I was interviewed by a reporter for the Chicago Tribune yesterday who is working on a story about “fixed-hour prayers.” She discovered my interest via this blog site. Having just begun my day with fixed-hour prayer I want to comment on this ancient Christian discipline again.

Phyllis Tickle, who authored a useful three-volume series called The Divine Hours, notes: “Like a double helix rendered elegant by complexity and splendid by authority, the amalgam of the gospel and the shared meal with the discipline of the fixed-hour  prayer were, and have remained, the chain of golden connection tying Christian to Christ and Christian to Christian across history, across geography, and across idiosyncrasies of faith. The former is known as the food and sustenance of the Church and the latter as its work.” It is as if there is a two-fold strand—the sacrament of the holy meal and the daily prayers.

What surprises many Protestants when they first encounter this idea of fixed-hour prayer is that the practice is deeply rooted in both Judaism and the work of the earliest Christians. Consider Psalm 119:164, “Seven times a day I praise you.” This is not an accident of once-a-day devotion. It is a practice the Psalmist plainly followed. Scholars do not agree on the exact hours that the Jews followed for their set prayers (they likely altered them through their history and cultural contexts) but there is no doubt at all that they prayed in this ordered way.

This Jewish practice carried over into the early record of the Christian Church. You can see this plainly in the book of Acts. The first apostolic miracle occurred when Peter and John were on their way to the afternoon prayers at the Temple at three o’clock. And Peter’s vision of the descending sheet came at noonday on a rooftop where he was praying, observing the sixth hour prayers. We also know the early Church quickly incorporated the Psalms into its daily prayers according to Acts 4:23-30, demonstrating that from earliest remembrance the Psalter was at the core of fixed-hour prayer. (Evangelicals get this partly right by encouraging daily reading of the Psalms.)

By the second and third centuries many Church Fathers (Clement, Origen and Tertullian as examples) encouraged such fixed-hour prayer and viewed them as normative in the life of the Church. Though these prayers could be said alone these early Christians never thought of themselves as praying alone since they were following a pattern employed by Christians everywhere and at the same time. This, in fact, was part of the genius of the practice—it united Christians before God as a community of faith and prayer.

In my background evangelical Protestants never practiced such disciplines. It was, well to put it simply, “too Catholic.” We were mistaken, for sure, but ignorance is never so invincible as when you are certain that you know all the facts. And we knew for sure that anything ordered like this could not be the work of the Holy Spirit. And we were quite sure our prayers should not written, set, fixed or ordered in any way. This would cause prayer to become rote and thus lead to meaningless babble. Such practice would destroy the spontaneity of prayer, which we saw as essential to real prayer.

The problem with all of this reaction was that our prayers were very fixed, often once a week on Wednesday night at “prayer meeting." They were also very predictable. If you heard one deacon pray you had heard them all pray. And in terms of impacting the community these prayers were generally very inconsequential. If truth be known most of us were disinterested and bored. (I was a restless kid who wondered why prayer was so meaningless to the adults around me.) We talked a lot about prayer but we did very little of it and it had nothing at all to do with building a community of faith and practice.

Today fixed-hour prayer is making a comeback, not only among Catholic and Orthodox Christians where it was never lost, but among evangelicals, especially younger evangelicals. This is a good thing and can only mean further reformation is on the way.

When I was asked by the reporter, “Where did your interest in this begin?” I answered, “By reading a biography of St. Benedict.” My journey was different than most, or so I would guess, but once I began to study spiritual formation seriously, and then taught it  as a course at Wheaton, I had to deal with St. Benedict, one of the greatest Christians who ever lived. His disciplines and practices deeply impacted my own life and still do. Check him out, you will likely be forced to grow in ways that you may well need and may not have known you needed. There are plenty of places to start, several mentioned above. And the Internet has a wealth of information on this subject if you begin a search. The important thing is that you pray, and pray with discipline, as part of the Christian community and the holy tradition.

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  1. The World According to Bruce February 7, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    Fixed Hour Prayer

    John Armstrong has written an excellent post concerning Fixed Hour Prayer. You might be like me and are saying about right now.uh, I dont have a clue about what Fixed Hour Prayer is. Welcome to the land of Evangelical ignorance.

  2. canadian February 8, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    Interesting post. Could you possibly expand on the details of this somewhat? I have Scot McKnight’s book “Praying with the Church” in my wishlist but would like to know more. The individual focus of prayer today could use this idea I think.

  3. Robert Leblanc May 30, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    I am a Catholic who has practised and benefited from fixed hour prayer (Liturgy of the Hours) for many years. One of my ongoing frustrations has been trying to interest my fellow Catholics in it. Curiously enough my evangelical friends are more interested willing to participate in it than my Catholic friends. Go figure.

  4. MICHAEL KLAPPER July 2, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    Praise the Lord of all glory. Holy is the Lord . Worthy of all the Honor and Might. As the angels bow down before the might Lord. http://www.mattredman.com have a song that say were angel dare to thread.
    To day under the leading of the Spirit of the Lord God, went to this adult site, for only one purpose to reflect the light of the gospel of Christ. The Spirit of the Lord lead me to people that wear backslid en, hurting and with out hope.
    Who am I that God use me in such a way, the resp once was good. But it showed how busy the enemy is, I was in the enemy camp, Lord send your angels to that heard your word through this broken vessel, if you can use me oh Lord. If one person will come back to you the loving Father, you are not mad at them, but waiting for them with out stretch arms.
    Lord, I pray that you put laborers in there path, filled the Holy Ghost and the fire of God, we can not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ. We want to see what they saw in the books of act, we as the body must return to the fear of the Lord. The one person said that she went to church, is that enough to say we to church.? It can not be enough, when so many are get draw into this, we as the body of Christ must pray for re vival, that a great re vival will come and there will not be enough epople to work in this businesss.
    Im calling for a 7 days of fasting for all that can, start monday to see the the chains that have these bound fall and break away, to take back the land. Sound the trumpet, for the war is at our front door. We must engage the enemy with the weapons of the Lord and see what God will do. MICHAEL B. KLAPPER
    8517 CEDROS AVE. # 1
    ZIP 91402
    July 1, 2007

    Dear Friend,
    My dearest friend I have been through some more fire, and trying and testing of my faith. Replace this, with the joy of the salvation for the Lord did leave heaven for. He knew the test that would befall upon Him self, but yet text did not keep Him from His journey . At time I feel like some of the people of old, that say I will not make mention of His name any more, but then it was, as if some thing over took them, as a runner in a marathon, beyond the point of being so tired, that you keep running, because you have no other option.
    You are tired, weary, beat, broken, so what to do? Do you sit there and give up, or in your pain and failure, will you call out to the Lord, that love you, cares for, and see all that is around you. Fear not for the Lord our mighty God is the helper, the redeemer of those that call upon the name of the Lord. As it says who ever that calls upon the name of the Lord, the God of a second chance and a third, and a fourth chance. God has called you for such time as this, yes it’s wicked, but how great is our God, do we focus on the enemy to much? Do we talk more of the enemy than the goodness of the Lord. It says that when the spoke of one another of the Lord, God wrote down.
    ISAIAH 26:8 Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee.
    ISAIAH 64: 6 But we all as an unclean thing. And all our righteousness’s are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our inequities, like the wind, have taken us away.
    MALACHI 3:16 Then they that feared the Lord spoke often one to another: and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name.
    Let us remember that it is the Lord that call us, saves, and has a plan for us. That being said, then what the Lord waits for us, is to hear us to say “ here am I”, at that point it is no more about us any more. Years ago before coming to the saving knowledge of Christ as my Savior , I said “ Lord, get me out of this and I go any where for you”.
    This is what Christ want of all of us, remember from where Christ has brought you from. What would you be willing to die for?
    There is nothing else for to die for, but for a friend and this what Christ has done for you, all you need to do is to believe upon His name. One day we all must die, let me ask you this, what if to-day was your last day where would you spend all of eternity, time with out end.

    Yours in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    With my life hide in the shadow of the cross of Christ.
    Michael B. Klapper

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