Our world worships busy. Because we equate our worth with our productivity, busyness is an admirable trait. Crowded calendars and hectic schedules are signs that life has significance. Between work and home, carpools and Candy Crush, we have forgotten the art of doing nothing well. And yet we hunger for stillness and simplicity. Praying the hours can be a helpful tool for disciplining ourselves in stillness and creating space where we can encounter God.
Praying the hours has its root in both Jewish and early Christian tradition. Jews recognized morning, afternoon, and evening as regular hours of prayer. Daniel’s adversaries were able to trap him because of his habit of keeping regular hours of prayer (Daniel 6:10). Early Christians continued to keep regular hours of prayer. Peter and John healed the lame man at the temple gate at the time of afternoon prayer (Acts 3:1), and Peter’s vision preparing him for Cornelius’s visit came during the time of noon prayer (Acts 10:9). The church fathers carried on the tradition, and by the Middle Ages the monastics had developed a system of seven fixed hours of prayer.
So why should we continue this practice? One reason is that discipline always produces fruit. And while I would not elevate keeping the hours to an obligation, I do believe pausing for prayer throughout the day can be a valuable tool for spiritual formation:
- Praying the hours helps us cultivate our awareness of God’s presence. We know that the discipline of keeping a food journal is a helpful tool for weight loss. It’s not that you burn calories by jotting down meals in your diary or logging snacks into an app, but keeping a record of your food intake increases accountability and helps break the habit of mindless eating. Those five M&M’s you snagged every time you passed the kitchen look a lot more significant when you write them down on paper–and you realize how quick five M&M’s here and there can add up to a whole bag of candy. In the same way, praying the hours is a discipline that gives structure to our day and reminds us God is present in every moment. Regularly pausing throughout the day to read Scripture and pray fills our routines with meaning, not meaningless activity.
- Praying the hours helps us steward our time. Tithing is an act of obedience, but it is also an act of trust in the God who owns all things and who gives us all that we have. Similarly, praying the hours is a reminder that our days are a gift from God and that every moment can be offered in worship to our Creator. “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
- Praying the hours helps us practice intentional stillness. This is one that I need. Even though my introverted nature demands silence and solitude, it is all too easy to fill my world with noise. My phone is always there, easily filling quiet moments with Facebook, Twitter, and mindless games. Music and videos are only a click away, and I rarely get in the car without turning on the radio. It takes intentionality to step away from the noise and meet God in the silence. I have found praying the hours to be a useful tool for practicing stillness as I pause my activity to meet with God.
How do we pray the hours? Consider the rhythms of your day. When do you most need reminders of God’s sovereignty and presence? Perhaps you can set aside time to pray before getting out of your car at work, at lunch, during your afternoon coffee break, and before you start to fix supper at home. Or perhaps your daily rhythms might include prayer first thing in the morning, at lunch, before driving the afternoon carpool, and before bed. The goal is not adhering to a legalistic formula but including intentional pauses for prayer in the rhythm of your day.
What do you do during these times of prayer? Pray. Read a passage of Scripture. Sing a hymn. Keep it simple. If you’re following a Bible reading plan, you could read a passage from the Psalms, Proverbs, Old Testament, and New Testament at different times of the day. Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Office books are classic guides for praying the hours, though they may feel a bit foreign to those not from a liturgical tradition. Again, the goal is not so much “doing it right” as it is creating space to worship and meet with God.
Q: Do you have regular times for prayer throughout the day? Share your routine and experience in the comments.
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