadn’t seen his dad in years because his life choices had alienated him from his family. And he remembers the moment when his dad walked in the door and glanced at him with disgust, wondering, “Who is this man, and what is he doing here?” And then his father recognized him and the look on his face changed to one of love, like, “That’s my son, and I’m so happy to see him.” His dad rushed over and hugged him.
The man made the connection to God: that God sees us as his children, and it doesn’t matter where we’re at in life, God wants us with him. Listening to this when I was at the end of my relationship, when I was so ashamed of the person I’d become—his story really hit me.
Then the pastor invited everyone to raise a hand if you were ready to come to Jesus, and I wanted to, but I still felt too scared and embarrassed. I’d spent my whole life fighting what I thought Christianity was because the church had hurt so many people I loved, and I was scared of how my ex would respond to me. But something had shifted inside of me. I felt Jesus’s invitation, as if he had taken my hand and was saying to me, “Hey, it’s time.”
The summer of 2017, after that Easter service, my ex- and I decided to split, and right at the end of our relationship, I actually met someone, a friend of a friend, who goes to Park. And I was able to trust him and open up with him about where I was at with my faith.
I started thinking through all the things that had happened with my friends and learning more about Christianity and about Jesus. I also started praying and reading the Bible. I realized that everything that had happened—all the bad stuff that I’d heard about from friends—that wasn’t Jesus, that wasn’t God. That was people hurting people.
Then, finally, I came to church with my friend of a friend, and that hole that I’d been feeling, that need for faith, that need for God, which I hadn’t even realized I had inside of me, it just it felt right. I felt complete.
That said, I still struggle. The lifestyle I was living before I found Jesus was so against everything that we’re taught as Christians. So, change in my life has been gradual—I have had to make intentional decisions to change because some sins had become so habitual for me.
Sometimes it does feel constricting to follow God. Like, for example, I definitely struggle a lot knowing whether I can even get remarried after being divorced. Would that be considered adultery? I don’t know. But for the most part, following God’s commands has been freeing because it has meant stepping away from who I was before.
Plus, as I learn more about being a Christian and read the Bible and learn more about what God wants, it just makes sense to me. I haven’t felt that Christianity is like, “I have to stop sinning.” Instead, it’s been like, “the more I learn and the closer I come to God, the more natural it is to follow Him.”
I still have feelings of inadequacy—like I don’t deserve God’s love and grace. But the reunion between the former hippie and his father reminds me that God is my father first and foremost, and no matter what I do, no matter what choices I make, no matter who I become, my dad will always love me.
So even when I don’t feel that I belong, even when I feel like I’ve gone too far or that I’ve made too many poor choices, or I just don’t feel worthy, I do belong with Him—we all do. We are God’s sons and daughters. And that’s all that matters. We do belong.
For me, baptism was the next step. The imagery of being washed clean from who you were, that death and rebirth, was something that I tremendously needed to start this new chapter in my life. I needed that closure from my past life—to be reborn into this new life—and I wanted to be fully committed to Jesus.
Still, I needed a push to take the step—that came from a Christian friend of mine from high school. I hadn’t spoken with her since we graduated. As I was making the decision to get baptized, she posted a photo with Jeremiah 29:11 onto social media: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’.” (NIV). I needed that, so I reached out to her to say thank you. She told me, “It’s so funny that you messaged me—I was thinking of you when I posted that.” If that’s not providential, I don’t know what it is!
God’s plan really is good. It’s weird to say, but this painful path I’ve walked over the past five years is what pushed me toward God. And looking back, would I give that up? Would I change that, but then lose relationship with Jesus? I absolutely wouldn’t. Of course, it’s unfortunate that my marriage and divorce was my path to Jesus, but if that’s what it took, it was worth it.
Jeremiah 29:11 reminds me that it’s okay to let go of control. After five years of trying so desperately to control everything, I could finally say, “This is Your will; Your will be done. Lead me down whatever path You have for me.” I’m where I’m meant to be.