Monday, July 30, 2007

Praying With the Church #5: Jesus and Sacred Prayers

I haven’t been doing this much lately, but I’m still enjoying fixed hour prayer – even if my hours aren’t “fixed.” Perhaps “flexed hour prayer” would be the better term for me. Either way, it has been good. This post will give a brief summary of the ancient Jewish prayers that Jesus likely practiced – morning, noon, and night.

There are Catholic prayer books, Anglican/Episcopal, and Orthodox, not to mention The Divine Hours for the rest of us (the one I’m using). The ancient Jewish prayer book is what we call the Psalms. While some are intensely personal prayers, they are fit to be the prayer book of Israel. Another regular aspect of the Jewish liturgical life is the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Deut. 6.4-5). They also recited the Ten Commandments and something called, among other names, the Amidah:

Blessed art thou, Lord, God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob, great, mighty and fearful God, most high God who createst heaven and earth, our shield and the shield of our fathers, our trust in every generation.
Blessed art thou, Lord, shield of Abraham.

Grant us, our Father, the knowledge (that comes) from thee, and understanding and
discernment (that come) from thy Torah.
Blessed art thou, Lord, who grantest knowledge.

Bring thy peace over Israel, thy people, and over thy city and over thine inheritance; and bless all of us together.
Blessed art thou, Lord, who makest peace. (McKnight 48).
These three elements were what Israel prayed at their hours of prayer. McKnight says it would look like this:
Psalms all the time and throughout the day.
Morning = Shema, (10 Commandments), and Amidah
Afternoon = Amidah
Evening = Shema, (10 Commandments), and Amidah

Most people who might stumble upon this blog are likely of a similar stripe as myself, hesitant to use the words of others to pray – the fear of vain repetition. But I find my prayers take on their own vain repetition as I either get lazy in articulating my prayers or I am in a request rut. I love what McKnight says about Scripture and prayer that might help those of us who are more hesitant to toy with this kind of prayer:

“…let’s probe this concern about repetition in another way. This question may actually be masking another issue, one that is part of the hesitation to use prayers written by others. Our tendency is to go to the Bible for something new, to read it in the expectation of a fresh discovery of something we did not know or had not heard or had completely forgotten. As a professor who teaches the Bible, I know the

“But the discovery of something new is not the sole, or even the main, purpose for reading the Bible. The longer you look at the idea that we read the Bible to find new meanings, the sillier it becomes. We read and return to the Bible not (just) to find something new but to hear something old, not to discover something fresh but to be reminded of something ancient.

“What we find in the sacred rhythm and sacred prayer tradition of Israel is the wise recitation of those passages in the Bible most central to spirituality, passages we need to be reminded of daily because of their importance for how we are to conduct ourselves before God and with others” (50-51).
Does this resonate with anyone else?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Praying With the Church #4: Jesus and Sacred Rhythms

I’ve been dabbling with fixed hour prayer for about a week now and I’m really enjoying it and finding it helpful. I’ll get to that in a few posts (if I’m still sticking with it), but looking at Jesus’ prayer life is a helpful guide that might help us stick with fixed hour prayer. Jesus was a faithful Jew and would have prayed regularly – at least three times per day.

Being from less of a liturgical background, I was surprised at the clarity of fixed hour prayer in the OT (Ps. 55.17; Dan. 6.10) and it is historically how Jews pray. Jesus doesn’t criticize public prayer in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 6), but praying to be seen.

OK. I’ll talk about my experience a little bit because it fits so well with the rhythm of prayer. I don’t want to belabor it, and I’m not proud of it, but I’m not a great pray-er. It is work for me. I don’t gravitate to it naturally. But I am doing it more. Why? I think it is because three times a day I “touch base” with God in prayer. I’m lingering with God more at fixed hours, which makes me want to linger with Him at other times as well.

What is your day built around? Punching the clock at work? Meals? How about prayer?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Praying With the Church #3: Jesus, Sacred Time, and Sacred Term

McKnight covers at least four aspects of Jesus’ prayer life, Sacred Time, Term, Rythms, and Prayers. We’ll cover the first two on this post.

What was Jesus’ sacred time? It is clear from the first chapter of Mark’s gospel that it was likely a habit for Him to pray early in the morning (since His disciples knew where to find Him), but He also prayed all the time, particularly when making momentous decisions like choosing the Twelve and going to the cross. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing in 1 Thess. 5.

So Jesus prayed faithfully, but on what terms? How did He address God? Abba, Father. And He has called us to do the same. McKnight states:

If we are to learn from Jesus, we will do well to begin with this: We need to open our hearts to God on a constant basis with the trust that God wants us to share our lives with him so he can share his life with us.
How does your prayer life match the sacred time and term that Jesus established as an example for us?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

Thank God for 10 wonderful years with my phenomenal wife, Suzanne. May God grant us many more decades as good, or better, than the last one!

Praying With the Church #2: Why?

Near the end of my Sabbatical and my first couple days back I read Praying with the Church by Scot McKnight (see link below). Why? I think prayer is the most difficult discipline for me to maintain in my life. It is frustrating, guilt-inducing, et al. But I love to read. I’ve found that my prayer life improves when I’m reading something about prayer and experimenting, etc… I try to read at least one book on prayer per year. It has probably led to more head info than practice, but it is generally helpful for a season. And when prayer is the struggle it is for me, I’ll take it. (The nature of the struggle to pray is probably worthy of another post.)

There’s another reason why, however. When I read Prayer by Richard Foster I was drawn to the chapter on liturgical prayer. I bought a Common Book of Prayer to help me. It was confusing and after mediocre effort in deciphering it, I gave up. But I’m drawn to the liturgical lately. I feel like us evangelicals are missing something of the tradition and roots of our historical faith, even if it isn’t something specifically in the Bible. I admit it might be simply a romantic notion that might bore me to death if I actually practiced it, but I’m drawn to the romanticism of it nonetheless.

McKnight’s book is about using the prayer books of the great branches of the Christian church – Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican. He also directs on how to use a modern one that I’ve been dabbling with the last couple days, The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

That’s “why” I read it. McKnight has his own reasons that are more substantive than mine and well worth reading. The next post will discuss the biblical basis for “fixed hour” prayer, which was quite a lesson for a guy with Baptist/Vineyard/Free Church background.

The book:

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Praying With the Church #1: Intro

Note: Originally posted on 7/10, but I just ran into it when working on this series of posts.

A few days ago I finished Praying With the Church by Scot McKnight. It is a book on fixed hour prayer. When we participate in this "liturgical" prayer, we are not praying "in" a church, necessarily, but "with" the universal church across all kinds of traditions. McKnight says it was a great help to his prayer life, helping him touch base with God a few times each day, which kept him closer the rest of the day as well. I'm intrigued and would like to try it. He mentioned several prayer books, the easiest being Phylis Tickle's The Divine Hours. I'll pick up a copy and give it a go once I find my Barnes & Noble gift cards from my birthday.

Go to McKnight's blog and check the right column for online versions of the different daily prayer opportunities.

Have you ever done "fixed hour" prayer (or whatever else it may be called)? What was your experience?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Most Popular Christian Blogs

I was over at Hugh Hewitt's blog and noticed a link to a list of the Top 100 Christian Blogs. I've heard of a few. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Who, me?

I’m still working on St. Augustine’s Confessions. It is still some good food for thought. Looking back, in his spiritual autobiography, he remembers how he viewed sin as a young man, which doesn’t seem far from how our culture, even within the church, sometimes views sin. Consider this:
It still seemed to me that it is not we who sin, but some other nature within us that is responsible. My pride was gratified at being exculpated by this theory: when I had done something wrong it was pleasant to avoid having to confess that I had done it, a confession that would have given you [God] a chance to heal this soul of mine that had sinned against you. On the contrary, I liked to excuse myself and lay the blame on some other force that was with my but was not myself. But in truth it was all myself, and my sin was the more incurable for my conviction that I was not a sinner” (89).
Maybe it’s me, but Augustine doesn’t seem like a “the devil made me do it” kind of guy. Self-examination may not be fun, but it can certainly be used of God to move us toward godliness. If you dare, pray along with David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalms 139:23-24).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Encouragement to be patient in prayer

I'm working through Augustine's Confessions and he has this great section about how he's deceiving his mother (before he was a Christian) to move to Rome to teach a new group of students.

That same night I left by stealth; she did not, but remained behind praying and weeping. And what was she begging of you, my God, with such abundant tears? Surely, that you would not allow me to sail away. But in your deep wisdom you acted in her truest interests: you listened to the real nub of her longing and took no heed of what she was asking at this particular moment, for you meant to make me into what she was asking for all the time (86).
I thought this helpful for those prayers that seem unanswered or even answered in the negative.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Death by Ministry?

I was just perusing Rhett Smith's blog ( and he linked to Mark Driscoll's series called "Death by Ministry." It would be worth checking out if you're in leadership. I haven't read it all, but the first post (#1, not the one at the top of the page) is interesting and frightening in some regard. If you're a leader at Cypress Church, you may hear from these posts again in some leadership venue.

Here's the link to Driscoll:

Monday, July 9, 2007

Back to Work!

I haven't posted for a bit, but, since Sunday, July 8th, I've been back to work. Thanks again to Cypress Church, the elders, the Trustees, and Pastor Mike for making the sabbatical possible. It was a great time for me and my family. I hope it is a benefit to the church as well. Well, back to work. I'll be preaching this Sunday on friendship in Proverbs. I'd love any friendship insights or stories you have.