We’re finishing up our series on the Lord’s prayer this morning. As we saw when the disciple asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he taught them the Lord’s prayer (Luke 11:2). And we have also now sought to learn how to pray by learning the Lord’s prayer.
Let me begin today by asking, “How often should we pray the Lord’s prayer?” Or, “How often do you think Jesus intended us to pray it?” Ever thought about this? One way to answer this is to ask: How often do you need forgiveness? Or, how often do you want to be spared difficult times of testing? Or even more specifically, how often do you need daily bread? Hint – “daily.” The answer for all these questions is every day. Now we could leave it here and have an early morning of it.
But I want to set this question against the background out of which the Lord’s prayer comes, which is the practice of –
This was an ancient Jewish pattern of devotion to God. Daily prayers are set times of prayer in the morning and evening. Here are some examples of this in Scripture –
- Psalm 22:2 – “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.”
- Psalm 88:1-2 – “O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!”
These times of prayer coincided with the routine of the Temple sacrifices. The Temple was, after all, the house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7, Mark 11:17), and prayers were offered up with the sacrifices. And, indeed, the prayers themselves were also seen as sacrifices to God or as a part of the sacrifice. Here are some examples:
- Morning sacrifice: Psalm 5:3 – “O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.”
- Evening sacrifice: Psalm 141:2 – “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”
So prayers are being offered at the times of sacrifice in the morning and evening. It may well be true that the temple routine is the root of this practice of set times of prayer in the morning and evening.
There is also a threefold pattern in Scripture with an afternoon time of prayer added on. Here are a couple of examples –
- Psalm 55:16-17 – “But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.”
- Daniel 6:10 – “Daniel . . . got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God.”
This afternoon time of prayer, when it was observed, was usually shorter. (See also Psalm 119:164)
The actual times of prayer are as follows:
- Morning prayers – 9:00 AM (the 3rd hour)
- Noon prayers – 12:00 PM (the 6th hour)
- Evening prayers – 3:00 PM (the 9th hour)
There was some flexibility here as to morning and evening prayers. It was more casual, perhaps, outside of Jerusalem and the Temple routine. It was more like early morning and sunset, perhaps related to the work schedules of the common person (see Jesus’ practice below).
Now let’s look at –
Jesus and daily prayers
We see this pattern of daily prayers in Jesus’ teaching on prayer. Luke 18:1 says, “And Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” In Luke 18:7 this means praying “day and night” – a reference to daily prayers.
We also see daily prayers in Jesus’ example of praying, for instance –
- He practiced early morning prayers, as we see in Mark 1:35 – “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”
- He also practiced later evening prayers, as we see in Matthew 14:23 – “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” (It was already evening before the feeding of the 5,000 began – 14:15, so this is even later in the evening.)
Let me also share this, because it’s interesting, and it ties in with Jesus’ example. These times of prayer are connected to the cross:
- During morning prayers (3rd hour) – Jesus was crucified
- During afternoon prayers (6th hour) – there was darkness
- During evening prayers (9th hour) – Jesus died
But not only this, in Luke there is a prayer connected to each one:
- At the time of morning prayers – Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” – Luke 23:34
- At the time of evening prayers – Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” – Luke 23:46
So Jesus observes daily prayers, in shortened form, on the cross.
And then at the time of afternoon prayers – the thief prays to Jesus – Luke 23:42. He prayed, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Now, let’s look at –
The apostle Peter and daily prayers
Just going through the book of Act in order, three examples:
- Morning prayers in Acts 2:15 – Peter and the rest were in the upper room in morning prayers when the Spirit fell at Pentecost.
- Evening prayers in Acts 3:1 – Peter and John were on their way to evening prayers in the Temple when they healed the paralyzed man.
- Afternoon prayers in Acts 10:9 – Peter was observing afternoon prayers when he received the vision of the acceptance of the Gentiles.
Peter and the early Christians in the book of Acts observed daily prayers.
And then we have –
The apostle Paul and daily prayers
Paul practiced daily prayers. For example:
- In 1 Thessalonians 3:10 he said, “we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you.”
- In 2 Timothy 1:3 he said, “I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day”
Also, with regard to teaching Paul’s calls to constant prayer should be seen against the background of daily prayers.
- Colossians 4:2 – “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving”
- Romans 12:12 – “Be constant in prayer” that is, be constant in your prayers every day.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:17 – “pray without ceasing” which is to say, don’t cease to say your daily prayers. I don’t think that this is a call to a figurative kind of prayer – ‘to be in a spirit of prayer.’ It’s a call to real prayer at set times during the day.
Bringing this home, let’s look at –
The Lord’s prayer as a daily prayer
Daily prayers are the context of the giving of the Lord’s prayer. In Luke 11:2 Jesus said “when you pray . . .” pray the Lord’s prayer. In this Jewish context this could only be taken as a reference to daily prayers. The background here is that John the Baptist had taught his disciples a set prayer for their daily prayers and now Jesus is saying when you say your daily prayers, say this prayer. That is, during your set times of prayer offer up these five petitions of the prayer of Jesus.
This was understood in the early church, even among Gentiles. In The Didache, a book written for Gentile Christians instructing them how to be Christians, parts of which may be from the late first century, teaches us to pray the Lord’s prayer three times each day (chapter 8).
So we’ve answered our question. How often should we pray the Lord’s prayer? Once, twice, or maybe even three times a day.
We’re not talking about some dead routine or lifeless ritual here. We’re talking about discipline in our prayers. And it’s certainly possible to be both disciplined with set times for prayer and Spirit led, as Jesus and the apostles model for us. After all, who knew more about the Spirit than they? And they observed the discipline of daily prayers.
Now, of course, this doesn’t exclude spontaneous prayer at any time during the day and night, but our focus today is planned times of disciplined prayer.
If you already have a good pattern, I want to encourage you in it and to work in the Lord’s prayer in a way that’s meaningful to you. If you don’t have a disciplined pattern of prayer, I encourage you to try daily prayers with the Lord’s prayer as a focus, remembering that it only takes a minute or two to pray it.
However you want to do it, let’s remember Paul words in Romans 12:12 – “Be constant in prayer.” And that’s the message for today. Be disciplined in your daily devotion to God and utilize the prayer that Jesus gave us for this purpose.