by Amber Mann Riggs
At 9:00 am each morning, my children and I drop what we are doing, gather in the living room, and drop to our knees to “pray like Daniel prayed.” My husband joins us when we drop again in the evening, as the six of us anchor our hope in Christ as a family.
It hasn’t always been like this. But the coronavirus pandemic has given us a fresh perspective on what it means for it to be “time to pray.”
Don’t get me wrong. We’ve always had family prayer times. Just not like this.
What is Fixed-Hour Prayer?
The practices of the contemporary church want to frame David as waxing poetic when he sang,
Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice (Psalm 55:17 NIV).
David was desperate, we rationalize. Of course, he was crying out at all hours of the day.
But Daniel’s story paints a much more literal interpretation:
Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before (Daniel 6:10b NIV).
These were no casual, “I’m gonna toss a thought up to God” three times a day type of prayers. These weren’t “I’m gonna pray throughout my day because I’m so spiritual” type of prayers. These weren’t “I’ll pray while I’m waiting at the stoplight” type of prayers.
There was nothing haphazard about it. These were planned breaks in Daniel’s day.
And they weren’t secret. Daniel’s enemies knew exactly when and where he prayed. How? He prayed at the exact same time and place every day.
These times of prayer were fixed in his schedule and took precedence over everything else.
How Early Christians Practiced Fixed Hour Prayer
These prayer times were so deeply ingrained in the rhythm of Jewish life that Jesus surely lived out his days to the cadence of their devotion. Perhaps it was during one of these prayer times that his disciples asked him to teach them to pray.
If we fast forward to Acts, we see the disciples gathering for “morning prayer” on the Day of Pentecost. It was during the noon prayer time that Peterhttps://baonline.org/its-all-about-equipping/ received a vision while praying on a roof. God chose the mid-afternoon prayer time to send an angel to Cornelius as well as heal a man through Peter and John.
In the Didache, the first-century teachings of the apostles on devotional practices of the church, we read their admonition to pray the Lord’s Prayer three times a day.
But these practices didn’t die out with the apostles. Rather, we still see evidence of three fixed-hour prayers a day in the writings of church leaders through the third century. They saw it as a way to undergird Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing. This devotional practice was deemed so valuable, Benedict’s practice of seven established times of prayer, in an echo of Psalm 119:164, became popular within Christendom.
How Fixed Hour Prayer is Changing Me
I have been reading about fixed-hour prayer for about fifteen years.
But the idea of fixed prayer times intimidated me. My schedule was already jammed packed. Praying before meals, bedtime, and when I felt a stirring to talk to God was working just fine. Surely I didn’t need to work my to-do list around another, well…to-do.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Confinement at home gave me more control over my own schedule, and I recognized the opportunity to realign my days with more intentional priorities.
Sometimes the prayer time forces me away from a project I’m working on. And it reminds me that even if I believe this project is in service to King Jesus, if it supersedes time focused on His Presence, then that project is in vain.
It takes me out of my workspace and insists that I take a break from finding my value and meaning in performance and accomplishment.
It takes all of my pent up feelings of lack of control and reminds me to – once again – lay them at the feet of the King. After all, He is the only one who has the power to stop this thing. He is the One who bestows divine wisdom. He is the bringer of peace.
It has reminded me that the time my family spends directly recognizing HIs Kingship is truly the most important time of our day. And the most important thing in our lives. Not what we do for Him. But rather our recognition that He is King and an ever-deepening revelation of the significance of His reign.
What We Pray
I’ve been sobered to realize how often my family prays the same things over and over again. Same thoughts. Same requests. Same words.
And yet God is so vast that He has revealed much more of Himself than what we have personal visibility to. He is working in ways and places that elude our imaginations.
So we borrow words.
We often start by borrowing the words of the living creatures who constantly surround God’s throne with praises of “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8 NIV).
We pray the prayer of Jesus that God’s Kingdom would come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We pray the words of David, “Teach me Your way, O LORD, that I may walk in Your truth. Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11 Berean Study Bible).
Inspiration in Prayers of Early Christians
We’re finding inspiration in the prayers of that great cloud of witnesses as well:
Most loving Father, you will us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on the One who cares for us. Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested unto us in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (Book of Common Prayer).
Grant unto all Kings and Rulers, O Lord, health, peace, concord, and stability, that they may administer the government which Thou hast given them without failure. For Thou, O heavenly Master, King of the Ages, givest to the sons of men glory and honour, and power over all things that are upon the earth. Do Thou, Lord, direct their counsel according to that which is good and well pleasing in Thy sight, that administering in peace and gentleness, with godliness, the power which Thou hast given them, they may obtain Thy favour. O Thou Who alone art able to do these things, and things far more exceeding good than these, for us, we praise Thee, through the High Priest and Guardian of our souls, Jesus Christ; through Whom be the glory and the majesty, unto Thee, both now and for all generations, and forever and ever. Amen.—Clement of Rome.
These prayers also serve as prompts to take our own hearts, minds, and words, to new places.
A Few Moments of Sabbath
One of the most significant devotional practices of my life has been that of setting aside one day a week as a day to enter into a manifestation of the rest we have in Christ. Every to-do of my everyday life is scheduled around that day. Do I need to go grocery shopping? Vacuum? Do laundry? Finish that assignment from work?
Jesus demonstrated that everything we need to do in order to keep life running – even doing His work – can be done in 6 workdays.
His practices illustrate the same thing is true for prayer times. They were part of the rhythm of His life. And His most loyal disciples practiced this same rhythm for centuries.
We don’t have to multi-task through our prayers. Our daily work isn’t so important that we have to squeeze in prayers when we get a spare moment. Rather, Jesus gives us the grace to arrange our lives around times of divine stopping. To remind ourselves that our work only has meaning and success because of His.
Has your schedule changed during this pandemic? Consider adding one fixed time of prayer into your day. It doesn’t need to be longer than a few minutes. Once you find rest in its rhythm, you may find yourself adding another.