By Pastor Brian Davis
Parker Palmer recounts a time in the Upper Midwest, when at the first sign of a blizzard, a farmer would tie a rope from the back door of his house to the barn as a precaution. Everyone knew stories of farmers who had gotten caught in a sudden blizzard and had no way to find their way back to their homes. Many wandered off and eventually froze to death. Some froze just feet away from their own homes without realizing how close they were to safety.
Pete Scazzero picks up this illustration and likens our lives and our world to a blizzard. We’re overwhelmed by the amount of information coming at us, by our attempts to multitask, and by our overcommitments. We end up disoriented, confused, and eventually lost. And of course our experience of this is heightened all the more during this time of quarantine! Scazzero concludes, “We need a rope to lead us home.”(1)
The Daily Office is God’s rope to us in the midst of the blizzard. It’s God’s way to keep us rooted and grounded in Him and His Word.
What is the Daily Office?
The Daily Office (sometimes called “fixed-hour prayer,” “the Divine Office,” or “liturgy of the hours”) is the practice of stopping at set times during the day (usually morning and evening) to pray and read Scripture. It’s rooted in the fixed-hour prayer of the Old Testament (cf. Ps 119:64, Dan 6:10) that was the common practice for Jews in Jesus’ day. The early church continued to pray at set times after Jesus’ ascension (cf. Acts 3:1; 10:3, 9, 30), and Christians have been doing the same ever since. In fact, the Daily Prayer Project Prayer Guide is a form of the Daily Office with it’s schedule of both morning and evening prayer.
One of the reasons I like both the term and practice of the Daily Office is that it keeps Scripture reading and prayer together in a relationship where each practice encourages and contributes to the other. Scripture reading without prayer can become merely informational and academic. Prayer without Scripture reading can become dry and lifeless. But together they become the foundational way that we enjoy and abide in Jesus.
So as we look at the practices of Scripture reading and prayer, we’ll do so with the Daily Prayer Project as our guide.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”2 Timothy 3:16-17
There are endless ways we could talk about the richness and importance of God’s Word in our life with Him, but for our purposes, let’s just focus on one: the formative power of Scripture in our lives. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul describes Scripture as “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” with the result that one is “complete, equipped for every good work.” As we give ourselves to the regular reading of Scripture, God, by His Spirit, makes us more like Jesus. We begin to experience God’s renewal of our minds, our wills, our hearts, and our loves. We taste and see that He really is good, that His steadfast love really does endure forever, and that He really will keep His promises to us. We begin to view our lives, our mission, and our world through the lens of God’s great story of redemption in Jesus.
But maybe most gloriously, in and through Scripture we actually commune with Jesus. In John 15:7, Jesus connects abiding in him with abiding in his Word. The two are intimately bound together. To dwell with Jesus is to dwell in his Word. There is no substitute for regular Scripture reading in our life with Jesus.
How can we begin to read Scripture regularly? By utilizing the Daily Prayer Project Prayer Guide. Commit to reading at least the Psalm and New Testament passage appointed each day. If you’re able, read the Old Testament passage as well.
Meditating on Scripture
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of waterthat yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.In all that he does, he prospers.”Psalm 1:1-3
Donald Whitney calls the practice of meditation the “missing link” between Scripture reading and prayer.(2) Meditation is a slow, deliberate, prayerful reading of a small portion of Scripture. The focus is not so much on studying the Word as much as it is engaging prayerfully with the Word. This practice is particularly helpful in our Reformed theological tradition that (rightly!) takes the study of Scripture so seriously. Meditation helps us go from knowing about the God of the Bible to actually knowing and enjoying the God of the Bible. So you might take a verse like John 15:9, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love,” and rather than merely studying the love of Jesus for you, you begin to prayerfully experience the love of Jesus for you.
Historically, this kind of sacred reading is called Lectio Divina, which is Latin for “divine reading.” Lectio Divina is composed of four steps:
Read the passage slowly several times. Try reading both silently and out loud. Notice the words, images, and phrases that the Lord brings to your attention.
Focus on the word, image, or phrase that stood out to you. Consider how it applies to your life with Jesus. Mull it over and chew on it. Allow your emotions to be engaged.
Engage intimately and honestly with God. Reflect on what stood out to you and why. Bring that to the Lord in prayer.
Contemplate God Himself as He’s revealed in the portion of Scripture you’ve selected. Enjoy communion with Him.
As you might imagine, you could spend a long time on each of these steps, and hopefully, there will be times when you do. But you can also spend as little as a few minutes for the entire process. Remember we want to engage in these practices in realistic, sustainable ways.
How can we begin to meditate on Scripture? Meditate on a particular verse or passage from the Daily Prayer Project Scripture passages for that day. Do this during the “Abiding” section of Morning Prayer.
“Whatever else it may be, prayer is first and foremost an act of love. Before any pragmatic, utilitarian, or altruistic motivations, prayer is born of a desire to be with Jesus. His incomparable wisdom, compelling beauty, irresistible goodness, and unrestricted love lure us into the quiet of our hearts where he dwells. To really love someone implies a natural longing for presence and intimate communion.”Brennan Manning
One of the great gifts Jesus gives is his personal presence with us, and the central place to enjoy his presence is in prayer. But prayer is hard. It’s hard to slow down. It’s hard to believe he hears us. It’s hard to know what to say and how to do it.
For all of these reasons, one of the best practices for us is praying Scripture–especially the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray Scripture, we take the very words of the Holy Spirit on our lips. God Himself teaches us to pray and gives words to our prayers. As He does, He makes us more into the image of Jesus. Prayer–like Scripture reading–is formative. Brian Zahnd writes, “When it comes to spiritual formation, we are what we pray.”(3)
It might initially seem that praying Scripture would be less personal and intimate than extemporaneous prayer, but that’s not the case. When we pray Scripture, we create space for greater intimacy with God. How so? By praying Scripture–especially the Psalms–we give words to the full spectrum of emotions in our life with God. Scripture invites us to bring our joy and gratitude, our sorrow and lament, our fear and frustration, to Jesus. All of these emotions (and more!) are found in the Psalms. With Scripture as our guide, we’re led to places of deeply personal, honest, and intimate prayer with Jesus.
How can we begin to pray Scripture? Pray the Psalm of the day and the Lord’s Prayer as a part of the Daily Prayer Project. Allow those passages to be jumping off points for extemporaneous prayer.
PRACTICE OF THE WEEK: Use the Daily Prayer Project Prayer Guide
FOR REFLECTION & DISCUSSION:
- How would you characterize the way you tend to read? How has the way you read Scripture been influenced by your reading habits in general?
- What are your main obstacles to reading and meditating on Scripture?
- What is the greatest struggle in your prayer life?
- How would you describe the prayer life with God that you desire?
- How might your prayer life change if you frame it in terms of enjoying your relationship with Jesus?
FOR FURTHER STUDY:
- LECTURE: “Word: Reading, Memorizing, & Meditating” and the accompanying handout.
- This lecture is the second week of a six-week seminar on Spiritual Formation called “Formed in Christ” that I did at Trinity in the spring of 2016.
- LECTURE: “Prayer” and the accompanying handout.
- This lecture is the third week of a six-week seminar on Spiritual Formation called “Formed in Christ” that I did at Trinity in the spring of 2016.
- Dwell Audio Bible App – temporarily FREE for our church here.
- I’m not usually a big fan of audio Bible apps. This one is different. The multiple options and ease of this app have made it something I’ve really enjoyed during quarantine.
- For more on the Daily Office
- For more on Scripture Meditation
- pp. 172-175 in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Calhoun
- For more on Prayer
- Prayer books:
(1) Recounted in Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, 153-154.
(2) Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 71
(3) Brian Zahnd, Water to Wine, 75.