Praying with the churchPrayer has always been a struggle for me. I’ve grown up in a tradition that highly values personal prayer and personal scripture reading as the most basic means of Spiritual Formation but if I am being honest, I have struggled my whole life with both of these.Over the past month, I have become more and more convicted about the lack of depth and consistency in both of these things, especially prayer. So, when I picked up “Praying with the Church” by Scot McKnight I didn’t know what to expect but I was hoping I would find something helpful for my prayer life.And I did just that. I am one who is really good at starting books and just about as good at taking forever to finish them. But, I when I picked up Scot’s book, I couldn’t put it down. You wouldn’t think that a book about how the Church has prayed though its history as a real page turner. But, I was struck by the simplicity and complexity of what it means to pray with the church though the use of prayer books instead of just praying by myself in my own personal prayers.

I bought a copy of Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Divine Hours, Prayers for Summertime last spring and didn’t really get into it much. But, as I read Scot’s book and began to see the importance of having for my life a sacred rhythm of prayer and scripture reading, I was drawn back to it and have been using it joyfully for he last two weeks. I read the morning office when I get to the office and try to stop around lunch time to read the afternoon prayer office and my wife and I have begun reading the evening prayer together before we go to bed.

The beautiful thing about the ideas that Scot brings out here (that are not new, but as old as Christianity and Judaism) is the simplicity of this practice. Anyone can do this. You don’t have to be a super Christian, full-time Christian worker or Jesus himself. Since I have flexibility in my day, I can often fit in the midday prayers, but sometimes I don’t. For most people, it might not be possible to stop in the middle of the day and pull out a prayer book and do the afternoon prayers, but I believe everyone can get up and take the first 10-15 minutes and read the morning prayers and take the same amount of time and read the evening prayers before heading to sleep. Perhaps one will just start with the morning prayers or just start with the evening prayers.

But, I think there are a few things “praying with the church” has taught me:

We, especially those of us who live in the fast lane of Suburbia, need to have our life’s rhythm revolved around times with God instead of Television shows and work schedules.

Acts states that the early church was “joined together constantly in prayer” and “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Let’s be honest, we might talk about being communities of prayer, but we don’t do it together as local congregations or as the Church universal. This needs to change if we are going to take seriously what it means to be the church.

Praying the hours is spiritual formation. More on this in another post, but the way I was taught to pray was a one-way street. Prayer was not so much talking with God as much as it was talking to God. Listening and forming my spirit around his will was not something that has ever regularly happened in prayer.

Praying with the church is a complement to the inner prayers that we see modeled in Jesus when he went off to pray by himself (for example, the great prayer of Jesus in John 15). Its not that we shouldn’t pray personal prayers, we see Jesus modeling this. But, we also see Jesus and the early church modeling fixed hour prayers. For example, Acts 3:1 – “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon”

Okay, more on this later as this was a long post that people will not likely read, but I am on a journey to understand what it means to be not only a person of prayer, but to lead and be part of a community that is shaped together by prayer and by scripture (Somme day I’ll put together some thoughts I am working out on what it might look like for us at The Well to be shaped together as we read scripture together, pray together and how we can do spiritual formation together in these two key practices…)