3 Good Reasons to Pray the Daily Office

For the last several months my wife and I have made regular (or at least semi-regular use) of the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer. Most often we do so individually, but sometimes we pray the Office together. On occasion, we use the family version with our kids at bedtime. We are using the 2019 BCP published by the Anglican Church in North America. While we each have the actual book version, you can find the online version of the Daily Office from this edition of the BCP here. It is also available as an app for your smartphone.

I’m a bit of a Christian hybrid. I was raised Roman Catholic but for the last roughly 25 years I have been active as a Baptist. For a good portion of that time, I have been pastoring in Baptist churches in Atlantic Canada. So I am thankful for both formal and informal forms of worship. I love the gift of being able and free to pray spontaneously from the heart to my heavenly Father. I also love being able to make use of written prayers drawn from church history. I don’t see any reason why the two need to be mutually exclusive. More recently, I have grown to have a deeper appreciation for the richness of historical liturgy, and perhaps especially the prayers of the Daily Office. To that end, I want to share three reasons the Daily Office has been a help and blessing to me.

First, praying the Daily Office slows me down.

I don’t know about you, but left to my own devices first thing in the morning my heart and mind will easily start rushing about. If I’m not careful, I can let the concerns and responsibilities of the day crowd out the quiet I need to hear from God. As a husband and father, mornings during the school year can be particularly hectic. I need something to anchor me in God’s presence.

Sitting down in our living room rocking chair with my Bible and The Book of Common Prayer, and taking the time to pray the Daily Office and attend to God’s word, forces me to take a breath and slow down. Of course, I have to be intentional about it. I have to let let my eyes and my heart pour slowly over the prayers and Scripture readings. I have to be patient. I have to be willing to take the time. You can’t pray through the Daily Office in 5 minutes. Even if there are portions that you skip, most times you’re looking at having to spend a good 15–20 minutes praying and reading Scripture. Some mornings I have spent closer to an hour.

When I deliberately pay attention to the words in front of me, it helps me to refocus and regain perspective. It makes it possible for me to orient my life within God’s story of creation and redemption. It provides context to all the little bits of my life. Otherwise, I can too easily find myself falling prey to false narratives that can wreak havoc with my sense of identity and purpose.

Life seems to conspire somehow to keep us distracted, hurried, and anxious. Too often we turn to Facebook, TV news, or our smartphones as soon as we get up in the morning. We all need to slow down and, I believe, intentionally enter God’s presence. Praying the Daily Office makes that possible for me.

Second, praying the Daily Office gives me words when I have none.

Believe it or not, even as a pastor I can sometimes be at a loss for words. Including when I sit down to pray. The Daily Office includes prayers of confession, canticles of praise, the gloria Patri, the Lord’s Prayer, a general thanksgiving, and collect prayers for each day of the week (and for a variety of occasions). When my heart and mind are too tired to muster up my own words, the Daily Office provides me with a wonderful vocabulary of prayer.

More than that, the Daily Office gives me words of prayer that wouldn’t always occur to me. Through it I am being taught to pray, I think, more biblically. Whereas on my own I can quickly leap to praying for my own needs and concerns, the prayers of the Daily Office teach me to pay attention to certain spiritual realities and biblical truths that may otherwise escape my attention.

For example, here is one of the prayers of confession:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against your holy laws.

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and apart from your grace, there is no health in us.

O Lord, have mercy upon us. Spare all those who confess their faults. Restore all those who are penitent, according to your promises declared to all people in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may now live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of your holy Name. Amen.

BCP 2019

And this is how the Daily Office begins, with a straightforward reminder of our need for forgiveness, grace, and the good news of Jesus crucified and risen. I cannot recall ever hearing a prayer remotely like this on a Sunday morning outside of a more formal church liturgy. And while I’m not saying that all churches need to incorporate such written prayers into their worship, I wonder if not having prayers like this (spontaneous or written) has left us more spiritually shallow. It makes me wonder, too, what we are communicating to our congregations about prayer without realizing it.

Then there is the General Thanksgiving prayer:

Almighty and most merciful Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

BCP 2019

Let me simply say, I love how this prayer asks the Lord to give us an awareness of his mercies. It doesn’t presume we are already aware and thankful. Instead, it acknowledges we can very easily take the Lord and his blessings to us for granted.

Even if we just read a prayer like this and take a few minutes to reflect quietly on what it teaches us, we will discover spiritual truths that we may otherwise tend to neglect. Such prayer language can reveal our hearts to ourselves and orient us before God.

One specific type of prayer that blesses me is called a collect. There are a wide variety of these collect prayers in the BCP and they essentially are short, summing up prayers, often thematic, and bracketed by language of praise. Here is one example:

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your grace that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

BCP 2019

One of the most valuable aspects to the BCP and the Daily Office is that it takes you through the book of Psalms regularly. In fact, the whole book of Psalms (in the Coverdale translation) is in the Book of Common Prayer. It is divided into sections for morning and evening prayer, usually consisting of 3–4 psalms at each sitting. If the psalms are longer, then perhaps the morning office will only consist of 1 or 2. I don’t follow this strictly. Because I am more consistent in praying the morning office, I will often read more psalms in one sitting.

In any case, given that the Psalms are the Bible’s prayer book and hymnal, going through the psalter gives us language for our prayers that we might not have without it. Sometimes the language of the Psalms take me off guard. Sometimes the words in a particular psalm makes me uncomfortable. Psalmists, for instance, speak a great deal to God about what they would like him to do to their enemies. But this is important too. It expands our understanding of what we can say to God in prayer and what feelings we can freely express.

Third, praying the Daily Office reminds me I am not alone.

I am often reminded that in the Lord’s Prayer roughly half of the pronouns are plural. Our Father, give us our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses, etc. Our Lord Jesus taught us to pray in such a way as to remind us that we do not pray alone. And, as is clear from the examples above, the same is true of the prayers in the Daily Office. So even if I am praying the Daily Office individually, I am reminded that I am a part of a spiritual family that spans the globe and the centuries of church history. When so much of evangelical spirituality and piety seems privatized and individualized, praying the Daily Office offers a healthy corrective.

Praying the Daily Office also helps me understand that I do not have to construct my prayer life from the bottom up without any help. I needn’t be left to my own devices. The wisdom of believing generations before me is a rich spiritual resource that I neglect to my own detriment. Why deprive myself of that and be left thinking it’s all up to me?

I have one more closing thought to sum up. Praying the Daily Office can be a springboard for our more personal prayers.

Theologian Karl Barth, in his little book Prayer, says this about praying the Lord’s Prayer: “Be content with possessing in the Lord’s Prayer a model, but let your prayer arise from the freedom of the heart.” What’s true of the Lord’s Prayer is also true of the Book of Common Prayer and the Daily Office. It is not something that we should be legalistic about.There are days when I do not use it. Nor does it need to be a replacement for more personal, spontaneous prayers. I have found that in my most blessed experiences in praying the Daily Office, the written prayers lead me into moments of spontaneous prayer.

Of course, praying with the above in mind does not require using the Daily Office. But if you sometimes find that prayer is a struggle or if you find yourself feeling guilty when you lack what you think should be the right words, might I suggest giving the Daily Office a try? It may bless and encourage you more than you think.

Not an “Instantaneous” God

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back with a powerful east wind all that night and turned the sea into dry land. So the waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with the waters like a wall to them on their right and their left.

Exodus 15:21–22

This is not what really happened. At least not according to Cecil B. DeMille’s famous 1956 movie The Ten Commandments starring the late Charlton Heston as Moses. In that film, the parting of the waters happens quickly and spectacularly.

But in the actual biblical account, it takes all night. Commenting on this story, Heather Thompson Day says: “What God could have done in a moment, he chooses to do in a process. We’re concerned with the product, God is always concerned with our process.”

We live in a culture that expects results immediately. Information is at our fingertips whenever we want it. So is all manner of distraction and entertainment. Thanks to smartphones the world is in our pockets, easily accessible with the swipe of a finger. Sometimes a blessing, but perhaps more often a curse.

And we know from all kinds of studies and statistics that smartphones, social media, and the internet have not done our attention spans any favours. Spending an inordinate amount of time on screens actually has the effect of rewiring our brains. We lack patience and are increasingly becoming a society largely ill-equipped to spend serious time in quiet reflection.

And in prayer. Especially insofar as prayer means–indeed, requires–waiting on God. Thinking that prayer is all about the answers rather than the actual communion with God that prayer is, even many who follow Jesus are impatient with God himself. We’re virtually unable to spend more than a few minutes or moments quietly in his presence, seeking him rather than simply seeking what we want from him.

If we were in Moses’ sandals, would we have the patience and willingness and trust to wait all night for the parting of the waters? What about days, months, or years of seemingly unanswered prayers? Or instead do we wait for the answers to our prayers like we wait for a text? Perhaps we want God and his answers to our prayers to operate like an app, with notifications letting us know when he’s received our request and alerting us to his response?

But God certainly doesn’t act according to our timetable. Because it’s not always or only about the end, but about how we get there. Who are we becoming while waiting for God to act? What happens to our souls when we pay as much attention to the process of waiting on God in prayer as we do on what we hope to get from the process? Could it be that God seeks to teach us to want him more than what we pray for?

Our God is not an “instantaneous” deity, ready to respond to our hastily cobbled together and impatient prayers with the convenience to which we have become accustomed thanks to our ubiquitous WiFi culture. No, he means to form us, to shape us, and often this process is decidedly inconvenient. And it takes time, especially given how profoundly our habits have been moulded by our technology. Prayer, seeking God, and growing in spiritual wisdom and maturity require different habits other than those we acquire through hours on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The question perhaps is not whether our God is still a God who answers prayers and acts miraculously, but whether we are patient enough with the process of prayerful waiting to have the eyes to see it.


A Prayer for the Afternoon

For whatever reason, afternoons are my least favourite part of the day. It feels like I’ve finished the best part of the day and I am now waiting for the next best part of the day. Give me instead a productive morning or a relaxing evening with family. Below is a prayer for people like me that I came across with a couple of changes I made. Maybe you could use a prayer like this too.

“Lord God, Thank you for the morning, for watching over me and walking with me. May I find rest and peace this afternoon in all I do, that I may gather strength to work for you until nightfall. Keep me mindful of your presence. And in all I do may I bring glory to you; in the name of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Spirit. Amen.”

Rest for Our Souls

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28–30

For the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said: “You will be delivered by returning and resting; your strength will lie in quiet confidence. But you are not willing.”

Isaiah 30:15

The minimum bar to be enfolded into the embrace of Jesus is simply: open yourself up to him. It is all he needs. Indeed, it is the only thing he works with. Verse 28 of our passage in Matthew 11 tells us explicitly who qualifies for fellowship with Jesus: “all who labor and are heavy laden.” You don’t need to unburden or collect yourself and then come to Jesus. Your very burden is what qualifies you to come. No payment is required; he says, “I will give you rest.” His rest is gift, not transaction. Whether you are actively working hard to crowbar your life into smoothness (“labor”) or passively finding yourself weighed down by something outside your control (“heavy laden”), Jesus Christ’s desire that you find rest, that you come in out of the storm, outstrips even your own.

Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (2020)

My wife gave me a gift this week. You see, she is a teacher who, because of the current COVID lockdown in our province, has to prepare online lessons. She goes to her school to do this. And so our twin sons and daughter have all been doing school online from home. Most weeks she takes the boys with her on a couple of days.

But one day this week, when normally both boys would go with her, one of them wasn’t feeling well. So he stayed home.

So on another day this week, she took our sons with her one morning so I could have time to myself and get some of my work done. I needed it.

And you know what? For a part of that time I sat in our living room rocking chair, did the Daily Office, prayed, read my Bible, and just sat in God’s presence. Quiet. Still. Restful.

What is rest?

If I have a very busy day or week, perhaps busier than usual, chances are I’ll need physical rest. After a hard day’s work, most of us look forward to crawling into bed. A good night’s sleep is a cure for many things.

But we need more than physical rest.

I can also find myself emotionally drained. Maybe I’ve had to deal with a difficult relationship. We all know what it’s like to have a conversation that leaves us feeling wiped. Afterwards, all we want is to rest.

And Jesus invites us to rest. More specifically, he invites us to find rest for our souls in him. And our souls are the heart of who we are. You and I are embodied souls.

While I’m sure it means much more, sometimes receiving rest for our souls means being able to rest from ourselves: our cares, worries, burdens, fears, anxieties, hopes, expectations, disappointments, and failures.

What burdens are you carrying?

What cares are you shouldering?

What’s weighing you down? What’s weighing on you?

Jesus invites you to come to him. To let him unburden you, take the weight off your shoulders, to give you rest for your soul.

But it’s an invitation. Jesus never forces or coerces.

To the church at Laodicea, (Revelation 3:20) believers who had become lukewarm in their relationship to Jesus, he says, See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

But according to the prophet Isaiah, the Israelites—God’s very own covenant people—refused this rest. Refused him.

We do too.

So often we think life, wholeness, contentment, and peace are up to us. That it’s our effort, our strength, our capabilities that will save us.

You see, Jesus gives us rest by giving us himself. His invitation is a gospel invitation. To come in and dine with us—to share table fellowship—is a sign of intimacy and relationship.

In other words, it’s Jesus’ presence that gives us rest. Him. The rest he offers is not separate from him. He is that rest.

This current COVID lockdown seems especially tiring for some reason. Perhaps it’s the cumulative effect. It’s been a long year for many of us.

Yet the rest Jesus offers—indeed, is—is available no matter what else is going on. Circumstances can’t dictate what Jesus can do—who he is, what he offers, what he provides. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Jesus is knocking on my door. He’s also knocking on yours. Rest is possible. We only have to open the door and let the author of rest in.