Spiritual growth objective: Devote one or more times each day exclusively to focused prayer from the Bible.
Introduction to the daily office
Life in Christ requires not only continual prayer “side-by-side” throughout our daily activities (see the page “A Praying Life”) but also set times each day for focused prayer “face-to-face” with God. Moses (Exodus 33:7-11) and Daniel (Daniel 6:10) are biblical models of devoting regular times to pull away and pray with God in solitude, and Jews offered prayers every morning and evening during the daily sacrifices at the Temple (Ps. 5:3; 141:2). Jesus himself regularly went away to pray by himself (Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12), and the early Christians also prayed at fixed hours of the day (Acts 3:1; 10:9) and devoted themselves to regular prayers (Acts 2:42; 3:1; 10:9). As the Christian church grew in the early centuries, Christians continued to set aside regular times each day, most often morning, noon, and evening. If the Lord Jesus himself needed and modeled for us the practice of setting aside daily times for “face-to-face” communion with God, how much more do we need this practice in our lives to grow in friendship with God?
Gradually, churches and Christian communities began to develop a somewhat common structure for daily prayer. In some traditions, they called this emerging structure the “daily office” (which comes from a Latin word that means “service”) because this was the official, shared pattern of prayer for the church and one of the most important ways of serving the Lord in dependence upon his grace.
While the details varied across various Christian traditions, there were three important elements common to all:
(1) Praying from the Bible, especially from the Psalms and other biblical prayers.
(2) A daily diet of all four major types of prayer: praise/thanks, confession, lament, petition.
(3) Petitions organized to pray for a wide range of needs.
In many Christian traditions, the daily office included biblical texts and hymns/songs of praise, a schedule for praying through the entire book of Psalms on a continual basis (over the course of weeks or months), other biblical readings to guide prayer, and petitions guided by carefully composed written prayers.
Like all traditions, we should receive these specific historic patterns not as absolute requirements for everyone at all times but rather as wise guidance and counsel from our fathers and mothers in the faith to apply to our own circumstances. Our daily “face-to-face” prayer set aside for God can take many different forms, but learning from God’s work in the history of his people suggests that we need some kind of plan and structure to keep us on track so that we stay focused on the main things: hearing from God’s word, responding in all types of prayers that are guided by God’s word, bringing the full range of our experiences and needs before the Lord, and learning to enjoy his presence.
Why have so many Christians throughout history found these kinds of structures for daily prayer to be wise, practical aids for the practice of praying the Bible and deepening one’s “face-to-face” communion with God? See this article for some important reasons.
Central’s daily prayer guide
Central Presbyterian Church offers a guide for the daily office each day. This daily prayer guide contains orders of worship for morning/mid-day and evening prayer for Monday through Saturday that feature many of the historic elements of Christian daily offices.
Moreover, Central’s guide unites public worship on Sunday to daily prayer so that worship from Sunday echoes and deepens through the week and daily worship prepares us for worship on Sunday. The structure follows the same ancient pattern of worship by which God renews his covenant relationship with us in public worship:
Opening prayers of praise
Confessing our sin and receiving God’s forgiveness
Hearing God’s instruction from his word (with psalms and other readings)
Praying our petitions for the church and the world
Being sent with God’s blessing
Psalms, other written prayers, and the scripture readings correlate with the main themes of the Sunday sermon in order to amplify its impact with further meditation and prayer.
Study and learn the daily office
The following resources can provide some helpful structure as you learn to develop a pattern of daily prayer “face-to-face” with God.
Daily Prayer Guide from Central Presbyterian Church
Subscribe here to receive as a daily email each morning.
Even though this guide provides many components for prayer and may seem lengthy, keep in mind that you can start by using just part of the prayer guide to develop a habit (e.g., praying only morning prayer or evening prayer, or praying just the opening praise and one psalm) and then expand your use to include more components as you become more familiar and comfortable with the format.
The following resources have proven very helpful for people just beginning to use a daily prayer guide. These are not devotionals; rather, they provide short orders of worship for morning and evening with biblical texts and other written prayers to enable us to meditate on God’s word and respond with all the major categories of prayer. Because these selections are very brief, many people who have not previously used a guide for the daily office have found these extremely helpful as a place to begin and to learn.
Phyllis Tickle, The Divine Hours (Volume 1): Prayers for Summertime
Phyllis Tickle, The Divine Hours (Volume 2): Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime
Phyllis Tickle, The Divine Hours (Volume 3): Prayers for Springtime
Provides prayers throughout an entire calendar year with connections along the way to the seasons of the liturgical calendar from Advent through Pentecost.
Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day: A 40-Day Journey with the Daily Office (Zondervan, 2018).
Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Relationships Day by Day: A 40-Day Journey to Deeply Change Your Relationships (Zondervan, 2017).
Ken Boa, Face to Face (Volume 1): Praying the Scriptures for Intimate Worship (Zondervan, 1997)
Ken Boa, Face to Face (Volume 2): Praying the Scriptures for Spiritual Growth (Zondervan, 1997)
The following works provide a short scripture text, a devotional meditation on its meaning, and some questions and prayers to help you apply its meaning in your worship and daily life. These resources can help you develop a daily pattern of pondering a biblical text or theme and responding in prayer.
James Bryan Smith, Hidden in Christ: Living as God’s Beloved (InterVarsity, 2013).
A thirty-day walk through Colossians 3:1-17.
Carolyn Nystrom & J. I. Packer, Knowing God through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional (InterVarsity, 2017).
Jan Johnson & Dallas Willard, Hearing God through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional (InterVarsity, 2015).
Julia Roller & Richard Foster, A Year with God: Living Out the Spiritual Disciplines (HarperOne, 2009).
Beth Moore, Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds (B & H, 2009).
Courtney Reissig, Teach Me to Feel: Worshiping through the Psalms in Every Season of Life (Good Book Company, 2020).
Short meditations on 24 important psalms that teach us how the psalm relates to our lives today and guides our prayers.
(1) Check your understanding.
- Why is it important to set aside time each day devoted to “face-to-face” prayer with God from his word?
- What are the core elements in historic structures of the daily office?
- Why have Christians found structured prayer guides for the daily office so helpful?
(2) Make a plan for when and how you will pray “face-to-face” with God.
Make a plan to set aside one or more times per day devoted exclusively to “face-to-face” prayer, and make a plan for the structure that will provide some content and organization for your focused daily prayer time. Your plan should include these core elements:
- Praying from the Bible (especially from the Psalms and other biblical prayers)
- A regular diet of all four major types of prayer: praise/thanks, confession, lament, petition
- A system to organize your petitions to cover a wide range of needs. This should include the key dimensions of your life, your key relationships and responsibilities, your various kinds of work and service, the needs of the church, your neighborhood, etc.
(3) Maintain realistic expectations.
Give yourself grace and keep starting over. Forming new habits is difficult, and what is most important is not perfection but rather progress. Just get started, and when you fail, return to your plan and give thanks that God is gracious and he is delighted to rejoice over you as you turn to him. As Robert Benson writes, “The secret to a life of prayer, by and large, is showing up.”
Ordinary is good. Every day will not be a spectacular, mountaintop experience. Author Robert Benson rightly compares the discipline of the daily office to gardening: it is hard but wonderful, and daily consistency yields an enjoyable harvest of beauty over time.
For more insight about the history and the practical value of the daily office, see the following:
Arthur P. Boers, The Rhythm of God’s Grace: Uncovering Morning and Evening Hours of Prayer (Paraclete Press, 2003).
A great combination of biblical, historical, and practical introduction to praying the daily office. If you only read one book on the daily office, read this one.
Robert Benson, In Constant Prayer (Thomas Nelson, 2008).
Great practical encouragement about the value of and struggle with the ordinariness of daily prayer from a great writer.