This is a series giving my answer to the question posed in this post.
Yesterday I gave you some strategies for clearing up free time to follow Jesus. In the coming days, I want to consider a few activities to help cultivate Christ-likeness in that white space, starting with:
Morning and Evening Prayer
I’m not talking about just saying a prayer, but saying the daily offices which include confession, Bible reading, and prayer. The way of following Christ is not the way of novelty and gimmicks. Jesus’ followers have practiced disciplined prayer since the earliest days of the church (Acts 3:42) and even before (Psalm 119:164).
What we are attempting to build is a new rule of life, one not dominated by TV and the goals of this world, but by Jesus and his church. Regular, disciplined, deliberate prayer is the cornerstone of a life seeking after Christ.
Please don’t misunderstand; prayer is not magic. We are praying to God, not casting spells. We come from a position of weakness to the one who is absolute power, and this dictates that we come in humility. Prayer is primarily about asking God to change us. Yes, we can, and should, make our friend’s cousin’s cancer an object of prayer as well, but our “wish list” is not the primary focus of prayer.
“We make ourselves what we are by the way we address God.”¹
To pray is to place ourselves before God and to allow him to speak to us. To pray is to confess our sins, to petition God to create in us clean hearts. It is a deep, multifaceted thing and a means of formation.
Prayer is a discipline. That means we are not going to feel like doing it every day. There is a reason the Apostle Paul used athletic imagery when discussing the Christian life—it takes a similar commitment. Good athletes train even on days they don’t feel like it. There will be times in prayer when you “feel” something you think you ought to feel during prayer, but that is not why we pray.
This is one of the best reasons I know to use the daily offices of the church. Many today balk at the idea of praying “somebody else’s prayers,” but the Apostles did not have that reservation (Luke 11:1). I started praying using the daily offices 8 years ago and I have learned more about prayer in those 8 years than I ever did with my sporadic, spontaneous prayers.
There is no prohibition against praying in your own words—there is a place in the liturgy that explicitly says, “The Officiant may invite the People to offer intercessions and thanksgivings.” There is also no prohibition against praying as you wish at other times throughout the day—we will discuss “private devotion” in a future post. The point of the daily offices is to be formed by the historical prayers of the church. To pray the words of Augustine and Chrysostom—which are both in the daily offices—as believers have for hundreds of years is a meaningful experience to those with a taste for history and tradition.
For those wanting more explanation of the importance of the daily offices, I recommend Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis. The prayers Lewis writes about in this profound little volume are the prayers in the daily offices.
¹Merton, Thomas, No Man is an Island, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, San Diego: 1955. p. 42