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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Ancient prayer practices can help

We don't have to reinvent the wheel

Good, regular and faithful prayer need not be difficult. Like any practice it benefits from repetition, regularity and persistence. Thankfully, the church has an ancient pattern for prayer that offers exactly the regularity we need. It’s called the daily office, or the liturgy of the hours.

Hands and candleIn Constant Prayer (Thomas Nelson, 2008), author Robert Benson defines the daily office as “a regular pattern and order for formal worship and prayer that is offered to God at specific times throughout the course of the day. Each set of prayers, known as an office, is made up of psalms, scriptures, and prayers.”

Praying the daily office makes the whole day holy. Those who pray it wake up praying matins (morning prayer). They go to bed praying compline (night prayer). In between, they offer vespers (evening prayer) and other prayers throughout the day.

Just so, Christians throughout the ages have lifted up their needs and, more expansively, the prayers of the whole church, grounded in the Scripture and Christian tradition. It’s been said that we’re praying “the very prayer which Christ himself, together with his body, addresses to the Father.”


Musical prayers

The daily office, especially if prayed with your family at home or at church, is quite musical. If you pray it as it’s organized in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (page 298), you sing some of the great songs of the church. It turns your daily life into a musical. And really, who doesn’t wish their daily life were more like a musical?

In the morning, daily prayer includes the song of Zechariah, the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79). Evening prayer features the song of Mary, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). At night prayer, it’s the song of Simeon, the nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29-32). Sing these daily and you offer on your lips and in your heart songs that were on the lips of those great saints.

My 3-year-old son and I sing Simeon’s song as a bedtime ritual. The chant version in the ELW (page 324) is beautiful and not difficult to learn.

Other parts of daily prayer can be adapted for home and family use. Each office includes the Lord’s Prayer, which can be prayed throughout the day. Instead of reciting an entire prayer office in one sitting — difficult in a home with small children — our family takes snippets to use at various times. A blessing over the bed before sleep. A simple remembrance of baptism at the bath. Spontaneous memorized hymns, like “Jesus Loves Me” or “Away in a Manger.”

Consider also Taking Faith Home, which we use as a weekly church bulletin insert. It links Sunday worship to family faith formation practices Monday through Saturday. This may be the central issue for us in this generation and the reason why the daily prayer office is such an important resource and practice. We fail to pray daily, and we need a historic practice to guide us back to faithful worship.

Benson writes, “Sometimes it occurs to me that I am a member of the first generation of followers of Yahweh in six thousand years for whom the offering of daily fixed-hour worship and praise and prayer — a tradition practice and treasured and passed down to us from the Hebrews to the apostles to the early Christians to the fathers and mothers of the faith who sustained this Church we now call home — is no longer deemed a necessity or an obligation or a duty or even an opportunity. Sometimes, when I think of that, I want to fall on my knees and maybe even on my face.”

Let’s pray these prayers so that we, and our families and congregations, all join together in the very prayer which Christ, together with his body, addresses to the Father.


Comments

Ivy

Ivy

Posted at 6:24 am (U.S. Eastern) 3/29/2009

I have been praying the daily office for a a couple of years now and find that even when I don't feel like it, it helps to focus my day. Now that I'm at LTSG, for chapel a couple of times a week we do matins. At night we have compline. I love the rhythm of the liturgy of the hours.

Beth

Beth

Posted at 8:58 am (U.S. Eastern) 4/25/2009

I received The Treasury of Daily Prayer (CPO) for Christmas. I enjoy being able to pray the offices. The TDP also contains a lectionary so all the scripture for each day is there as well.

 I also will use the liturgies for the various prayers from the LBW.

 



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