The Life of Prayer

The Incarnation and Behavior

The sacramental approach to Christian faith is rooted in the Incarnation. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Therefore, what we do in our bodies matters. Faith is not something stuck away in the mind or soul in such a way that it can be separated from activities of daily life. The word must become flesh in our lives so that our behavior reflects our faith.

The call to discipleship teaches us this. Jesus said to St. Matthew, “Follow me” (St. Matt. 9:9). When St. Matthew arose and followed Him, he began a new way of life. Following Jesus meant much more than simply adopting certain points of doctrine.

This same point is made by the New Testament word frequently used to describe the Christian life. Colossians says, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (2:6). A quick check of the concordance reveals more than two dozen references to one’s “walk.” One can “walk in darkness” or one can “walk in light” (1 St. John 6-7). Our walk is our manner of life. It is the way we go about living from day to day.

Christian Behavior Begins with Prayer

The beginning of discipleship is prayer. By nature we are sinners. As we said in session two, being a sinner means that the best of human effort falls short of divine perfection (page 1, par. 5). It is only by grace that we are able to rise above the limitations of our fallen nature and do the will of God. The grace of God comes to us through the sacraments and prayer.

If we neglect the life of prayer and sacramental grace, the Christian life is reduced to a merely human attempt to obey moral rules. This is the source of much frustration in the Christian life. People try, by mere human effort and will power, to obey the moral commandments. They fail, try harder and fail again. They end up being frustrated rather than making progress in the faith.

Many people think that to be a Christian means to “try to be good.” This is wrong. To be a Christian is to live in communion with the Father through the Son in the Holy Ghost. This living relationship begins in our baptism and is renewed and experienced through the Mass and prayer. Changed or holy behavior is the fruit of this relationship (cf. Galatians 5:22f.).

This is why we begin the week in prayer with the Holy Eucharist on Sunday, the first day of the week. We begin by remembering who we are in Christ, by confessing sins and receiving grace. Then, and only then, are we prepared to “do all such good works as [God] has prepared for us to walk in” (BCP 83, Ephesians 2:10).

Likewise, we need to begin each day with prayer and to integrate patterns of prayer into the very fabric of daily life. As prayer becomes habitual, we find that our behavior is transformed as a consequence.

Daily Prayer in the Bible and the Church

The Jewish tradition observed fixed hours of prayer morning, noon and night. The reason Daniel was arrested and thrown into the lion’s den was that he refused to stop his practice of praying toward Jerusalem “three times a day” (Daniel 6:10).

In Acts in the New Testament, Sts. Peter and Cornelius both bear witness to this tradition. God spoke to both of them during their fixed times of prayer so as to bring about the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Church (Acts 10:3, 9, 30).

The Christians of the next generation also continued this practice. An early Christian writing called The Didache (“The Teaching of the Twelve”) instructs Christians to pray the Lord’s prayer three times a day (chapter 8).

The monastic movement in the early Church expanded this tradition by establishing seven daily times of prayer, following Psalm 119:64, which says, “Seven times a day do I praise thee.” There were various equivalent practices of prayer for those who were not monks.

During the Reformation, The Book of Common Prayer reduced the seven monastic hours of prayer to two, Morning and Evening Prayer. The goal was to make the prayer life of the Church accessible to all the members of the Church.

Another foundation of the Reformation was the translation of the Bible into the language of the people. It was the goal of the great English Bible translator, William Tyndale, that the ploughman would know more Bible than was standard for the clerics of his day. The prayer book has a lectionary for daily Bible reading for every member of the church to follow. The lectionary readings cover the whole Bible in an annual cycle, with a few exceptions.

The Prayer Book Offices

The foundation for daily prayer in the Anglican tradition is the practice of praying Morning and Evening Prayer (BCP 3 & 21). These “daily offices” include several key elements.

1. Opening sentences of Scripture that highlight the seasonal themes of the Church year.

2. Daily reading of the Psalms. More accurately, the Psalms are prayed. The praying of the Psalms has always been the heart and soul of the daily office. The Psalms are prayed in the light of their fulfillment in Christ and the light of our membership in the body of Christ. Our spiritual battle is experienced and prayed through in the light of Christ’s triumph. The constant petitions against our enemies are applied to the enemies of the soul – the world, the flesh and the devil. The Psalms contain depths of meaning that continue to unfold over a lifetime of prayer.

3. Two Bible lessons at each office, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. The daily lessons are tied into the themes of the Church year and, so, highlight the Church Kalendar and the experience of the Church year. The lessons for each day are listed in the lectionary in the beginning of the prayer book. Following the lectionary will cause one to read through the Bible each year, with a few exceptions. The lectionary skips some sections in order to provide lessons from the Old Testament that are not unduly long. One can note where sections are skipped and read the skipped sections as well. Nonetheless, if one reads the lectionary “as is” one will still cover the major points and themes of the Bible and will read much more Scripture that one would otherwise read.

4. Canticles of praise that give us a lofty and beautiful language with which to pray to God. The canticles each express biblical themes that can be applied to the life of each Christian. For example, Benedictus es at Morning Prayer is from the Song of the Three Children. It is a hymn attributed to Daniel’s three friends who were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. They sang praise to God in the midst of their fiery trial. So we can sing Benedictus es mindful of how God delivers us from our various afflictions.

5. A Confession of sin and a General Thanksgiving. These remind us, and give us opportunity daily, to confess our sins and give thanks to God.

6. The Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

7. Collects or prayers that highlight the feast day or season or provide a reflection on a significant theological theme.

8. An opportunity to pray for our own needs and for the needs of others. Each Christian should maintain a prayer list: a list, of people for whom you are praying. This is part of your work as a member of the Body. The daily offices provide a regular time to offer up names and causes to God in prayer. Your list should not be too long and you should renew the names weekly or monthly.

9. A form of common prayer. Each Christian can participate in the common prayer life of the Church. We read common lessons and experience in common themes of the Church year, which creates a basis for fellowship and reflects the communion of the saints.

This highlights the truth that even when we pray alone, we pray as members of the Church. Thus, the language of liturgy is corporate. Jesus taught us to pray “Our” Father. In the office we pray using the words “Our” and “We.” Each of us adds our individual contribution to the corporate prayer of the Church.

Benefits of Reading the Daily Offices 

We begin to pray habitually. Many Christians have not been taught to develop habits of prayer. Consequently, prayer is offered only when some need arises or when one feels like praying. As the desire to pray diminishes, so does the practice of prayer. The discipline of the offices gives us a form, like a routine of exercise, that we can follow whether we feel like it or not. The daily offices make prayer a normal and natural part of the day, like getting up and getting dressed. Prayer ought to be this normal and natural in the Christian life.

We develop a language of prayer and praise. As one habitually prays the Psalms and says the canticles, they become fixed in one’s memory. One can use them for prayer at any time.

We establish a regular pattern for Bible reading. The only way to learn what the Bible teaches is to read it. The only way to read it is to read it regularly and habitually. Habitual reading provides an opportunity for God to speak to us through his word each day.

We achieve greater balance in the life of prayer. A common mnemonic for prayer is ACTS. “A” for adoration and praise. “C” for confession. “T” for thanksgiving and “S” for supplication – asking God for things. A healthy life of prayer will continually cover all of this ground. It is not necessary that we pray in each category every time we pray. But our life of prayer should be characterized by all of these aspects.

Left to our own devices we will tend to be unbalanced. Morning and Evening Prayer provide forms for each of these aspects of prayer. If, for example, one uses the General Confession, the Prayer for all Conditions of Men and the Thanksgiving each day, one has covered the basic themes of prayer: Adoration (in the Psalms and Canticles) Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (or intercession) which are represented by the acronym ACTS.

 

Other Issues

The point of liturgical prayer is not “mere” recitation. The goal is to make the prayers of the daily offices one’s own. The Church’s liturgy provides us with a language of prayer to learn so that we can cease thinking about praying and actually pray. As we learn the prayers of the daily offices, they will become prayers of the heart. The confession will express our penitence far better than our own words. TeDeum, Benedictus es, Benedictus, Magnificat and Nunc dimittis will become our own hymns of praise. The fixed prayers are aids to true devotion.

The daily offices are not meant to replace extemporaneous and conversational prayer. However, extemporaneous prayer is best built on the foundation of the church’s liturgical prayer. When prayer consists only of extemporaneous prayer, one’s life of prayer tends to be unbalanced. It will, in general, drift towards intercession at the expense of praise, confession and thanksgiving. The daily offices provide a structural balance. One can use the fixed forms of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication as points of departure for extemporaneous prayers in each category.

Silence, Meditation and Contemplation. In this discussion we have just scratched the surface of the topic of prayer. We have not talked about meditation, in which we reflect deeply and prayerfully on a passage of Scripture. We have not talked about contemplation, in which we are still and silent before God. It is important to have times of silence in which we turn off the TV and radio – the noise of the world – and listen to God. These higher forms of prayer will develop out of good daily disciplines of prayer. The more time we spend with God in prayer, the more at home we are in God’s presence and the more we advance in our ability to pray.

Time. If the daily offices are to be said, time must be made to say them. This gets at what is, perhaps, the most important point of this session. Our faith is incarnational. What we believe cannot be separated from what we do. If Jesus is our Lord and Savior (BCP 297), if we are depending upon Him for daily bread, for guidance, for protection, for forgiveness and peace, then it follows we that we must make time for prayer. Here most people will be challenged as to priorities. We can usually find time for things we consider to be important. Why is it, for example, that we can easily spend a half hour with the morning paper but can’t find fifteen minutes for prayer?

We live in a very busy world, and the nature of the busyness is such that the essentials of the spiritual life usually get crowded out. This is a demonic element of the modern world. We must be militant and diligent to combat it. Holy behavior flows out of prayer. If we will not pray, we cannot do what Christ asks of us. Therefore, if we are serious about our faith, we will make time for prayer.

When? Different people have different schedules. Each person should schedule prayer in a manner that will work. There are morning people and evening people. There are parents with many children and there are others who live alone. There is not one rule that will work for everyone. But there are some principles that should govern the enterprise.

Number One: Pray first. Have a time for morning prayer first thing. If it is necessary to have a cup of coffee or a shower first, then do so. But make time for prayer before the activities of the day begin. Once they begin, there will be no time for prayer. Evenings can be trickier, especially in a family setting. However, make every effort to have a time for prayer in the transition between the activities of the day and the night. The main peril of saying the office at bed time is that it is hard to stay awake.

Number Two: Establish reasonable patterns of prayer. In beginning the daily offices, don’t be like the overly enthusiastic person who begins a far too ambitious exercise program and burns out within a month. It is better to have two very brief fixed times of prayer each day, with very abbreviated forms of the offices, and actually pray this way for a year or two than it is to attempt all of Morning and Evening Prayer, get overwhelmed, and quit in two weeks.

Number Three: Include the family in the habits of prayer. Even if the rest of the family is not ready for all of Morning and/or Evening Prayer, establish some daily family habit. Perhaps a short Bible reading, followed by the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, one of the two fixed collects from one of the offices and the grace. Or see the short forms on BCP 592 and 593.

Number Four: When you fall, get up and start again. The key word is when, not if. Once you establish habits of prayer, there will be times all things conspire against you so that you begin to neglect prayer. The point of establishing times for prayer is to aid in your spiritual growth, not to make you feel guilty when you don’t pray. When you fail to pray as you planned, simply begin again with prayers the next day. Don’t make the next day’s prayers longer and harder to try to make up for lost time. Accept God’s grace and start anew.

Number Five: Persevere. If there is one overriding biblical message concerning prayer, it is that we should continue to pray (cf. Luke 11:1-13, 18:1-8). However meager your efforts at prayer seem to be, keep working at the life of prayer. It will bear much fruit. 

Conclusion

Get a Book of Common Prayer and a Bible and begin to use them daily.

 

Addendum – How to Pray the Daily Offices

Morning Prayer

1. Begin by reading one of the Sentences of Scripture on pp. 3-5. These are read according to the season. The seasonal sentences begin with Advent and end with Trinity Sunday. In the long season of Trinity (The weeks following Trinity Sunday until Advent), Morning Prayer begins with one or more of the general verses on page 3.

2. Next comes the General Confession. When Morning Prayer is read alone, the introductions “Dearly beloved…” and its alternative “Let us humbly confess…” (BCP 5,6) are skipped. The absolution “Almighty God….” (BCP 7) is skipped. The Lord’s Prayer is recited immediately after the General Confession.

Note: the General Confession may be skipped. If it is skipped, Morning Prayer proceeds from the opening sentences to the Versicles. It is a good practice to recite the Confession at least once a day. If one is going to use the Book of Common Prayer for Evening Prayer, one may skip the confession at the morning office and say it in the evening, as a reflection upon the activities of the day. If the General Confession is skipped, the Lord’s Prayer on BCP 7 is also skipped. The Lord’s Prayer is then recited before the preces on BCP 16.

3. Next come the Versicles. This is the title given to the verses and responses on the bottom of BCP p. 7 and the top of BCP p. 8. When reading the office alone, the verses are all recited by the one reading.

4. The Venite is then recited (BCP p. 9) followed by the Psalm(s) appointed for the day. The Psalm for the day will be found in the lectionary. Alternatively, the prayer book divides the entire Psalter into a thirty day reading cycle. Find the portion appointed for the morning of that day.

5. The lessons and canticles. The first and second lessons for Morning Prayer each day are found in the lectionary.

A. Read the first lesson, then say either Te Deum laudamus or Benedictus es, Domine (BCP 10-11). The Te Deum is, in general, recited on feast days and on saints’ days (when the color of the day is white or red). The Benedictus es is recited on ordinary days when the color is green or in the penitential seasons, when the color is purple. The third canticle, given as an option after the first lesson, Benedicite, omnia, opera Domini, is not frequently used, but may be used as well.

Note: The Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen) is said after the Psalms and after all the canticles, except Te Deum. The Gloria Patri is used to give the psalms and canticles a distinctly Trinitarian reference. It is not necessary for the Te Deum because it is Trinitarian in its very wording.

B. Read the second lesson, then say either Benedictus or Jubilate Deo (BCP 14-15). The standard canticle is Benedictus. The Benedictus may be ended at the break after the fourth line, except on the Sundays in Advent. The Jubilate is appointed especially for the one day each year when the Benedictus is part of the reading in the second lesson, but it may be used any time, at the discretion of the reader.

Note: If one desires to shorten the office, the easiest way to do this is to eliminate one lesson, along with the canticle that follows it.

6. Say the Apostles’ Creed, followed by the verses on BCP 16 (called the preces). The Apostles’ Creed is the standard creed for the daily offices. The Nicene Creed is the standard for the Eucharist.

Note: When saying the office alone, the apostolic greeting (“The Lord be with you. And with thy spirit”. BCP 16) is not said. One may at this point say simply “Let us pray.” Or one may, for the apostolic greeting, substitute the following: “O Lord hear my prayer. And let my cry come unto thee.” The verse “Let us pray” is still appropriate. We are praying with the Church.

7. Say the Collect for the Day and the two fixed collects, “A Collect for Peace” and “A Collect for Grace”. The collect for the day is, generally, the collect for the preceding Sunday. If it is a saint’s day, the prayer book collect for that saint is said. If there is no prayer book collect for the day’s saint, the collect for A Saint’s Day (BCP 258) may be used. Advent and Lent have seasonal collects which are said throughout the season. The two collects on BCP 17 are always said at morning prayer.

After the “Collect for Grace”. Morning prayer may be ended with “the grace” (2 Cor. xiii. 14) on BCP 20, along with the sign of the cross. One may add other intercessions before the grace. Morning and Evening Prayer provide prayers for our government and nation, the clergy and people, all conditions of men and a general thanksgiving. Also, when praying alone, the end of Morning Prayer can be used as a time for extemporaneous, conversational prayer.

“The Prayer for all Conditions of Men” (BCP 18-19) is especially suitable for intercession. It is desirable that each person maintain a prayer list. Praying for others is part of our work as Christians. This prayer provides a pause at which specific names and intentions can be mentioned.

The “General Thanksgiving” (BCP 19, 33) ought also to be said daily, either at Morning or Evening Prayer. It is a classic Anglican prayer. It provides a pause at which one can mention the specific gifts and graces God has provided that day. Saying the thanksgiving also reminds us to be thankful and to avoid making times of prayer the occasion merely to tell God all the things we want.

Evening Prayer

Evening Prayer follows a similar pattern to Morning Prayer and thus will not be discussed in detail, save to highlight a few of the differences.

1. Evening Prayer begins on page 21 with the sentences, which follow the same pattern and usage as the sentences at Morning Prayer. There is no Evening Prayer equivalent of the Venite. One passes straight from the Versicles into the Psalms.

2. Evening Prayer provides the Gloria in excelsis (BCP 25) as an alternative to the Gloria Patri after the Psalms (but not after the canticles).

3. The traditional canticle after the first lesson is Magnificat (BCP 26). The traditional canticle after the second lesson is Nunc dimittis (BCP 28). There is nothing wrong with the Psalm canticles that are provided as alternatives. However, the Psalms have already been read before the lessons. One may, on occasion, use one of the Psalm canticles as the Psalm for the day.

4. Evening Prayer has a slightly longer series of verses for the preces (BCP 30-31). The same usage applies here for the apostolic greeting as at Morning Prayer.

5. Evening prayer also has two fixed collects after the Collect for the Day (BCP 31). Evening Prayer may be ended after the two fixed collects with the grace (BCP 34). Other intercessions may be added in between, as at Morning Prayer.