First, let's establish the various names a believer might use to reference this spiritual practice. The Liturgy of the Hours. The Divine Offices. Fixed-hour Prayer. Praying the Hours. Hours of Prayer. Perhaps you've heard it by a different name.
For Lent this year, I've attempted to pray as believers have for thousands of years. Here are a few Bible verses showing men and women, Jesus included, prayed at set times in Scripture, and I'm joining them. I Kings 8:48, Psalm 5:7, Psalm 55:17, Daniel 6:10, Matthew 15:36, Luke 1:10, Luke 18:10, Acts 2:15, Acts 3:1, Acts 10:30, Acts 27:35. Here were my initial field notes on what I found.
When I mention to my evangelical brothers and sisters that I'm praying the hours, they have no idea what I'm talking about. A few years ago, I didn't either. In an effort to teach you some of what I'm learning in my explorations, I write posts like the "ABC's of the Church Calendar." While I don't think we should be required to know about these traditions or this particular spiritual discipline, I've become convinced we're robbing ourselves of the riches of our faith heritage if we don't take the time to learn. As true protest-ants, the first thing we say when we hear about the ancient practice of praying several times a day, or reciting traditional prayers in a church service, or using objects to aid us in our worship of God, is "I don't have to."
No, you don't. But what if implementing some of these spiritual practices in your life tears down barriers between you and other believers? What if doing so feels like you're having church for 5-10 minutes throughout your day? What if it draws you closer to Jesus?
In the morning, after I get my daughter on the bus, I sit down with two books, my Bible and the Agpia: Coptic Book of Hours." I use this particular prayer book because it was gifted to me by a friend, and the Orthodox have been gracious to me as I've learned more about their faith tradition. Also, as I've looked at the wide variety of prayer book options, this book emerges as my favorite. Super simple layout, readable language, and a great size. Too bad I can't find it to order more for my friends. I've tried.
The daily format is the same. In fact, every time you pray (this book is laid out where an individual could pray up to seven times in a day, but I haven't come even close to doing that yet), you start out with the Introductory Prayer, three lines and you cross yourself as you repeat the lines. Then, the Lord's Prayer, followed by the Coptic Prayer of Thanksgiving and Psalm 51. From there, the Morning Prayer (called Prime) moves into an opening prayer asking Jesus to give us a fresh start. There are many Psalms that follow, and I usually pick one or two. The Evening Prayer (called Compline) starts out asking God to forgive our sins from that day. More Psalms (some believers pray through so many Psalms each day and within a month, will have read all 150 0f them). Then you go to bed with these words from a Prayer of Absolution on your heart and mind: "In this coming night, give us peace without pain or anxiety or fatigue or illusion so we may pass through the night in peace and chastity and awake to praise You and pray to You." Altogether it takes me five to ten minutes each time.
I know the arguments against praying this way (remember, we are protest-ants). It can be mindless. It seems legalistic. It shouldn't replace our spontaneous prayers to God. Here's what I also know, from experience:
- It's deeply meaningful for me to think of the thousands of other believers who are praying in a similar way at the exact same time I am every day.
- Legalism is a heart issue. Period. There are days I've been too tired to pray at night. I had hoped to also pray this way throughout the day, but that's only happened a couple times. Some would say reading through my Bible annually day after day, year after year, is legalistic. Grace upon grace.
- My spontaneous prayers can become as mindless as reading through these prayers could if I'm not careful. There are times I find myself saying "Lord, please watch over us and protect us" on repeat because my mind has wandered.
- Every time, I find one or two phrases jumping off the page at me, and they give me something to reflect on throughout the day. Today, "Have mercy upon me, O God... According to the multitude of Your tender mercies." Many mercies, and God's, not mine.
- We don't have to pray this way, but I find several passages of Scripture that invite us to do so, and show us that Jesus likely did.
As I often do when I'm learning these new-to-me spiritual practices, my mind considers ways to include my daughter on the journey. We've prayed the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24-27) over her since she was an infant, but now that she's older, could she take on this practice of praying the hours, morning and night, as other believers do? I looked for an age appropriate prayer book, but all I could find for children were very young, illustrated books. She'd roll her eyes and say she wasn't a baby. Yes, we're in that stage, but we're working on it. So, I created a booklet of her very own. With the publishers' permission, I put some of the Coptic Orthodox prayers in a small booklet. For the Scripture passages, I used the WEB translation, a public domain Scripture resource.
I'll be sending this book as a PDF to my email subscribers next week. I'm so excited to give your children the opportunity to join the saints in prayer on a daily basis. My daughter is loving this very grown-up practice, and the teachings of the church are settling in her young heart. Hallelujah! If you'd like to receive this booklet next week, you can subscribe by clicking here.