"The Rhythm of God's Grace: Uncovering Morning and Evening Hours of Prayer" by Arthur Paul Boer

Michael W. Philliber
Tuesday, May 15th 2007
Nov/Dec 2003

For many Protestants, the phrase "Daily Office" is foreign. It could as easily refer to the place where the mayor of Chicago works as to a system of set times for daily prayer. To make up for this ignorance, Arthur Paul Boers's book, The Rhythm of God's Grace, is an accessible introduction to the lost Christian practice of daily morning and evening prayer. The style is easygoing, and the logic is simple. The main thrust of his whole book is found in the subtitle Uncovering Morning and Evening Hours of Prayer.

Some of the benefits of fixed-hour prayer are discipline, a bridge between individual prayer and corporate worship, a sense of the catholicity of the church at prayer, and reliance upon one of God's ordinary means of grace. "Prayer is like that," Boer, a Mennonite pastor, writes, "discipline is no guarantee that we will encounter God, but our chances improve" (84).

Though his approach is not overwhelmingly impressive, Boer does make a good biblical case for having fixed-hour prayers in Chapter 3, "Ancient Rhythms of Prayer." Surprisingly, his arguments claim warrant from both the Old and New Testaments. Though maybe not conclusive, his argument is worth examining. In the Old Testament, for instance, the Psalms refer to prayer in the morning (5:3), early hours (130:6), evening (141:2), and day and night (92:2). Boer argues that the first Christians perpetuated this practice. Jesus and the disciples prayed alone, in synagogues, and in the Temple. The early church also participated in daily prayer (Acts 1:14 and 2:42-47). Some of these prayers even had set times (Acts 3:1). For Boer, the New Testament phrase, "pray without ceasing" (Matt. 7:7-12; Luke 11:5-13,18:1; Col. 4:2; Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 1:2) was a reference to the practice of daily prayer.

Boers's analysis of why corporate fixed hours of prayer fell into disuse is intriguing. He shows how the rise of Monasticism in the fourth and fifth centuries actually began to nurture an individualistic view of prayer, making the hours less corporate and more private. This cluttered up the liturgy of fixed hours, and made the Daily Office less accessible for the laity. As the centuries unfolded, and monastics became popes and priests, this individualism infested the church, and finally turned prayer over to the professionals. He also lays some blame on the reformers and their heirs who reacted against the abuses of Rome. The corporate character of prayer comes through nicely in Chapter 8, "Giving at the Office." Here Boer stresses the importance of using written or rote prayers in a public setting. "Formalized language," he observes, "reminds us that prayer calls us to engage the world on God's behalf and is not just privatized faith" (109).

The Rhythm of God's Grace is not without defects. For instance, Boer confuses the practice of individuals keeping the Daily Office and corporate observance of these set times of prayer. On the one hand, he states that "Christian prayer is intended to be corporate…. Common prayer means we intentionally join in prayer with others" (121). But on the other hand, throughout the book the author regularly talks about following these fixed hours of prayer alone. Even in his one pastoral experience of using the Daily Office, which he comes back to repeatedly, the example he uses is a confusing mixture of individual and corporate prayer. Boer also demonstrates an unfortunate softness toward Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. For this reason he leaves the impression that we are all just traveling up the mountain to God, though using different paths.

Nevertheless, the long-term benefit of this book is the way in which it raises an awareness of the propriety and importance of corporate common prayer. Seminarians, families, and congregations would do well to investigate this book, discuss how it would best be used in their various settings, and see how to imitate an ancient churchly practice.

Tuesday, May 15th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

J. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church