A Guide to Solitude Introduction: Part 3

Left over Psalms?

You may have noticed that leaves three psalms! If you have your solitude time in the morning, what do you do with the psalms labeled “noon, vespers” and “night”? Quite simply, pray them at those times! At lunch take five to ten minutes and pray the appropriate psalm. At supper, or on the commute to home, pray the psalm marked “vespers” (or you may want to pray that with your family at supper), and then, right as you retire for the evening pray the psalm designated for “night.”

These psalms aren’t meant to serve as limits! If you wish to add a spontaneous prayer to them, then please do so! I think you will find that this practice of praying the psalms morning, noon, vespers and night will change the way you see your day. It will give a rhythm to each day and make you more aware of God’s presence in your world.

Moments of silence

What do you do during the “moment of silence”? As mentioned earlier, this is at least 60 seconds of silence. Do not attempt to do anything other than be silent. Far too often we feel compelled to accomplish some task. Think of it as spending a moment in silence with someone you love. Sometimes there are no words needed—just a comfortable silence when you are aware of the other person’s presence and take comfort in that presence. Spend at least sixty seconds taking comfort in the presence of God.

Is this Scriptural?

Some may question the practice of praying Psalms or following the devotional practice outlined in this book. Obviously there is no command for anyone to follow some codified rule of devotion. This is not offered as the only way to come before God in prayer! So, if one is asking if the Bible explicitly commands that the Christian follow some particular rule for private prayer, the answer is “no.” But this does not answer the question: Is this Scriptural?

There are several texts that give us examples of God’s people and especially the leaders of God’s people devoting themselves to meditation and prayer. Joshua is specifically commanded to meditate on God’s law day and night.[1] Jesus gives us the example of spending time in regular prayer to God.[2] Throughout the Psalms we see the practice of regular meditation on God’s word commanded and pronounced blessed.[3]

The Jews followed a daily discipline of prayers that consisted of four times during the day. One of these times is alluded to in Acts 3:1; 10:1-3 and 10:30. Another time is alluded to in Acts 10:9 and 11:5. In each case we see Peter following the custom.

Early on in the first few centuries of the church there was an attempt to find some sort of discipline for regular prayer. Many appealed to Psalms 119:164: Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws as a model.[4] This led to dividing the day into seven segments: Lauds (praise at dawn), Prime (6:00 a.m.), Terce (9:00 a.m.), Sext (midday), None (3:00 P.M.), Vespers (6:00 P.M.), Compline (before bed-time) and Vigils (throughout the evening and morning hours—also known as watches of the night). During these times the entire book of Psalms would be chanted. The “purists” would chant all 150 psalms each day—while others, a little more practical, would allow for the 150 psalms to be chanted in a week’s time.

Others pointed to texts like Psalm 5:3 and 92:1, 2 as a model for morning and evening devotionals. Needless to say, there is no set format that is commanded of by God. But it is certainly appropriate to have a format for prayer and meditation!

As for the idea of praying the Psalms: our tradition has a wonderful heritage of spontaneous prayers. I would never wish to discourage such a positive thing as speaking to God as one would speak to his or her father or dear loved one—but there is little doubt that the book of Psalms has for centuries been used as the prayer book for Israel, the Messiah and even the Church.

Most often our fear has been that praying the words of someone else would turn into meaningless rote or vain repetitions. Such could happen. But any practice can be abused. I have heard spontaneous prayers about which I wondered. In fact, I have prayed some “spontaneous” prayers when I was a teenager that was little more than babble (complete with ready recollections and guide guard and direct us). And it never has seemed to bother us that many of our songs are, in fact, prayers to God (“Savior, Lead Me Lest I Stray,” “Lead Me To Some Soul Today,” “To Love Someone More Dearly,” “Savior Breathe and Evening Blessing,” etc.). Our challenge is to seriously think through these Psalms and make them our own prayers.

Eugene Peterson calls the Psalms “prayers that train us to pray.”[5] So often our prayers become selfish and ego-driven. Other times we feel that we cannot pour out our deepest frustrations and disappointments before God because it would offend him. Yet the Psalms teach us to become God centered and yet, at the same time, to be able to express even our anger and pain before him.

Again, Peterson would encourage us to open the book of Psalms and to pray these texts in order, consistently, and faithfully throughout our lives. Throughout the history of Christianity, from the first century on, this is how Jesus followers have grown in their prayers.[6] There is nothing complicated about this. It is a practice that needs to be practiced!

Common sense reading

          While I have divided the readings into bite-size chunks to help those grow into the disciplines, please understand this is a concession. The common sense way of reading any piece of literature is to read it all the way through. If you were to pick up a novel or a biography you would most likely spend an hour or two reading straight through the book.

The same applies to books of the Bible. It makes more sense to sit down and read the gospel of Mark through in one or two sittings than breaking it up into 12-16 verses to read each day. I highly recommend as often as you are able, set aside periods of time to read a book of the Bible through in one, two, or three sittings. This is especially useful if the book is a short book such as Philippians. (Perhaps a weekend retreat once every month or quarter. Find a nice park, restaurant, or quiet place away from your home and sit down with a journal and Bible and just read. Make notes in your journal after you have finished reading through the book the first time.)

I highly recommend you take a book like Philippians and for an entire week read the book through every night. This way you become familiar with the text and you will begin to notice themes cropping up each time you read through the book.

Later note (February 4, 2013): Recently, I have been introduced to Biblica’s (formerly International Bible Society) new product The Books of the Bible Bible. This places the books of the Bible in a thematic order rather than the traditional order and it removes all verse and chapter markings. The Bible is printed in a one column format to promote reading the Bible in a natural way. It also comes with its own reading schedule.  I highly recommend you give it a look!

Tonight: Week One. Begin on Monday.

[1] Joshua 1:8

[2] Luke 5:16

[3] Psalm 119:1-176

[4] Of course, one would be hard pressed to demand seven periods of prayer out of this text. The Psalmist is more than likely speaking metaphorically—“seven times a day” meaning that he praises God all day long.

[5] Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 7.

[6] Peterson.


About Darryl Willis

Darryl has been working for non-profits for over 36 years. His current work takes him to Ukraine several times a year. He has fallen in love with the country and the people. Darryl writes poetry and his work has appeared in several online and print journals.
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One Response to A Guide to Solitude Introduction: Part 3

  1. Pingback: A Guide To Solitude Introduction: Part 2 | Coffee Cup Theology

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