Skip to main content

Ways to Pray: The Daily Office

"Some things", like prayer, William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas remind us, "are too important to be left to chance." And so over the centuries, Christians have passed on ways to help build prayer into our days, and stop it being left to chance. That's what the Daily Office is — not simply a pattern for while we pray, but a pattern for a praying life.

The Daily Office might sound like an odd expression. In fact, you might well have encountered the Office without ever having heard it called that. I first encountered it while I was a university student. In the college chapel, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer were said or sung every day. Some days there was even a later service called Compline. At first I just thought of them as frequent church services. But, although they might sometimes happen to function like that, in places like college chapels and cathedrals, that's not really what they are at heart. Morning Prayer isn't just another name for a morning church service. The clue is in the name. It's Morning PRAYER. And you can pray it just as well at home by yourself as you can in church with a congregation. So, the Daily Office is something some of you might find quite helpful in this time of lockdown when none of us can get to church or meet with a congregation.

The point of the daily office is twofold: to root our lives in prayer, and to root our prayer in Scripture.

For me, that first point — the rooting of life in prayer — works like this: every morning when I wake up I say Morning Prayer, every evening when I finish work I say Evening Prayer, and every night before I go to sleep I say Compline. So my day begins and ends in prayer and God's Word, and my working day ends with prayer and God's Word as well. Sometimes the exact time I say each office differs (depending on what time I finish work, or what time I have to get up), but they always frame my day.

The second point — the rooting of prayer in Scripture — happens through the shape of the office itself. Each office includes Scripture readings (substantial ones from both Old and New Testaments at Morning and Evening Prayer, and a short Scripture reading at Compline), and well as Scripture songs or canticles, as well as some short prayers taken directly from verses of Scripture. So each part of the Daily Office involves reading the Bible, singing the Bible, and praying the Bible. But on top of that, the major focus in the Daily Office is praying the Psalms.

For Martin Luther, praying the Psalms was one of the seven signs that 'a holy Christian people of God are present.' While extempore prayer is important, Ian Stackhouse has reminded Evangelicals and Pentecostals that there is a danger that it "can often be self-indulgent and over-concerned with the immediate aspirations of the church," to which learning to pray the Psalms can act as a counter-balance "as acts of obedience, answering the God who has addressed us."

Stackhouse's book, The Gospel-Driven Church made a huge impact on me when I first read it as a graduate student, and drew me back to the Daily Office I had encountered as an undergraduate in the college chapel. In one section, he makes the case that Pentecostals and other Evangelicals need some form of Daily Office, pointing out that "outside of some set discipline of prayer, involving Scripture, it is becoming more and more apparent that prayer is unlikely to occur."

But Stackhouse points too to the praying of the Psalms at the heart of the Office as something Pentecostals need. This disciplined praying of all the Psalms "is the necessary corrective to a movement burdened by perpetual spontaneity." That might sound like a big claim, but I think these days of pandemic and lockdown help us to see how true it is. Depending on spontaneity isn't much help when spontaneity isn't possible.

Praying the Psalms means expressing the full range of human emotion in prayer, not just the ones we typically expect in a Sunday morning service or on the latest worship album. The Psalms can be prayed in the midst of a pandemic and in times of mourning just as well as they can be prayed on the happiest of occasions. As Stackhouse puts it: "Praying the Psalms routinely ... challenges a fundamental weakness of charismatic theology, namely its inability to embrace suffering and pain."

But praying the Psalms also forms us in Christlikeness. How? Because these are Jesus' prayers. Other than a few prayers recorded in the Gospels, we don't know much of the exact contents of Jesus' prayers, except for the 150 Psalms. Jesus, in his life on earth, prayed the Psalms. He even died with the Psalms on His lips. So every time we pray the Psalms, we joining with Jesus in His own prayers. As Bonhoeffer puts it, the Psalms are "prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us, and through which he brings us into the presence of God." As we pray the Psalms, we let Jesus lead us in prayer, and depend on Jesus in our prayer. It's no wonder then that Bonhoeffer writes that "whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power."

Anyway, this isn't a full explanation of the Daily Office, but hopefully it's enough to make you think it's worth giving it a try.

To help you explore the possibility of praying the Office and seeing what it's like, I'm trying to do a live audio of Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline each day this week. It'll be live on Twitter/Periscope at roughly 8:30am, 5:30pm, and 10:30pm, and then I'll put the post on the blog Facebook page afterwards. I thought it would help to have someone to pray along with, rather than just looking at words on a page. I'll try and sing the Psalms and Canticles most days, but you don't need to be able to sing them to pray the office — you can just say them instead.

And, to be able to pray along, here are the words for each office:

And here are the recordings from today's Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline.

I'll explain a bit more about the full Daily Office in another post soon. But for now, why don't you join me in having a go at praying the Office this week and see if it might be a help to you in prayer. 

P.S. Compline is pronounced Complin.

I've realised that, while I might be used to the old language, many of you might find it more helpful to have a modern language version. So I've put together modern language versions of Morning and Evening Prayer in booklet form, with everything modernised (Scriptures taken from the NKJV), except the Lord's Prayer. (Never confuse people by changing the Lord's Prayer — it's the one prayer nearly everyone knows!)

Popular posts from this blog

These are the Bones of Elisha (Declaring the Word of the Lord)

One of the most curious events in all of Scripture is found in a single verse in 2 Kings 13. That chapter records the death of the prophet Elisha, and yet, there’s still one more story of Elisha here some time after his death. 2 Kings 13:21 tells us:
So it was, as they were burying a man, that suddenly they spied a band of raiders; and they put the man in the tomb of Elisha; and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet. Elisha was dead. And yet when a corpse was thrown into his tomb hastily in an attempt to hide from marauding bands of Moabites, the man came back to life simply by his corpse touching Elisha’s bones. Even as miracles go, that one’s quite impressive.

On the Church and On Sin: With a (former) Tory MP and a Catholic Priest

What with the Extraordinary Synod going on in Rome this week, the Roman Catholic Church has been in the news a bit of late. And as a result of all this pre-synod hype in the media, two Roman Catholics wrote two of the best articles I read last week. One was an article in the Catholic Herald by a priest. The other was an article in the Spectator by a former MP. You should read both of them. (But if you're not going to read both, then please at least read the second one!)

Now, maybe that seems a bit odd. I am, after all, both a Pentecostal pastor and an Ulster Protestant. And as such, I'm convinced that very significant aspects of Roman Catholic theology are seriously wrong. I still believe that justification by faith alone is the article on which the church stands or falls. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't read, and even learn from, Roman Catholics. Although we are justified by faith alone, it is by faith in Christ alone, not faith in the right formulation of the doc…

Money, Money, Money (Must Be Funny, in a Rich Man’s World!)

‘Not the Pentecostals! Watch out – they’ll be trying to get all your money.’
     – The reaction when a new Christian told her Muslim uncle that she’d got saved and           started attending a Pentecostal church. ‘Hello, I’m calling from [“Christian” TV channel]. We have some great deals on advertising during our broadcasts and wondered if the church would be interested.’
     – A phone call yesterday. ‘$11,150’
     – the amount one American church is appealing to raise to produce a worship album $750 plus expenses
     – an American amount recommended as a gift for visiting preachers ‘US pastors paid up to $300,000 - are Church of England vicars getting a raw deal?’
     – recent Headline in Christian Today

£5.75 million
     – the amount of money an evangelical church down south is trying to raise for               building improvements.$25,000
     – the amount two American pastors are raising to produce a six minute teaching video Money has been on my mind a bit of late. Not my …