Morning and Evening Prayer
You are doing what?
I am sure that question or some variance of it is what people are might be asking when they hear about a little rural Nazarene church observing the Anglican practice of the Daily Office as found in the Book of Common Prayer.
One reason that question will come up is for many the term “Anglican” “Daily Office” and “Book of Common Prayer” are completely new and foreign.
So lets start there.
What is an Anglican?
An Anglican is a church or person that is part of the Church of England. Anglican is a medieval latin term meaning of the English people, or of England. The Anglicans in America are known as Episcopalians. Additionally, in 2009 another group of American Anglican Christians formed the Anglican church in North America. Anglicanism is a middle path of sorts between the Catholic and Protestant forms of Christianity. The Anglican church has a rich history and theology. The Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene descend from the 39 Articles of Faith of the Church of England. One of our Spiritual forefathers, John Wesley, ministered as an Anglican priest till the day he died.
What is the Book of Common Prayer?
The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is the official worship resource of the Anglican church. It was Originally compiled by Thomas Cranmer in 1549. Since then it has gone through a few revisions the most recent revision was in 1979. The BCP is “best understood as …a system of Christian formation.” The BCP contains many types of services and prayers from Baptism and Eucharist to prayers for certain occasions and family devotionals. The BCP is a resource that has been used for centuries to nurture and enrich the spiritual lives of generations of believers.
What is the daily office?
The daily offices are prayer services found in the BCP. The daily office helps us see “the life of faith a daily activity that must be consistently chosen from among a hundred other things all clamoring for our time and attention.” These services were especially helpful in a time when most people were not able to read. This would be the primary way they were able to learn and engage scripture and prayer. The two primary offices are morning and evening. Each prayer service has a combination of Scripture reading, recitation of the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s prayer, prayers for forgiveness, and other aspects.
The “what” while important and interesting is not nearly as important as the “Why.” So Why are we having morning and evening prayers based off of a centuries old tradition and practice?
First and foremost this is about Spiritual formation. We want to be made more and more into the likeness of Christ for the benefit of others. Scripture teaches us that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). Our minds are renewed by spending time communing with God in his word and through prayer and by receiving the sacraments.
A very special aspect of this particular prayer habit is that it is soaked in Scripture. There are daily psalms that are read along with the daily Old Testament passage, New Testament passage and a Gospel reading. In addition to that most of the written prayers are also taken from scripture. When praying in this manner you will be saturated and formed by Scripture!
Scripture also instructs us to “Pray without ceasing” To take part in the morning and evening prayers means the psalms and the prayers will be implanted in your life. When you attend the morning and/or evening prayer time you can take a verse or a prayer that stands out to you and spend the rest of the day pondering it, and praying it. If we want to learn to Pray always we must be intentional because “continuous prayer springs from deliberate acts of prayer.” Thus taking part in the daily prayers will lead us to a place of continual prayer.
When we pray in this way our voices are being added to the voice of the cloud of witnesses in a unique way. When we come together for morning and evening prayer as we read the scripture passages for the day and recite the prayers for the day, not only are there Christians across the globe that are praying and reading the same things we are (or have/will be according to time zone), there are also Christians throughout history that have prayed the very same prayers we are praying. All these voices are rising to the throne of our timeless God.
For me these are all exciting reasons to at, the very least spend the season of Lent, praying in this way. However, I also realize there are some that may have further questions regarding such a formal and scripted prayer service. I will do my best to address those concerns.
I want to start by saying — this is all new to me too. This is not an attempt to try and force my preferences on others. It is my desire to allow God to lead us in new ways of encountering God so that in the process we will become more like Christ. It just so happens this new way is several centuries old. With that said let’s look at the possible concerns some may have. On a side note these are all concerns I had have or still sometimes have, so we are absolutely journeying together through this.
Doesn’t having a script for worship/prayer make it boring, tired, old, empty etc?
I think all of the concerns people may have fall into this bucket. The bucket of Formal equals fill in the blank. Formal equals boring. Formal equals meaningless. Scripted equals fake. SO let’s take a look at that idea.
It has been my experience in churches that whenever we want a particular group of people to give up their style of music or their worship preferences for our style and preferences we nail home the idea that worship is not about us or what style we like but about God. This is an obviously true statement that unfortunately never seems to go both ways. It’s “you should give up your hymns because it’s not about you its about God so lets sing the songs I like.” It’s hardly ever, “It’s not about me so it is ok if we do it your way” The worship/prayer time is exactly what we make of it. Being formal, scripted, liturgical doesn’t make it meaningless our attitude does! I would also add that all of those same components (formal, scripted, liturgical) have great potential to add a vast wealth of meaning!
Scripted prayers aren’t real prayers
In the worship class I took while in Bible College I came across a quote by John Wesley that has stuck with me. “Are not the words we speak to God to be set in order at least as carefully as those we speak to our fellow worms!” As a pastor I spend a great deal of time preparing what I will say to the church each week – setting all my words in order. As someone with occasional social anxiety I spend more time than I would like thinking about how to have a conversation. I am sure if you have ever prepared a Sunday school lesson, or been asked to give a speech or delivered a report to a board you can relate. So the question for us is — doesn’t God deserve the same? Especially and particularly in a public corporate worship setting? Or always when we pray should we simply just blurt out what is on our mind?(Ecc 5:2) Don’t get me wrong we should tell God what is on our mind. We should also pray from our heart and simply talk to God. Which reminds me of another Wesley quote, “My heart was so full that I could not confine myself to the forms of prayer which we were accustomed to use… with a form or without, as I may find suitable for particular occasions.”
So, in addition to heart felt spontaneous prayers we can make room for well thought out and constructed prayers to be offered to the king of Glory out of a place of deep honor and reverent fear. Putting a prayer in writing doesn’t nullify it, but it can elevate it. What makes a prayer “real” is The heart of the one praying and the ears of the one listening. God’s got his part covered. Let’s do our part to the best of our ability.
Additionally, centuries-old scripted prayers can and do have a teaching element to them. There are so many they often feel like they do not know how to pray or their uncertainty on what to pray prevents them from praying during Christian gatherings. I ran into this as an elementary Sunday school teacher. One thing I began doing was instead of asking for volunteers to pray I would ask for a volunteer to read the prayer for the day — this helped!
Is it biblical to use pre written prayers?
Yes — that is what the book of Psalms is!
Doesn’t Jesus warn about repetitive prayers?
The passage regarding this is Matthew 6:7 and a related passage is Ecc 5:2. Matthew 6:7 does not warn against repetition but vain repetition. The passage addresses the belief that many words would wear down God and cause him to listen. Another way to understand “vain repetition” is babbling, stammering, incoherent meaningless talking. This is
Praying in this way has been a reminder to me of the transcendence of God. We serve a God who is worthy of our 6 am morning hours and our 6 pm close of the day. We serve a God who is worthy to receive carefully crafted gifts of praise and adoration. We have a God who should be the center of our prayer and our worship. When we enter a worship service that has been aid out completely outside of us — then it becomes about more than our personal preferences or the feelings and emotions we have and it becomes only about our God. It is a beautiful thing if we allow it to be.
Praying in this way also reminds me of our weakness. We are so small and inadequate compared to our Creator. We sometimes are not able to come up with the words to speak and so we pull on the bountiful resource God has given us. He has given the Holy Spirit to aid us in our prayers and He has given us Scripture and He has given us the Christian community that spans the ages — all of these things are a part of these formal and scripted Morning and evening prayers.
The practice of using the Book of Common Prayer for morning and evening prayers is a practice worth exploring. Like I said it is new for me as well. You never know perhaps when we get to the end of Lent it could be something that has been so fruitful in our lives we may want to continue it. Or perhaps it will blossom into other types of prayer practices in our lives throughout the rest of the year.
If you have any questions or comments regarding any of this please feel free to contact Pastor TJ.