Home > Brian's Blogs, Prayer > Praying without Ceasing, part 1

Praying without Ceasing, part 1

One of the most challenging passages of the Bible to actually implement into our lives may be Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica: pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).  What on earth does this mean and is it even possible?

Certainly this passage does not command Christians to pray every minute of the day to the exclusion of any other activity.  If this were the case then even Jesus and Paul did not obey this teaching!  Rather, most New Testament scholars acknowledge that the command is a little more nuanced.  F. F. Bruce summarizes this well:

To “pray without ceasing” does not mean that every other activity must be dropped for the sake of prayer but that every activity must be carried on in a spirit of prayer which is the spontaneous outcome of a sense of God’s presence.  As for thanksgiving, that is the natural response of a heart conscious of the greatness of God’s grace. (p. 127)

The question is, then, how do we get to a point where every activity is carried out in a spirit of prayer?  To expand the question, how do we carry out every activity with a spirit of joy (1 Thess. 5:16) and a spirit of thankfulness (1 Thess. 5:18)?

The answer to these questions may be found in the ancient practice that goes by a number of names: “the liturgy of the hours,” “the Divine Office,” “praying the hours,” etc.  Each of these phrases refers to the same thing: praying at fixed hours throughout the day.

The fixed hours are briefly as follows:

  • 6:00 am – a.k.a. “prime” (meaning “first” hour)
  • 9:00 am – a.k.a. “terce” (meaning “third” hour)
  • 12:00 pm – a.k.a. “sext” (meaning “sixth” hour)
  • 3:00 pm – a.k.a. “none” (meaning “ninth” hour)
  • 6:00 pm – a.k.a. “vespers” or evening prayer
  • 9:00 pm – a.k.a. “compline” or bedtime prayers
  • 12:00 am – a.k.a. Midnight Office
  • 3:00 am – a.k.a. Matins or dawn prayer

At each hour a Christian or group of Christians follows a prescribed set of prayers, most of which come from the Psalms.  That is a lot of prayer!  If we are honest, it is a daunting and overwhelming amount of prayer.  In fact, it simply seems unrealistic.  I know this is how some people feel because I feel it too.

But let’s stop and think about something.  Imagine if we were to pray every three hours throughout the day.  Let’s say this prayer every three hours consisted of praying a few lines of Scripture and calling out to God.  Do you think that would have an impact on our lives?  Do you think it would cause us to think of God more?  To love God more?  To thank God more?  To confess to God more?

And imagine if you did that every day for a year.  What do you think your relationship with God would look like after that year?

I have to confess that I’ve never even attempted to pray the office.  However, I just purchased a copy of Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime.  This is a book that provides three “offices” each day: morning, noon, and evening (consider it a “divine office for beginners”).  I’m going to experiment with praying the office this summer to see how it impacts my life.

So for the next week I’m going to be learning about the offices in preparation for my journey that begins on June 1.  I’ll pass along some thoughts this week on things I’m learning.  Maybe you’ll pick up the challenge as well.

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