This post is a part of an ongoing series on spiritual disciplines, which are tools that bring us into contact with the Lord so that His presence can shape our lives. Learn more here.
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For hundreds of years, monks in monastic orders across the world have paused throughout the day to pray. These structured prayer times are typically called the Daily (or Divine) Office or the Liturgy of the Hours. Since the 5th-century, there have been seven set times of prayer for monastic communities (though in the 6th-century, Benedict added an 8th prayer time).
It’s easy to see how your day would become shaped around and centered on prayer if about every three hours—including the middle of the night—you stopped what you were doing to pray. It would change your focus. God could not be an afterthought.
This wasn’t a practice that was made up in the early middle ages, though. Regular times of prayer throughout the day was a Jewish practice, it would seem, since the time of the Old Testament. It was also a part of the early Christian church.
Consider any mother at home with young children—it’s impossible for them to be forgotten because they keep breaking into her world. They need fed. Diapers need changed. Conflicts need resolving. She cannot lose sight of her children—they wouldn’t let her because they continue to break into her day.
The reality of God’s presence and rule over the day was just as apparent for these Christians. He could not be avoided or crowded out. The day was structured so that He continuously broke in and interrupted their daily activities.
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The spiritual discipline of fixed hour prayer invites us to build hard stops for prayer into our days, to refocus our minds and hearts on the Lord. Most of us now cannot pause eight times each day for lengthy prayer times, like they do in monastic communities. Our family lives and work situations would not allow for it. But we can adopt this practice in a smaller fashion.
If you’re interested in trying the practice of fixed hour prayer, you can start small. For example, begin by inserting one or two brief prayer times during your day, in addition to prayer in the morning and in the evening before bed. Try praying at noon (lunch time) and around 5 (on your way home or while preparing dinner). You can add more times as time goes on, if you’d like. I would recommend deciding on the times ahead of time, so your day moves around them, instead of the other way around. Use the technology at your fingertips and set an alarm on your phone.
These don’t need to be long prayer times—they can be as short as a few minutes. The idea is not long times in prayer but rather short and regular dips into prayer. They can be spontaneous and unscripted, or you can use written prayers and Psalms in a book like Phyllis Tickle’s modern version of the Daily Office, called The Divine Hours.
The purpose of fixed hour prayer is to punctuate our day with prayer, so that our hearts and minds are constantly brought back to the reality of the Lord’s presence in our lives. We’re reminded that He is Lord of our lives, and all our work should be done to glorify him. We can bring challenges or difficulties during our day, remembering that He is our source of strength and wisdom. We’re invited into a brief respite from the frantic pace of life and the demands it places on us, as we quiet ourselves, even briefly to attend to the Lord.
How would your day be different if you stopped during the day to pray?