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.

Sanctification and the Problem of My Inner Jerk

I could be wrong, (and if I am, then clearly I lack sufficient self-awareness) but I think I appear to most people as a nice guy.

But appearances can be deceiving. Or at least only part of the story.

So here’s at least one grand revelation: I’m not always patient. And, more specifically, recently I have often felt impatient. I have felt irritable. Felt frustrated. Annoyed. Our last month of COVID lockdown has not done wonders for my character.

Thankfully, these feelings don’t always spill out through my words and actions. But sometimes they do. Usually in the direction of those closest to me. Often with my kids. I end up raising my voice or growling under it, not because they’ve done something wrong (though that does happen) but because I am simply that much more on edge. It says more about me than it says about them.

Or in other words, I’m not always a nice guy. At least in my thoughts and attitudes, there are definitely moments when I am a jerk. Or as I occasionally joke with my wife, “I’m an insensitive schmuck.”

Thankfully, Christianity is not about niceness. It’s not about being someone who is never again self-absorbed, unkind, or grumpy. Each of us will always struggle with personal shortcomings and character defects. Our personal sinfulness will never be in short supply.

Being a Christian, however, does involve what theologians call sanctification. If we are followers of Jesus indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then we ought to be on the path to, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:13, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. That is, we ought to be growing in the fruit of the Spirit, and our lives ought to demonstrate an increasing degree of Christlikeness.

Or as John, Jesus’ cousin, says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

I think part of the process of becoming more spiritually mature, more like Jesus, is becoming more self-aware. In other words, being aware that the way I just spoke or acted is not in sync with the character of Christ. There are believers who seem to lack this. But growing in our knowledge of God includes growing in the knowledge of ourselves. In what ways do I need to grow to be more like Jesus?

And it also means wanting my inner jerk to decrease and the character of Christ to increase in me. A Christian can never use the excuse, “Well, that’s just way I’ve always been.” Sorry. Jesus isn’t content to leave you the same as you were before coming to faith in him. But not only does he seek to transform our behaviour, but our desires, motivations, and character. And there is no end to this process in this lifetime. God continues wanting to knock the sin out of us.

It’s also about fessing up to our inner jerk when necessary. When we do this while praying, Christians call this confession. We need to do this often. And if our inner jerk finds its way into how we treat others, then we need to say sorry and ask for forgiveness. And family life gives us, thankfully, plenty of opportunities for this!

This is why prayers like the one below from The Book of Common Prayer are a good antidote for the inner jerk we all have inside of us:

Almighty God and Father, we confess to you, to one another, and to the whole company of heaven, that we have sinned, through our own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what we have left undone. For the sake of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins, and by the power of your Holy Spirit, raise us up to serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Now, I know there are evangelical Christians out there–good, lifelong Baptist folks–who would never use The Book of Common Prayer. Too formalized. Too stodgy. Yet I appreciate prayers like the one above if for no other reason it reminds me–because I am prone to forget and wander in more ways than one–that I am a sinner, that I do need God’s grace and forgiveness, and that he seeks to transform me into the image of his Son by the power of the Spirit. This is not incidental but primary. This is the Christian life.

Or to put it another way: God wants to rid me of my inner jerk, no matter how long it takes.

A Prayer for Those Afflicted with Mental Illness

Mental illness, depression, anxiety, and similar afflictions affect all of us. Either we suffer from them or someone we know does. Maybe both. Especially in these days of COVID and other forms of uncertainty and instability, there has been a significant rise of those struggling with mental health issues, including young children. My family is well-acquainted with this experience. I’m grateful that it’s possible to be more open about it now than in the past.

Here’s a prayer for people dealing with mental health issues from The Book of Common Prayer:

“Almighty God, whose Son took upon himself the afflictions of your people: Regard with your tender compassion those suffering from anxiety, depression, or mental illness; bear their sorrows and their cares; supply all their needs; help them to put their whole trust and confidence in you; and restore them to strength of mind and cheerfulness of spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

A Prayer for Quiet Confidence

Each morning I face the temptation to rush headlong into activity of one kind or another. Each morning it takes effort to still my thoughts rather than let them run rampant. Each morning I could easily fall prey to anxiety or expectations, instead of taking some much needed time to draw aside into God’s presence. And sometimes on days when I fail to make space for that “still, small voice,” my thoughts become scattered, my heart unfocused, my attention easily distracted. I can end up more easily irritated and impatient.

Today could have been one of those days. Not that taking time for quiet, prayer, and Scripture will inevitably guarantee not only a better day but a better me, but not taking that time certainly tilts the odds in the other direction.

The Book of Common Prayer (2019) has a section of occasional prayers. Below is one I read this morning. It includes allusions to two separate biblical passages. One is Isaiah 30:15:

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.”

The other is Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God.

It seems like a fitting prayer to share in case any of you are anything like me. Here it is:

“O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we will be saved, in quietness and in confidence will be our strength: By the might of Your Spirit lift us, we pray, to Your presence, where we may be still and know that You are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

So, remember, whatever else this day holds, God is our strength, refuge, and salvation. Take a moment or two to be still and rest in him.

A Prayer for the Night

I’m sure I’ve shared this particular prayer from The Book of Common Prayer before, but it’s worth sharing again. I think it helps us give voice to our broken and yet beautiful humanity in the presence of God. It draws our attention to the available presence of Christ in all dimensions of life. It also reminds us, as our own day draws to a close, that there others, many others, in need of the peace and rest of God in various circumstances. I love how when I can’t generate my own spontaneous words of prayer that prayers such as these are available—that through them I can bring my heart, my life, to the throne of grace.

May the words of this prayer bless and comfort you.

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”

Christian author and Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren recently released a book on this very prayer called Prayer in the Night. While I haven’t read it, I’ve heard her talk about it on a couple of podcasts. She is quite well regarded as a writer.