Short…Often…Strongly

Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.
Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open towards Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously.

Daniel 6:9-10

I hear a lot of debate among physicians and nutritionists about the value of several small meals throughout the day.  I await their final verdict on the value of several meals, but of this I am certain: several small breaks for prayer are great for spiritual health. 

I had once hoped for large chunks of time for prayer. but it seemed the large chunks never came.  Then I happened on the words of a man famous for prayer, Martin Luther.  Luther advised people wanting to pray:  “In short, one should pray short, but often and strongly.”  I find that way of prayer quite doable: short, often and strongly.

I am encouraged in this way of praying by the example of Daniel in today’s Scripture.  Daniel was the statesman par excellence; a captive Hebrew who skillfully rose to the pinnacle of gentile world power in Babylon as well as Persia.  But when Daniel was threatened with execution for praying to the God of Israel, he persisted in praying “on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously”!

Might this be the key to Daniel’s wisdom and statecraft, his three times a day discipline of prayer?

I have been helped by the words of Abbot John Chapman about the importance of regularity in our prayer: “The more one prays, the easier it gets; the less one prays, the harder it gets. However, regularity is more important than amount. Prayer is more effective if you have a regular time and place.” (Spiritual Letters)

As I seek to grow in prayer, I do find that regular times of pray invariably expand into the rest of my day and night.  Those set times of prayer become my beachheads for laying hold of God.

We also see the busy, active David, like Daniel, committed to three times of regular daily prayer: “But I call upon God, and the Lord will save me. “Evening and morning and at noon”(Psalm 55:17-17). 

The International Standard Biblical Encyclopedia describes the development of regular times of prayer for the first Christians as they followed the Jewish example:

“Stated hours of prayer were known and religiously observed by all devout Jews…The first coincided with the morning sacrifice, at the 3rd hour of the morning, at 9 AM therefore (Acts 2:15). The Second was at the 6thhour, or at noon…The 3rd hour of prayer coincided with the evening sacrifice, at the ninth hour (Acts 3:1; 10:30). Thus every day, as belonging to God, was religiously subdivided, and regular seasons of prayer were assigned to the devout believer. Its influence on the development of the religious spirit must have been incalculable.”

A Christian document from the first century, the Didache (“Teaching”) calls for believers to pray the Lord’s Prayer morning, noon and night (Didache 8:2-3).

With the Reformation, Luther, Calvin, Cranmer and Knox wanted all Christians to follow set times of prayer.  They taught that all Christians are “saints” called to live holy lives of prayer.  John Calvin pointed to Daniel’s regular times of daily prayer, saying: “Unless we fix certain hours in the day for prayer, it easily slips from our memory.” (John Calvin, Commentary on Daniel)

As with taking on any kind of discipline, I find it is best to start small. We might begin with praying the Lord’s Prayer morning, noon and night, then following the Spirit’s urgings in prayer.  In time we might add the reading of a few verses from the Psalms or Gospels, listening for the Spirit’s leading as we pray.

When it comes to praying, I think Luther said it well: SHORT – OFTEN – STRONGLY.  As we pray like that, we can be assured the Holy Spirit will guide us into new dimensions of prayer and life. 

A fellow traveler,
Tim

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