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.

The Daily Office for Families

My lovely wife put together a Word document of the Family Prayer section of The Book of Common Prayer. It includes short prayer services for morning, midday, evening, and the close of the day. This is how we occasionally practice the Daily Office as a family. Typically, we’ll use the one for the end of the day, often called “compline.” Sometimes I like using the early evening one instead, with its focus on Jesus as the light and use of the Phos Hilaron.

I should say that using this sort of resource doesn’t make us an especially spiritual family. Our family life is messy, often loud, and not all of us get along perfectly all the time. So our use of the Daily Office takes place within our family life as it is. More than anything, using the Daily Office forces you to slow down and stop and reflect—and to acknowledge intentionally that God is at the centre of our lives. Even when you don’t always want to or don’t feel especially holy or spiritual.

If you’re interested, here’s the link to the Family Prayer part of the Daily Office. There’s also an app for The Book of Common Prayer (2019). Below you can download the document my wife put together.

Maybe you wouldn’t normally use a resource like this for all kinds of reasons. But if you find that your usual way of doing devotions, reading Scripture, and spending time in prayer isn’t working like it once did, it’s ok to change things up a bit. Or as we say in our family, “Mix it up a little!”

Perhaps this will bless you. If it does, feel free to share the blessing with others.

Pardon and Peace

While I was doing the morning office, one of the prayers was for the assurance of forgiveness following a prayer of confession. It goes like this:

Grant to your faithful people, merciful Lord, pardon and peace; that we may be cleansed from all our sins, and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (2019)

What struck me were the words “pardon and peace.” Because both are important. Pardon refers to God’s forgiveness of our sins. Peace refers to the assurance of forgiveness.

God doesn’t only want to forgive us; he wants us to know we have been forgiven. He invites us to live in this forgiveness. We needn’t hang on to our sins–through shame and guilt–after we have made confession and received God’s pardon. Receiving his pardon and peace means we can rest in his presence, knowing nothing stands between us.

Psalm 103:12 says that As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

1 John 1:9 says If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Have you ever continued to feel guilty or ashamed after you’ve confessed sin?

Have you ever tried to work a little harder at serving God to pay him back for what he has freely given?

Here’s the truth: We owe God everything; we can give God nothing. At least nothing he needs.

More to the point, we give him our need, our thanks, our praise, and our love. Yes, we serve him. Not to earn his gift, but to express our gratitude for it.

So let’s not hold on to what God has removed. Instead, let us move ahead joyfully because our Redeemer Jesus has indeed given us pardon and peace. Take to heart Jesus’ own words when he says Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. 

Feelings, Facts, and Faith

I don’t always “feel” spiritual.

Whatever that means.

Not only that, sometimes I feel positively unspiritual.

Again, whatever that means.

But maybe you can relate. You pray, but it feels like you’re talking to yourself. You read Scripture, but nothing springs out of the text as a joyful surprise or as a source of conviction. You go to church week after week, but wonder, “Is this it?” Your faith and church just doesn’t seem to be working for you like it once did.

I think if we’re honest, we all experience this sort of thing as Christians. Though possibly in different degrees. For some, the experience feels spiritually debilitating. Others have a short season of the spiritual blues.

There’s a word for this: Blah. Or maybe malaise. At more serious times, melancholy. It feels like God is absent. Theologically, it’s called by some “a dark night of the soul.”

I think of Psalm 42:5:

“Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?

Feeling this way doesn’t mean we should give up on talking to God, let our Bibles gather dust on a bookcase, or stop attending our church. Even when we don’t experience meaning in our usual spiritual practices, we shouldn’t conclude they are meaningless in themselves. Much less should we give up on the Christian faith.

Trust me, I know what it’s like to be spiritually weary, to wonder if God is still doing something in my life and through my ministry. I understand what it means to feel an inward sigh when thinking about all the stuff related to church.

So I suppose the real question is what do we do when we go through this sort of thing?

Start with this. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

Put another way, our feelings don’t always tell us the truth about reality.

I recall Timothy Keller once saying “Doubt your doubts.” You have permission to doubt what your feelings are telling you about God, prayer, church, Jesus, the gospel, and the Christian faith. Feeling like God is absent doesn’t mean he is. Feeling like church is pointless doesn’t mean it is.

I heard a sermon today in which the pastor encouraged us to remember Jesus’ resurrection whenever we find ourselves experiencing a long night. We all need to hear this because we will all experience a long night of one kind or another.

So the first thing is this. Jesus’ resurrection is fact. He who was dead and buried was raised from the grave and is now alive. Whatever I am feeling, I can cling to this. I can cling to him. Because his resurrection means hope. It means eternal life. It means peace and assurance and comfort in the face of life’s difficult times. It means my feelings aren’t always right.

Even so, our feelings are sometimes an indication that there is something which needs attention in our life. So I’m not saying ignore your feelings. But be careful not to let them have their way with you.

It could be there are unsettled spiritual or theological questions rummaging around in your mind. It’s wise to address these questions carefully and prayerfully.

There’s the possibility that some unconfessed sin has created a barrier between yourself and God. Not always, but be aware this might be so. Be willing to fess up; but if you pray and wrack your brain and can’t think of an unconfessed sin, don’t make this into an extra unnecessary burden.

It’s also possible that no matter how hard you think about it, there doesn’t seem to be any clear reason for why you feel like you do.

Here are a few suggestions about how to respond to such an experience in no particular order:

  1. Talk to a close Christian friend or your pastor. Speaking your struggles normalizes them and often is a relief. Just having someone listen–really listen–and respond with understanding and grace will help you realize that you’re not alone and that what you’re going through isn’t as weird or unusual as you might think. Maybe find a prayer partner who would be willing to meet with you a few times a month.
  2. Tell God how you’re feeling. You don’t need to clean yourself up or hide your feelings when you pray. Not. At. All. There’s a whole category in the Book of Psalms called psalms of lament, where the psalmists cry out to God with their feelings of abandonment and hopelessness. Pray them as your prayers. Here are a few examples: Psalms 42, 74, 79, 85, and 88.
  3. Mix things up a little. In other words, try doing your devotions differently. Start a prayer journal. Draw on resources like the Daily Office from The Book of Common Prayer. Find good, theologically sound books that talk about the spiritual life and what it means to have an intimate relationship with God. Go for a prayer walk. Let God speak to you through his beautiful creation. In other words, change your spiritual routine. If all you’ve been using for 20 years is the Our Daily Bread devotionals, maybe it’s time to try something else.
  4. Keep on praying, reading Scripture, and being connected to a worshipping Christian community. These are the basics of the Christian life. Everything else we do connects to these things in some way. Scripture tells us who God is. Prayer is asking God to be who he is in your life. And community reminds us that we don’t do any of this alone. Consider that you might not be the only person in your church feeling the same way. Maybe if you ask, God will lead you to that someone and you can bear one another’s burdens.

I think the most important thing in all of this is to remember that God is with you no matter how you feel. Your emotions don’t determine how God looks at you or feels about you. Countless saints and believers down through the ages have gone through what you’re going through. Some are going through it right now.

Here’s the thing: if you’re going through something like this, it could be an indication that God is inviting you into a deeper experience of his presence. Perhaps he is trying to grow your faith, to help you mature. Actually, I think he’s always trying to do this with us. Finding yourself in a spiritual wilderness might be God prompting you to walk more closely with him. He seeks to discipline us and to remove from us all the other stuff we can find ourselves relying on except him. Moment of truth: sometimes that’s painful for us.

I know there’s a great deal more that could be said by others who are smarter and wiser than me. Still, I hope some of this helps someone in some way and touches upon genuine truth here and there. In the meantime, here’s a Collect for the Spirit of Prayer:

“O Almighty God, you pour out on all who desire it the spirit of grace and supplication: Deliver us, when we draw near to you, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”