When I was a Muslim, I found that the practice of praying five times each day was one of the most amazing things that I had ever (and still have ever) done. It was such a balancing force in my life, causing me to go to God multiple times throughout the day for peace, attitude checks, and for a strengthening of my faith and commitment to God.
After leaving Islam, I really lamented the loss of those set hours of prayer. To add to that, I’d had many experiences in the church that made me feel guilty about the fact that I even desired set prayer times in my Christian life. I was told, directly and indirectly, that having set times for prayer was legalistic, an empty ritual, or flat out un-Christan. My prayer life really suffered because I couldn’t pray without feeling guilty or foolish about praying in the way that had always worked best for me.
When I began looking into the history of the Christian faith, I found that the idea of having set prayer times – or “hours of prayer” – is very much supported in the Bible and in Christian tradition! There is no requirement to pray at certain times of the day, but the heroes of the old testament, the apostles of the new testament, and the leaders of the early church all adhered to a practice of having set prayer times. I was so happy to discover this!
After this discovery, I started experimenting with different prayer books such as the Book of Common Prayer, the Agpeya, and other Orthodox/Catholic books on prayer. It was such a relief to find that my personal style of worship has had so much validation throughout the Bible and throughout history.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes pray extemporaneously. I think extemporaneous prayer is great and has just as much scriptural validation as recited prayer. Still, for me, nothing beats having those set times in which I can renew my devotion to God throughout the day.
As I’ve learned more about the tradition of having set times for recited prayers each day, I have come to feel less embarassed about making it a part of my life. I have realized that a spiritual practice can only become legalistic when you try to force it on others or make it the standard by which you judge whether or not a person is truly spiritual. Having recited prayers only becomes an empty ritual when I lose sight the meaning of the prayers I am reciting. And given the history of the hours of prayer – nothing about them is un-Christian.
In the end, God “search(es) and examine(s) the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve” (Jeremiah 17:10 – read the entire scripture in context here). Whether you pray by silence and meditation, at an altar with candles and icons, with recited prayers, or extemporaneously – God is looking to see the position of your heart. Make sure it’s upright.
What’s your prayer style?