Let’s continue to explore the idea of routine as a monastic practice, specifically the idea of a routine of prayer. I am becoming convinced that what we order our life around is what shapes and forms us. Israel, Jesus, and the early church ordered their life around prayer and intimacy with the Father.
We do not know much about the prayer life of ancient Israel. What we do know is that it was customary for pious Jews to pray at three separate times. The Jewish day was ordered by three distinct periods of prayer, producing a rhythm for the day. It would have been almost impossible for Jesus to be a pious Jew and not participate in that rhythm, in this praying with the community of the faithful.
This rhythm is found in the scriptures. In Psalm 55, the Psalmist tells us (emphasis mine):
16 But I will call on God,
and the Lord will rescue me.
17 Morning, noon, and night
I cry out in my distress,
and the Lord hears my voice.
18 He ransoms me and keeps me safe
from the battle waged against me,
though many still oppose me.
19 God, who has ruled forever,
will hear me and humble them.
Morning, noon, and night, he cried out to the Lord and knew that the Lord heard him.
Daniel 6 tells the story of Daniel being tossed into the lions den. Daniel’s enemies got a law passed stating that no one could pray to anyone but King Darius. However, Daniel did not follow this order and ended up in the lion’s den. Notice, for our discussion, Daniel’s practices:
10 But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. 11 Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help. 12 So they went straight to the king and reminded him about his law. “Did you not sign a law that for the next thirty days any person who prays to anyone, divine or human–except to you, Your Majesty–will be thrown into the den of lions?”
Outside the New Testament, a document called the Didache became an early manual on the Christian life. It describes the practices of the early church as they tried to work out their faith. In the Didache, we read that the Christians prayed the Lord’s prayer three times per day. While the Didache does not tell us at what hours the Lord’s prayer was prayed, we can make a guess that it was prayed morning, noon, and night.
What we can take away from this is the rhythm of prayer shaped the day of Jesus and the early church. Time was measured by the hours of prayer.
Unfortunately, for us today, our time is shaped by the hands on a clock – when we get up and go to bed, when we go to work and get home or when we eat. It may be that how we understand time is an indicator of what shapes and forms us and what is important to us.
For the early church, time was tied to worship. What altar do you worship upon?
Adapted from Scot McKnight’s book Praying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today