Our class was recorded Sep 18, 2019, and starts at 16:35 in the video below. Feel free to follow along by clicking through the slideshow above. Many thanks to Brothers Eddie Fisher and David Smith for filling in for me this week.
Our class was recorded Sep 11, 2019, and starts at 21:08 in the video below. Feel free to follow along by clicking through the slideshow above.
Before stepping into these times of prayer, a brief note on the format may be helpful.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
~ Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV ~
What do we, who today no longer have any fear or awe of the darkness or night, know about the great joy that our forebears and the early Christians felt every morning at the return of the light? If we were to learn again something of the praise and adoration that is due the triune God early in the morning, then we would also begin to sense something of the joy that comes when night is past.
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, ch. 2 ~
O God, you are my God; early will I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Gloria Patri (Minor Doxology)
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo (Greater Doxology)
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” [Luke 2:14]
We praise you, we bless you,
we adore you, we glorify you,
we give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King,
O God, almighty Father.
Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
you take away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us;
you take away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.
you are seated at the right hand of the Father,
have mercy on us.
For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Benedictus (The Song of Zechariah, Luke 1:68-79)
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people,
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouths of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies,
and from the hand of all who hate us,
to perform the mercy promised to our fathers,
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him
all the days of our life.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise from on high has visited us,
to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Kyrie Eléison (Gk.; repeat each line three times)
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name;
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
Our class was recorded Sep 4, 2019, and starts at 12:23 in the video below. Feel free to follow along by clicking through the slideshow above.
I love starting each morning with a good cup of coffee and the word of God. For several years I’ve tried to read a few chapters each day, making my way back through the Bible’s story of redemption by the end of the year. And on days when my reading is shortened or pushed to later in the day (or the next!), I feel a bit off.
It reminds me of what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2Co 4:16 NKJV). Despite everything else going on in the world around him, Paul knows why he does what he’s doing, and the One he’s doing it for.
With a little unpacking, he even tells us how that renewal comes about: the glorious light of the gospel of Christ is a treasure that God himself stores up within us, in our hearts and our bodies (2Co 4:4-7). It is his overwhelming power, shining through his word that renews our inner humanity. In short, the gospel belongs in our heart.
In fact, if we look back through Scripture we should begin to notice just how important this is to God:
God’s own power for daily living, and daily renewal is opened up to us through the power of his word. What is perhaps surprising, though, is what Paul commands the church to do in order to get the word into their hearts: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col 3:16).
Catch that? Paul says we need to learn to sing. That’s how we treasure up God’s word, how God writes it on our hearts, how we keep it on the tip of our tongues, how we meditate on it all the day, and how we walk daily in the grace of Christ. That doesn’t mean we shelf our Bibles; it means we learn to sing the Word! Understanding the role of song and prayer helps us in two important ways.
First, it helps us go back and look at what the early church actually did. Kind of like last week, it shifts our question from, What should the church do? to What did the church do? What did daily devotions look like in the early church? Here’s a quick outline:
If we were to picture the shape of daily prayer, it might look a bit like this, with the Lord’s Prayer at the center, the canticles connecting the gospel to the big picture of the Bible, the Psalms making up the largest biblical cycle of songs, and our own human hymns pointing us back to the Bible:
The earliest model for praying these prayers and singing these songs was a twofold pattern. This is actually the closest to what I do daily, and it looks a bit like this:
By the end of the fifth century this morning-and-evening pattern expanded in many places to include prayers at midday and at night, kind of like this:
The second way this helps us is in shifting our focus and reordering our priorities in our daily times with God. When we open our Bibles each day, it is not primarily about receiving information or intellectual knowledge. It is instead about growing toward and knowing more of the One who speaks to us through his word (2Pe 3:18).
Quite simply, the example of the early church points us back to praise. As the apostle Paul said, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Th 5:16-18). Or as another Paul once said, “what is fundamental to the early understanding of daily prayer is that the real aim is unbroken communion with God,” all else is merely “a guide and aid towards the practice of ceaseless prayer” (Paul Bradshaw, Daily Prayer in the Early Church, p. 151). So even if we look at the second-, third-, and fourth-century Christians and say, Thanks, but no thanks, their example still helps us envision older and better ways to incorporate song and prayer in our daily walk with God.
What follows, then, is a simple presentation of these four times of daily prayer, using the fourfold pattern outlined above. After each one, I’ll also offer a class video and slideshow to walk through “a psalm, a hymn, and a spiritual song” used at that time of day by the early church. But as we go along, don’t forget why it all matters. Like the apostle Paul said to the early church: The gospel belongs in your heart. Teach one another that good news with every song you sing and every prayer you pray. Live out God’s own wisdom and grace. Grow more into him, and you will find your strength for the day.
This lesson was recorded July 24, 2019, and starts at 31:15 in the video below. It was only after this lesson that I realized I’d need way more time to cover the subject in depth. So now, it serves as an introduction to our new series: “Ancient Words.”
Several years ago, I remember talking with two friends about our greatest spiritual struggles. When my turn came, I didn’t hesitate to answer: I struggle to pray. I found it hard to speak to Someone I couldn’t see, or to speak from the heart, or to even know what to say or when. And until a few years ago, I couldn’t really say I had improved. Maybe you’ve found yourself in the same boat.
So where do we begin? One of the simplest ways I’ve found to think through such questions is the simple and well-worn phrase, What Would Jesus Do? (You may even still have your bracelet!) But I want us to take it one step further, asking a slightly different question: What Did Jesus Do? In other words, if we look to the example of Christ, what lessons can we learn from how he prayed?
In the Gospel of Luke, we find this same approach adopted by the apostles: “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples’” (Lk 11:1 NKJV). And Jesus did; even giving them an early form of what came to be known as the Lord’s Prayer or the Model Prayer (11:2-4). We’ll get to that a little later, but first, let’s focus on some principles of prayer from Jesus’ own prayer life.
When we look at the role of prayer in the life of Jesus, the first thing we notice is that he prayed habitually. When we think of the word “habit,” we usually think of bad things, but habits can be good too (1Co 15:33; Lk 4:16). And one of Jesus’ habits was to pray: “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Lk 5:16). The custom was so strong, that Judas knew exactly where to find Jesus on the night he betrayed him—he knew the Lord would be praying (Lk 22:39; Jn 18:2).
So how often are we talking about? Well, that’s the second thing Christ teaches us. To make something a holy habit and a way of life you have to make it a priority, so Jesus prayed early and often. “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mk 1:35). Before he did anything else that day, before anything else could get in the way, before anyone could find him (and they did; 1:36-37), Jesus set aside time to pray. But this was not the only time; he also “went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Lk 6:12). Before daylight and all night. For Jesus, prayer wasn’t just something he did, it was something he sought opportunities for each day.
But he didn’t always pray alone. When the opportunity arose, Jesus prayed with others. And, boy, did it make a difference! On one such occasion, after praying, Jesus asks the disciples who he is (Lk 9:18-20). Peter’s answer still amazes: He is “The Christ of God.” Another time, just a week later, the Lord “took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray,” and there they witnessed Jesus not only praying, but transformed into all his heavenly glory, talking with Moses and Elijah (9:28-30). For Jesus, times of prayer became opportunities for inviting the disciples into the really good news that he is the Messiah.
We also find that the Lord prayed passionately. In his last moments with his disciples before his arrest, he prays, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Lk 22:42). What always strikes me here is not the angel who then comes to strengthen him, nor even his sweat, “like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (22:43-44). It’s actually what Mark tells us: “Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words” (Mk 14:39). Read that again: our Lord Jesus Christ—the One who spoke the world into existence, the One who speaks on every page of Scripture, the Word who became flesh—was praying so intensely, so passionately, that in that moment he ran out of words. All he could do was repeat himself. And for the first time… ever, his Father turned his face away.
Which brings us to our final point from Christ’s own example: he not only prayed to God, he prayed with God. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds his disciples of this point. He says, Don’t get caught up in how long you pray or how many words you use, “For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Mt 6:7-8). Don’t forget who is really working when you pray: your Father. Not just “my Father,” Jesus says, but yours and mine. When we pray, we speak to our Father, Jesus prays with us, and the Spirit comes alongside us to help (Jn 14:12-18). When we pray like Jesus, we use his own words to bring glory to God, and God in turn fulfills our joy (Jn 15:7-8; 16:24). Don’t treat prayer as a duty, or a good work; treat it as an opportunity to commune with our holy and triune God.
So how do we put all that together? How do we start the holy habit of daily prayer? How do we follow in the steps of Jesus? For now focus on this one thing, the same thing Jesus gave to his disciples: learn the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:9-13 N/KJV) and use it as an introduction or outline as you pray each day. If you already read Scripture each day, use the Lord’s words to pray through that passage. If you’re not quite there yet, think of other ways to turn your heart from the mundane to the holy, like praying though your newspaper, your bulletin, or even your newsfeed. Make prayer a priority, pray passionately about what concerns you most in the world, and remember with whom you pray: “For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”