I’ve been sending out a little Twitter/Facebook reminder fairly faithfully at 3:00 p.m. (in whatever time zone I live) to call the faithful to prayer, apparently for about four years now. Someone sent me a kind response of appreciation today — which has happened many times before, from different folks.
But their message of encouragement got me to wondering: Why isn’t this the customary time of prayer for believers today?
Especially believers in my tribe, the churches of Christ, who pride themselves on restoring New Testament Christianity through detailed observance of what the church of the first century did?
Does the idea of having a time of prayer at some point or points in the day sound too Catholic (or, God help us, too Muslim) for us to observe in detail?
Or is the real reason that it’s an inconvenient time, and like the dying custom of giving thanks at the dinner table even when dining out, it embarrasses us in public (the reason) and might possibly offend some (the excuse)? Because I’ll admit there are days when my reminder doesn’t get sent because I am in a meeting and it’s perceived as impolite to fool with your iPhone in the middle of a meeting.
Or is it interpretational? Do we see this as a merely Jewish custom (Lord, forgive us if we did anything that Jewish folks might do, too) that the apostles participated in for merely cultural reasons?
Because it IS right there in scripture, Acts 3:1:
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.
And if we claim to do what the early church did, that’s more precedent for us doing it than we have for a lot of other things we do.
So if it’s disregardable because it is a cultural phenomenon, what are the parameters for declaring a practice in the New Testament church binding for all time or cultural-and-therefore-optional-or-even-forbidden?
No, really. I’m asking.
We in churches of Christ generally make a big deal about celebrating the Lord’s supper every Sunday because of a singular example of it being done (or it being intended to be done) on a Sunday (Acts 20:7ff). So it’s not because this time of prayer was only mentioned once. Right?
And how does it work for fasting, which the disciples certainly practiced frequently, and certainly in times of great concentration on seeking God’s will and favor. Cultural? Disposable? Or should we be imitating the example of those believers much, much more often?
You see, this is my whole problem with viewing the scriptures through an exclusive lens of CENI — command, example, necessary inference — as if the only thing of value God wanted to communicate to us was what we’d better daggum well do, or else.
But let’s just go with it for the sake of argument. These are examples that could be followed, and there are lots more, whether believers buy into CENI as a hermeneutic for all scripture or not, or whether they value the Restoration Movement principle of mimicking the early church in every detail or not.
What makes some of these examples-of-church-practice and even some commands/instructions (greeting others with a holy kiss, for example) discardable, but others binding-or-else-hellfire-and-damnation?
And — please take a moment to read this soberly and slowly, and let it sink in — doesn’t pursuit of an answer to that question just put us right back into the mode of being led by the letter of the law to the extent that we’ll even write it ourselves, whether it’s what God has scripture saying to us or not?
Won’t we have to start making rules and categories about when and by whom and how each one is permissible, appropriate, divisive, binding, optional, beneficial?
Is that what we’re called to do? Write rule books where the Bible is silent?
Shouldn’t we rather be led by the Spirit to observe great examples out of the yearning of our hearts and the joy of experiencing what believers of Century One experienced, and ministering to the Lord and to others in ways that we’ve read and understood were tremendous blessings to the saints of old?
I don’t know why a customary time of prayer, and customs like fasting, and practices such as greeting each other with intimate affection have never caught on in a big way among churches of all kinds, and all over the world. I know there are pockets where they are as common as sand in the desert.
I do know that for the believers in those pockets, they are as great a blessing as God Himself can give.
And that’s reason enough for me to keep posting my little reminders when my iCalendar buzzes me at 2:45 each day.
Maybe even when I’m in meetings.
4 thoughts on “The Customary Time of Prayer”
Thank you Keith for your 3:00 pm reminders. I will try to do better in paying attention to what the time is.
I thank you, as well. I let things be my excuse for not doing it enough. “I’m at work” is a good excuse. I stop what I’m doing at work if I need to talk to God about something. I need to want to do this.
I am adding this quote from this post because I really like it.
“Shouldn’t we rather be led by the Spirit to observe great examples out of the yearning of our hearts and the joy of experiencing what believers of Century One experienced, and ministering to the Lord and to others in ways that we’ve read and understood were tremendous blessings to the saints of old?”
I think you nailed it with that sentence.
I agree completely. So many of the worship practices I do, not because I believe they’re commands, but because I feel they’re beneficial & will be a much-needed blessing for my spirit.
And yet there are so many practices of the NT church that we overlook, for whatever reason. I would imagine having a customary hour of prayer–a set, regular time that, no matter what you were doing, you stopped to talk to the Father, because He’s just that important, and your relationship with Him is just that important–well, I would imagine that to be a tremendous blessing.
Thanks for being our reminder on this so often, KB.
In Acts 3, when they went to the temple at prayer time, it was the time that the Jews met for prayer, Jewish custom. We have liberty in Christ in some things. We are to pray. When we come together as a body we are to pray. Outside of that we have liberty, when, where, how often, we can decide for ourselves. If we were to decide that all Christians must pray at 3pm, we would be binding where Christ has not. Your reference to “the letter of the law” 2 Corinthians, accrues when we try to follow the old law, in context that’s what the Galatians, Ephesians and Jewish Corinthians did. They wanted to bind old covenant law not only to them selves but to the Gentiles as well. As we also see in 2 Corinthians the new Covenant is much more glorious, rejoice in it.