How many times should we pray each day?
The ancient Christian Monastic Orders developed the day around seven prayer times. They were 6AM Matins, 9AM Trece, Noon Sext, 3PM None, 6PM Vespers, 9PM Compline, and rising at Midnight forone more prayer.
The custom comes from Psalm 119: 164 where it says, “Seven times a day, I praise you for your righteous laws.”
The monastic rule took this literally. It is also possible to understand the number seven as an ideal number representing being complete. The four corners of the earth plus the three heavens, make a full and complete universe. And praying seven times means to be always full of prayer.
This the meaning of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 ” Pray without ceasing”.
Buddhists describe their meditation practices as either formal or informal. Formal practice may involve gathering with others, going to a special place, and commitment to a particular method of puja or meditation. Informal practice is bringing compassionate and wise awareness into every day life.
In the same way prayer can be formal or informal. We can gather together, and go through a number of unified and expected pracrtices in Sunday mornings for example. We can have a formal prayer of thanksgiving before a meal. On the other hand, we can bring an attitude of compassionate grace, peace, and awareness of the presence of God with us wherever we go.
It seems that our founding apostles who were all Jewish, practiced the custom of praying formally three times a day. These were around 9AM, Noon, and 3PM. This comes from Psalm 55:17 “Evening, Morning, and at Noon, will I pray, and cry aloud, and God shall hear my voice.”
Jesus did not hinder the practice of corporate public prayer. But he warned against showing off. He taught that our own personal prayers should be done in secret, so that we would not be doing it in order to be praised and respected by people. If it is secret it really becomes a God thing. The saying is true that everyone has a public life, a private life, and a secret life. Jesus wants us to bring God into our secret life.
Pray all the time. Pray seven times a day. Pray three times. Pray publicly. Pray privately. Pray secretly. Pray out loud. Pray in silence. But pray.
Next we will look at what to pray.