In the Old Testament
It may come as a surprise, but there is no explicit command in Scripture to have a time of worship each day, either as an individual or as a family. And yet it is a habit that every Christian believer or Christian family is encouraged to practice. The name of the habit may vary depending on one’s Christian tradition or background—“devotion,” “quiet time,” or “personal or family worship”—but the basic elements of Bible reading and prayer are usually present. I have opted for the general term “daily worship”; it covers a time of personal or family devotion while maintaining the vertical dimension of worship. But from where do we get this idea of a time of daily worship, which consists mainly in Bible reading and prayer? The answer is that the practice is implied in a number of Scriptures.
In Genesis, God says that he chose Abraham so that he might command his children and his household to keep the way of the Lord (Gen. 18:19). This would involve Abraham having a time in the day or week to teach his family and servants what God had commanded him. In Deuteronomy, God commands Israel to love him with heart and soul and mind and strength, a love that is to be expressed by parents taking every opportunity during the day to teach their children the words of God (Deut. 6:5–6). In Joshua, after Moses dies, God exhorts Joshua to be “strong and very courageous” by being careful to obey the law of Moses (Josh. 1:7). The command implies that Joshua would need to familiarize himself with the books of Moses throughout his life, a discipline that would require regular, systematic reading of the sacred text.
At the end of his life, Joshua declares to Israel that his commitment to God is not just personal but familial: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15). For his family to serve the Lord, Joshua would first have to know the law of Moses for himself before instructing his family in it. The practice is reflected in the Psalms where Israel is encouraged to tell the glorious deeds of the Lord to the next generation (Ps. 78:4). The prophetic books contain a similar idea of personally hearing from God in his word before passing on the revelation to others. In Isaiah, the servant of the Lord is said to be awakened “morning by morning” to listen to God’s instruction (Isa. 50:4) before he undertakes the work to which God has called him. In Amos, God says that he does no great work in history without first revealing his secret to his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7). In Ezekiel, the prophet is told to eat the words of God from the scroll as a symbolic gesture of first digesting the word of God for himself before proclaiming it to Israel (Ezek. 3:1–2).
In each of these examples—with Abraham, Israel, Joshua, Isaiah, Amos, and Ezekiel—it is reasonable to think that the personal reading of Scripture or the familial instruction from Scripture would have also involved times of prayer. This is supported by the fact that the canon of Christian Scripture contains its own prayer book. The book of Psalms includes individual and corporate prayers (e.g., Pss. 3; 96) mixed with encouragement to meditate on God’s word and his promises (e.g., Pss. 1; 119).
In the New Testament
The New Testament reflects similar sentiments on reading the Scriptures and praying, either as an individual, a family, or a church. Jesus frequently asks the Pharisees, “Have you not read?” as he rebukes them for not knowing their Bibles (Matt. 12:3, 5; 19:4; 22:31; Mark 12:10, 26), which means that he believed that they ought to have been reading the Old Testament for themselves. Jesus also teaches on corporate and individual prayer. On the one hand, the Lord’s Prayer is intended to be a public prayer said by the church, seen in the plural forms that run throughout it: “Our Father in heaven. . . . Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:9–13).
On the other hand, individual prayer is something Jesus envisages being performed alone, in private: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Matt. 6:6). So, according to Jesus, there is a time to pray together as a church and a time to pray on our own. We see a similar focus on reading the Scriptures and praying in the writings and lives of the apostles. Peter encourages Christians to crave the spiritual milk of God’s word like newborn infants (1 Pet. 1:24–2:2), while also exhorting them to be alert and sober-minded so that they might pray (1 Pet. 4:7). In his epistles, Paul commands the public and private reading of Scripture (1 Tim. 4:15; 2 Tim. 3:15), alongside prayer (1 Tim. 2:8). He reveals the content of his own personal prayers for the churches (Eph. 1:17–19; 3:16–19; Phil. 1:9–11; Col. 1:9–12), while also encouraging believers toward a similar commitment to daily prayer: “Be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12) and “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
Finally, family instruction from the Scriptures, along with prayer, is implied in Paul’s exhortation to fathers to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). So it is clear from this brief overview that while there is no explicit command to have a time of daily worship as an individual or a family, consisting in reading the Scriptures and praying to God, the habit is certainly assumed or implied in a number of places.
If this is so, then some questions arise: How should we structure our own daily worship? What should we do and how should we do it?
At a basic level, it obviously involves hearing from God in Scripture and responding to him in prayer. However, can we be more intentional and creative than that? I think we can be. For example, we know that Jesus would rise early in the morning to spend time with his Father. Was this worship time structured or random? I think that we have good reason to believe that it was structured. For one, Jesus knew the Old Testament Scriptures comprehensively and precisely, and he could only have attained such knowledge if he was reading God’s word regularly and sequentially. At the very least, he would have heard the consecutive reading of Scripture at the synagogue.
Second, when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he provided a basic structure in the Lord’s Prayer of adoration, petition, confession, and further petition. So it is reasonable to assume that when Jesus spent time with his Father each day in worship, he had a system for reading and meditating on the Old Testament as well as a structure for praying. Following our Lord’s example can only serve to improve our own daily worship in terms of Bible reading and prayer. In regard to Bible reading, the last few decades have seen a more systematic read-through-the-Bible approach. This is a welcome advance from the more random verse-a-day reading plan. Systematic reading plans help us to grasp “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), and in the order in which God has revealed it. The sequential reading of Scripture deepens our knowledge of God’s word and aids its memorization.
Following our Lord’s example can only serve to improve our own daily worship.
In regard to prayer, however, I am not sure we have seen much advance beyond saying a short prayer before reading our Bibles, followed by a list of petitions in which we ask God to bless this or that person and this or that endeavor. Let’s be honest: prayer is the hardest part of our devotions and often leaves us feeling distracted and directionless. However, the good news is that help is available to us from those in the past who have exemplified an intentional structure within their prayers as well as a varied use of different prayers, such as adoration, confession, illumination, and intercession. In addition to systematic Bible reading and structured-but-varied prayer, our worship of God each day may be enriched by affirming our Christian faith with a creed or receiving doctrinal instruction from a catechism.
Ordering all these elements in a fixed liturgy provides a healthy and enjoyable rhythm to our worship. This is precisely what a liturgy of daily worship seeks to do. Of course, the aim is not to replace corporate worship on the Lord’s Day; rather, it is to help prepare us for corporate worship on the Lord’s Day by improving our personal or family worship each day.
This article is adapted from Be Thou My Vision: A Liturgy for Daily Worship by Jonathan Gibson.
Knowing who God is and what he’s like as revealed in Scripture is very important as we approach God in prayer.
Glenna Marshall talks about the life-changing practice of Scripture memory, the oft-given advice to give ourselves grace, and the importance of perseverance in the Christian life.
Slowly and prayerfully turning over Scripture engages the eyes, the ears, and the mouth, and drills through the granite to the heart—maximizing internalization and devotion.
Jonathan Gibson talks about why liturgy can be such a powerful force for good in the life of the Christian when rightly understood and practiced.