Quite a while has passed since the last time I blogged. The primary cause of this has been the hectic pace of life and ministry in Winston-Salem and at Wake Forest. But, we now on vacation! My head is clearing as the daily constraints of phone calls and appointments fades into the background. We are in Jacksonville (FL) and staying with some really wonderful people whom we are fortunate to call friends.
I am currently reading a little book by Scot McKnight by the title of Praying with the Church. In it he explores spiritual growth through practicing the “divine hours.” Emerging out of the Jewish practice of observing three hours of prayer (see Psalm 55), the early Church observed at least three hours of Christian prayer: this included the saying of the Pater Noster (“Our Father”) as well as other forms of ritual prayer. McKnight, an evangelical, uses his book as a call to evangelicals to enter into this more ancient form of prayer for the purpose of expanding, rather than narrowing, our devotional life.
To McKnight, praying formal, written prayers serves as a complement to individual prayers that a private and center in giving expression to our interior life in a way unique to us. This typically evangelical mode of prayer (“spontaneous prayer”) can be enriched by the practice of praying “with the Church.” By this McKnight means using the forms of prayer that Christians have used over the ages to give voice to their worship of God.
I have, off and on, been using Phyllis Tickle’s prayer manual, The Divine Hours as a guide to this more formal practice of prayer. Tickle recognizes four hours of prayer (hours in the sense of times rather than periods of time): the morning office (between 6am and 9am; the midday office (between 11 am and 2pm); Vespers (between 5pm and 8pm); and, Compline (upon retiring for the evening).
McKnight argues that praying four times per day allows the act of prayer to be the framework into which one’s life and labor is fit. This, he claims, helps to counter the contemporary trend toward framing the day by the clock or by meals. To what extent this is the case remains to be seen. However, I am enjoying praying with the church as a way to deepen the things I pray and the way in which I pray–broadening me to pray for things that might not otherwise occur to me.
As an evangelical I am aware that this form of pray can only be healthy where there is the presence of personal and private prayer. And, if McKnight is right, personal and private prayer can only be healthy if there is a ordered prayer too. I think that the witness of the Scriptures is toward corporate and formal prayer as a way to give expression to truths received in the heart by faith. In the same way, the private life of prayer originates from the heart of faith and ascends to God as worship of Him.