These are reflections on Scot McKnight‘s book, Praying with the Church, that I wrote and shared with a small circles of friends in 2006. I’ve decided to publish them here only lightly edited. Since they are four years old, they don’t necessarily reflect exactly what I would say today, but they do accurately capture my reaction at the time.
In this chapter, Scot begins by outlining how it slowly dawned on him, breaking through preconceptions and prejudices, that Jesus actually participated in the prayer life of his people. Coming to Scripture without those preconceptions, I never doubted it myself, even if I had a hard time connecting it to the things the church does today. It’s a good (some might say ‘postmodern’) illustration of how our lenses distort and shape what we see that a biblical scholar specializing in Jesus studies should have such a hard time breaking free of his particular lens and seeing what was right in front of his face. As soon as he understood that, though, he immediately began learning how to pray not just in the church, but with the church as well.
The rhythm of Jewish set prayers were three times a day, morning, noon, and night. Scot shows some of the biblical instruction for and description of that rhythm. Daniel even refused to abandon the set times of prayer when he knew that failing to do so could cost him his life. Scot then points to Jesus’ reference to fixed hour prayer and the early church’s practice of it in scripture. The Didache (a first century manual on the Christian life) tells us Christians prayed the Lord’s Prayer three times a day.
We need to advance one step now: What is important for us today for spiritual formation is that time for Jesus was shaped by a three-times-a- day sacred rhythm. time was measured by the hours of prayer.
Similarly, we must learn to allow prayer and thus God to shape and form our lives by shaping and forming our days and our time. “Jesus came of age in a Judaism shaped by a three-times-a-day-we-all-stop-and-pray- together sacred rhythm.” But it’s not about “establishing exact rules and times.” Rather, it is about learning to consecrate our whole day to God.
Rhythmical prayer sounds simple: Just stop what you are doing a few times in the day to pray with others, whether we see these others or not. But there are few things in life as hard as establishing good habits.
We need to find a rhythm and stick to it until it becomes a habit. For me, I’ve found the Shema as Jesus revised it a starting point and something I can pray each morning and evening and spend a moment reflecting on as I pray.
“Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And the second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
As I say that, knowing it is also the thought and mind of Christians around the world, it becomes increasingly difficult to forget it during the course of the day.