The desert or the oasis: Why you should try fixed-hour prayer

Most of us have heard talks or read articles about how to minister, preach, or lead worship honestly from a place of surrendered brokenness, and we have heard something similar to the following: Moments of feeling completely overwhelmed are inevitable. Fighting for joy and surrender in those times is critical, and crawling toward God in the midst of those things becomes itself an act of worship that will blossom into joy. That’s all great stuff, and it’s true. Those moments can center us and result in worship. The problem is that for many of us, these moments have become a way of life instead of a season we pass through. We were not meant to live in that desert.

Whatever you think about Rob Bell, in this video he absolutely nails it when he talks about how we invite people into a life we are not living.

Every pastor or worship leader (really, anyone in “church work”, whether volunteer or paid) has felt this way during those weeks when everything is going wrong, every moment has been spoken for, and there is no end in sight.  We push through, only to arrive at our worship gathering anxious, exhausted, and uncentered.

The hard, unlovely fact of the matter is that for the most part, my times of exhaustion have not been God-ordained valleys I’ve had to struggle through; they have been self-inflicted deserts I’ve entered through overcommitment and spiritual malnourishment. Bell’s assessment is moving for me precisely because it has described me at different points in my life. I’ve had to find ways of overcoming my own tendencies toward desert living.

One of the practices I have found is the “divine hours” or “daily offices,” which are essentially fixed-hour prayer and meditation. I first picked up Phyllis Tickle’s book The Divine Hours a couple years ago at my brother/friend Aaron’s house and was immediately intrigued, having never encountered it or the Book of Common Prayer before. Fixed-hour pryer is still a fairly new practice for me, but already it has been one of the most rewarding—and difficult!—disciplines I have practiced.  I suspect that this is because it provides opportunity for both spiritual centering and healthy daily rhythms if practiced consistently.  Also, the sort of prayers (often Psalms) used in these books are so different from my habitual prayers that they cause me to look at God, myself, and life in a different way.

If you’re interested, check out The Divine Hours trilogy by Phyllis Tickle, Dawn to Dark by R. Douglas Jones, or Celtic Daily Prayer by the Northumbria Community.

» See more resources in the post Resources for Prayer and the Daily Offices.

» Read more about the balance of work and rest in ministry and life in the post Work and Rest // Tension and Synergy.

2 Responses to “The desert or the oasis: Why you should try fixed-hour prayer”

  1. Nicole Gerdes

    Hey Tristan! Great post! I saw your blog on the news feed via FB, and Rob Bell caught my eye. My husband and I love his books. Have you read Velvet Elvis? I’ve also been [trying to] read Willis’ book about spiritual disciplines. A little tough with 3 kids under 4, ironically. Enjoyed your comments about meditation.

    BTW, if you aren’t already familiar with Ravi Zacharias, I think you’d be really encouraged by him, too. Not related to spiritual discpilines, but from what I remember of you, I think you’d appreciate him.

    Hope you and your fam are well.

    Take care,

    Nicole Gerdes (Anne Miller in high school :-)

  2. good stuff, Tristan. I especially like the distinction between a “God-ordained valley” and a “self-inflicted desert”. Though, in contemplative traditions deserts aren’t always such a bad thing, but I get what you’re saying.

    The image that comes to mind is a tree planted beside streams of living water that’s so focused on bearing fruit that it neglects to grow roots into the fertile soil all around it. Quick fruit and stunted roots. That’s a self-inflicted desert, and in those moments we’re forced to stop bearing so much fruit and get intentional about the roots of our spirituality.

    On the other hand, God may take a healthy tree, bearing much fruit and having well-developed roots, and cause the stream to dry up for a while. That’s a God-inflicted desert, and in those moments the question becomes, “Is God-alone enough, for me to continue expressing my devotion and love?”

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts. It was encouraging to hear about your own journey into all of this monastic goodness.