Let’s imagine for a minute, what it would have been like to be a 2nd Century Christian. Christ ascended over 100 years before and because the Apostles took the commandment to go to all the nations seriously, the Church has spread like wildfire. As people encounter Christ, they write down their thoughts and share with others the incredible phenomenon buzzing around them. Up until this point, there has been no clear structure in leadership outside of the apostles and who they left in charge (this is known as apostolic succession).
As Christian liturgy is being formalized, the Church continues to preserve the teachings of Christ, passing down sacraments such as baptism, communion, fasting and prayer in the form of writings. One such writing, or collection of writings, was called the Didache or “Teachings of the 12 Apostles”. Believed to have been written between the first & second Century, it is our first look at the Church organizing itself with liturgy & discipline, including prayer.
The Didache organized the teachings into chapter and verses much like the Scriptures. Within the 8th chapter, we find the Early Church Fathers taught disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer 3 times a day:
8:3 Neither pray you as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray you:
8:4 Our Father, Who are in heaven, hallowed be Your name;
8:5 Your kingdom come;
8:6 Your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth;
8:7 Give us this day our daily bread;
8:8 And forgive us our debt, as we also forgive our debtors;
8:9 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one;
8:10 For Yours is the power and the glory for ever and ever.
8:11 Pray this three times in the day.
This begs the question: why three times a day? You have to remember that the disciples were Jews first and as was custom, there were certain hours a day that you went to pray. Sort of like how in Christian culture, we pray before every meal as the example was set by Christ. You see the tones of tradition in Psalm 55:17:
Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.
And Daniel 6:10:
When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
What does this mean for us as modern day disciples? Well, depends on where you are at in your prayer life. Remember, the ultimate goal of any discipline is to have continual fellowship & experience with God. In other words, prayer becomes second nature. You no longer talk about God like He’s not in the room. Instead, you assume that you will talk to God about everything.
But if you’re not there, that’s ok. The act of praying is taught as we learned in the last post. So maybe for you, three times a day is a great habit to get into, as long as the structure doesn’t negate the purpose.
Christians who pray 3 times a day are no better than those who pray only once a day, nor are they any worse than those who pray 9 times a day. It is a matter of the heart.
Discipline of Prayer Series
Interested in reading more about prayer? Be sure to check out the other posts in the series:
- Spiritual Discipline: Prayer
- Prayer: Lens of Tradition
- Prayer: Lens of Tradition II
- Prayer: Lens of Reason
- Prayer: Lens of Experience