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Rhythm of Prayer

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Introduction to the Rhythm of Prayer

Rhythms define our lives. The habits we adopt and the patterns we repeat form our daily existence, direct our decisions and feed our motivations. The rhythms of life bring normalcy to unforeseen disasters and our highest celebrations. This is true of our physical and emotional lives and also true of our spirituality. We were created for a loving relationship with our Creator that is renewed and strengthened by the rhythm of prayer.

By rhythm of prayer we mean regular, fixed times of the day. The morning and the night are often cited in the Psalms as a call to prayer:

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly (Ps. 5:3)

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night (Ps. 63:6)

The rhythm of prayer has a rich spiritual history. “Fixed-hour prayer…actually had its origins in the Judaism out of which Christianity came. Centuries before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Hebrew psalmist wrote the ‘Seven times a day do I praise you’ (Ps.119: 164).” By the time of Christ, the people of God responded to ringing of forum bells that called them to prayer, including both Jews and then Christians. 1 Scriptures teach us that Jesus followed a rhythm of prayer while on earth. Often he rose early in the morning to pray.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed (Mark 1:35)

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16)

With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night (Matthew 14:23 The Message)

As the early church saw in the lives of Old Testament saints and the Lord Jesus Christ a rhythm of daily prayer, they incorporated into their lives this same practice. “…by the second and third centuries the great Fathers of the Church- Clement (c 150-215 A.D.), Origen (c. 185-254 A.D.), Tertullian (c.160-225 A.D.), etc- assumed as normative the observance of prayers in the morning and at night as well as for the so-called ‘little hours’.” 2 Although the Catholic (west) and Orthodox (east) Churches broke fellowship around 1000 AD both continued to practice a form of the “Daily Office” or “Daily Hours” (names given to fixed rhythms of prayer). Likewise, as the Reformation swept Europe, Anglicans produced The Book of Common Prayer (a daily/monthly/yearly rhythm of prayer guide).

Throughout church history, though the wording of the prayers has changed, the rhythm of prayer has remained a spiritual constant necessity for growing believers.

Knowing the biblical and historical call to a rhythm of prayer we might ask how to we join this on-going practice? The writer includes several choices below.

The Psalms

“The Psalms were written as Prayers. God’s people have prayed these prayers for thousands of years as they have sought guidance and help in everyday experiences.”3 Praying through the Psalms, monthly or yearly, morning and evening reveal the common challenges of life, its joys and sorrows and the faithfulness of our loving, caring God.

The Lord’s Prayer

When the disciples asked how they should pray, Jesus answered:

“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one

(Matthew 6:13 Or from evil; some late manuscripts one, / for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.) (Matthew 6:9-13)

“The Didache, a collection of practical instructions for the early church, instructs believers to say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day.”4

The Jesus Prayer:

“The Jesus prayer is recognized in the Church as a very important form of prayer to help us progress in our spiritual maturity by coming closer to a unity with God. Some say it is the only prayer we need to learn. The prayer is very simple. It is said like this: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. This prayer can be said by anyone at anytime. One does not even have to be literate to be able to invoke this prayer. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom says, ‘More than any other prayer, the Jesus Prayer aims at bringing us to stand in Gods presence with no other thought but the miracle of our standing there and God with us, because in the use of the Jesus Prayer there is nothing and no one except God and us.’ ”5

Although we may have a plan to join the rhythm of prayer, there will be times when we just don’t “feel” like praying. There are times for all of us when the routine of the rhythm gets tiresome. We don’t “feel” like shaving before going to work, we don’t “feel” like planning another meal. Yet, despite your feelings, you choose to get up, get dressed and go to work, to drive the children to school, to do those scheduled errands. Your life rhythm goes on regardless of how you “feel” that day. Sometimes you will not “feel” like praying. An invaluable help can be a prayer book that lists your prayers for the day (see endnotes and resources). As you read you can honestly confess to God a lack of desire to pray. Perhaps you will discover that keeping the rhythm of prayer changes the heart. “Sometimes all you have to do is show up.”6

Can You hear, O God, what I have to say?
Do you feel something of what I feel this morning?
I know, O God, that You are grieved
by the selfishness of Your children.
The world you created seems to be falling apart.
Your creatures are living for themselves alone.
They are proud and self-sufficient.
They think they don’t need You any longer.
I also know, O Lord, that I cannot exist
without the assurance of Your eternal love.
Thus I commit myself once more to You and Your purposes.
Help me to walk in Your path for my life.
Give me the grace to overcome the many obstacles in the way
(Psalm 5:1-8)7

Additional Resources:

Bounds, E. M., E.M. Bounds on Prayer .

Barton, Ruth Haley. Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. [use with discretion]


1 Phyllis Tickle, The Divine Hours (New York: Doubleday, 2000),  x.

2 Tickle, xi.

3 Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for All Gods People (Nashville: Upper Room Books), 13.

4 Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro, Common Prayer (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 16.

5 http://www.orthodoxprayer.org

6 Claiborne, 20.

7 Leslie F. Brandt, Psalms/Now (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House), 11.

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