In the past year or so I have really become interested in the faith and practices of the ancient church. Along with that praying the ‘hours’ or the ‘daily office’ has also been very fascinating to me. Right now many of my protestant/evangelical brethren are I’m sure getting nervous and thinking I’ve gone off the deep end into mysticism or worse Catholicism but rest assured that is not the case.
In many ways I think the modern day evangelical/protestant churches have done themselves a disservice by distancing themselves from all things ‘Catholic’ or anything that might resemble ‘Mysticism’. Don’t get me wrong, there is some horrible doctrine there, but that doesn’t mean we need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead, why not be discerning, and apply those things that may be beneficial for our own faith, in spite of any resemblance to a branch of Christendom that we believe may be in error.
That being said, my fascination with ancient practices are part of what led me to want to read this book. It deals with one of the most ancient practices in the history of the Church, praying the ‘hours’ or the ‘daily office’. Robert Benson talks about how this practice has helped define his prayer life and that of others across denominational lines and Christian traditions. He talks about how these fixed times of prayer can help us in our attempt at being obedient to the Biblical mandate to ‘pray without ceasing’. I personally found this book a good read, and beneficial. Let me explain.
Praying at fixed times of the day is a practice that was done throughout Judaism, and even throughout much of Church History. Praying the hours has been a fixture of our faith until the last few centuries? I happen to think in our effort to be constantly in prayer, and in order to help us stay focused on God throughout the seemingly mundane tasks of the day, it could be an extremely helpful practice. Do I think this should replace our spontaneous or extemporaneous prayers? Not at all. In fact I think it very possible, and personally have found it to be true that many times these fixed prayers may move us to spontaneous moments of worship and praise. Isn’t this the primary act of prayer anyways? This may not happen always, but for those times that it does, how sweet it is! As the Author of this book Robert Benson points out, prayer isn’t primarily about us or how we feel anyway…Prayer is primarily an act of worship. This is true, and I would extend that to say that the act of submission and humility that is involved in praying these fixed prayers is an excellent illustration of that truth.
Let me say first, I don’t know that praying the ‘hours’ is for everyone. I do however think more people should give it a try. Secondly, it should not replace your spontaneous moments of prayer. For me, this is something I do in addition to my spontaneous/extemporaneous times of prayer. Sometimes though, as I stated the ‘fixed’ prayers move me to pray spontaneously. Thirdly, it will take a little work. There are many prayer guides and even websites that help you pray the ‘fixed’ prayers and have ‘daily readings’. Some of these are very hard to navigate and some are junk. You have to be discerning and find what works for you. Fourth, as I said don’t be dogmatic. You may do this type of prayer 3, 4, or 5 times a day. You may only do it once…It’s okay. If you miss a time, so what. These are mainly times of worship and conversation between you and God. I think you’ll find that you are drawn to it many days, and if you do miss, or have a time where it is hard to find that time…you’ll work harder to make time. Like anything else, if you make it a legalistic or dogmatic thing, you’ll suck the joy out if it. Enjoy your time with God…Enjoy God. It’s okay. It’s encouraged. He wants that.
All in all, I really did enjoy this book and found it helpful. If the ancient practices of the church fascinate you pick it up. If you are looking for something to beef up your prayer life, this may just be what you need. If you think your prayer life is fine as is, and this sounds like a bunch of mystic mumbo jumbo, then so be it. I’m glad you are experiencing a fruitful prayer life…But I would say, don’t be so quick to judge…
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