Monasteries were known for their scheduled prayers throughout the day. Regular times of praying and meditating on the Word are spiritually nourishing. Under normal circumstances, we are packing lunches, rushing out the door, negotiating the commute to work, responding to emails... the list goes on. The opportunity to retreat to a holy huddle can be very enticing during the craziness of life! Indeed, there are benefits to retreating from the world for a time and learning again how to "be still and know" that he is God (Psalm 46:10). Although Christians shouldn’t return to the cloistered lifestyles of monasticism, we have been “forced” into monk-like living (for a time) with our current COVID-19 pandemic lock-down.
Since we have more time and more flexibility with our time, Christians ought to be capitalizing on the opportunities we have for prayer throughout the day. In a previous post, I mentioned following some of the prayer times used by monasteries for your own times of prayer and reflection.
In this post, I want to begin examining ways to keep our prayers fresh and focused.
Ways to pray
1) Reading Prayers
The Bible doesn’t provide an explicit blueprint on how we should pray. There are guides on what to pray, such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, or the recorded prayers of so many Bible characters, especially the Apostle Paul. Such portions of Scripture are an essential and very helpful guide to praying. I hope to write more on this in my next Monk’s Guide post.
In this post, I want to reflect on ways we can pray throughout the day while working from home in lockdown. Besides scheduling times for prayer, we can also use tools to help us stay alert and engaged. One tool I use to start my day with an attitude of supplication is reading written prayers from church history. I use a book of collected prayers (see image below). While I am waiting for the kettle to boil for my morning cup of Joe, I pop open this book to the Morning Prayer of the day and prayerfully read the short poem. I often read the evening prayer before I go to bed at night. The written prayers help to focus my thoughts on crying out to God. Especially during my morning of pre-coffee grogginess.
I should note that there has been some controversy in the history of the church about “reading” prayers versus speaking “extemporaneous” prayers. The truth is I believe we can benefit from both sorts of praying. Both ways to pray can be Spirit-led and authentic or they can be dead, repetitive doggerel. I have heard “extemporaneous” prayers that really consist of several stock phrases memorized through repetition and strung together as though it's an off-the-cuff prayer. I have also heard very liberal congregations recite rich and theologically profound liturgical prayers and not mean a single word.
Evangelicals often balk at written prayers, yet they would also balk at extemporaneous preaching. Although congregations don't want their preacher to read his notes, they are thankful that he has prepared his message in advance. We also sing pre-written hymns in worship, so why wouldn't we be open to pre-written prayers?Whatever the case, I have been tremendously blessed by inspiring times of extemporanoues prayer and from times of prayerfully reading well-crafted prayers-of-old. In your own private mediations (as well as public worship), I believe there is a place for using both written prayers and extemporaneous prayers. I find that reading a prayer teaches me how to pray. These prayers often apply biblical and theological truths to real living. Reading and speaking aloud these prayers have a way of softening my heart and humbling my spirit before the Lord. During my personal devotions, I have also read from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Such prayers have helped train my heart and mind for extemporaneous praying. It is way of “priming the pump” of my own personal praise, pleas, and confessions before the Lord. These pre-written prayers have also taught me how to pray the Bible more effectively. In the next post, I will examine the best source of what to pray, and that is praying the Bible itself. Nevertheless, reading the written prayers of saints like Spurgeon, Calvin, and Luther are helpful aids in showing you how to speak to God in your daily circumstances.
2) The Posture of Prayer
Another helpful tool to praying is to remember your body. In his excellent book on prayer, Letters of Malcolm, C.S. Lewis writes, “the body ought to pray as well as the soul. Body and soul are both better for it.” I don’t always pray on my knees, but I do find that the taking on a posture of prayer has often helped in times of particular weariness or distraction. Praying on your knees doesn’t make my prayers more holy or more acceptable to God. Only Jesus makes our prayers acceptable and pleasing to God. What this posture does is use our bodies to help our spirits pray. Pride is one of the great obstacles to prayer, and kneeling helps foster humility. We sometimes forget that we have bodies as well as souls. We need to be spiritually minded in our physical activities as much as being physically minded in our spiritual activities. In short, variety of postures can help us keep engaged, focused, and in the right frame of mind during times of daily prayers. Joe Rigney helpfully summarizes Lewis’s advice:
It should be no surprise that communing with our Creator requires the commitment of heart, mind, and soul. Such is the commandment given to us in both the Old and New Testment (see Matthew 22:37). Paul also speaks of offering our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). We know in practice that our physical weariness or appetities can have a tremendous impact on our spiritual experiences, so it should mean that how we use our bodies (eating well, sleeping well, exercising, etc) as well as our physical posture can also have positive impacts on our spiritual lives as well. Likewise, meditating and praying have a positive impact on our physical bodies. According to several studies done in “Blue Zones” (areas around the world with unusually long-living inhabitants), a key ingredient to health and longevity is regular times of prayer and meditation. Reading—another habit of monks—also prolongs life! Maybe those monks were on to something!
3) Praying on the Move: prayer walks
Another helpful aid to praying is going on a prayer walk. We are stuck in our homes, but that doesn't mean we can't go for a stroll in the neighbourhood and lift up our hearts and thoughts to God in prayer as we do so. Pastor and author Mike Wilkins writes that he developed a helpful habit of walking and praying early in his ministry. As he walked a neighbourhood block, he devoted each side of the rectangle to different topics of prayer. He notes, “A very significant thing about my ‘walking in prayer’ has always been that, for the entire event, I remained mentally alert.” Sitting in prayer, he writes, often leads to “drowsing in prayer.”
Make the most of your lock-down and carve out some times to pray throughout the day!
Next Monk's Guide post: What to pray... Praying God's words back to God!
 C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm (New York: Harper Collins, 2017), 21
 Rigney, Joe. “C.S. Lewis and the Role of the Physical Body in Prayer.” Crossway, April 23, 2018. https://www.crossway.org/articles/cs-lewis-and-the-role-of-the-physical-body-in-prayer/.
 Bavishi, A., Slade, M. D., & Levy, B. R. (2016). A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity. Social science & medicine (1982), 164, 44–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.07.014
 Mike Wilkins, Four Forty-Four (London: Tellwell, 2018), 9.
Jeremy W. Johnston
Christian, husband, father, teacher, writer.