What is essential reading for you every day? I don’t think I’m alone sensing an increase in “noise” when I read. If I go online for a few minutes to check social media or scan for wild fire containment progress, my eyes quickly absorb what I usually associate with my ears – a lot of noise. Communication is necessary; noise isn’t. Trying to parse the difference between the two, however, can be challenging. I love to read, but reading “hot takes” in real time leaves me scattered, fractured, tired. Some commentary on life or current events or ministry is helpful; but I quickly find myself tiring of secondary sources. If that sounds familiar, it might be time to download a Daily Office app.
There are thousands of devotional books, if not millions, and a lot of American Protestants aren’t familiar with the Daily Office. It is not, as it sounds, a daily random episode of a workplace comedy. It is not a workspace rental company. It is not an office supply source.
The Daily Office is a set of Scripture readings and prayers. You can find Christians around the world reading these same texts and prayers on the same day that you are. Centuries ago, Christians often prayed the hours of the day; about 500 years ago, the Book of Common Prayer was developed within Anglicanism. Daily worship was condensed into morning and evening prayers. It may sound strange to remember that in some traditions, people used to go to church daily; it may sound strange to remember that in some Christian traditions, people still go to church every day (at least, pandemic allowing). But the Daily Office isn’t limited to usage in a Vespers service in an aging stone church in the rolling hills of rural England. Anyone with a Book of Common Prayer can read the Daily Office. Except now the internet exists; anyone with a Daily Office app can read the Daily Office.
So why should you? Here are three reasons that spring to mind, though there are many.
1. Cutting Out or Reducing Dependence on Devotional Commentary
Please don’t read this as a suggestion that spiritual formation writings are useless. I’ve learned and grown so much from the wisdom of others, some from my own lifetime, some from decades or centuries before me. But a fatigue has taken hold in the midst of so much noise. I find myself yearning not for secondary sources, but for the wellspring of life itself.
We are, as C.S. Lewis suggested with different intent in mind, too easily pleased sometimes. Half a Scripture verse and four paragraphs of reflection on it are insufficient sustenance for your daily pilgrimage. Some devotional books offer great value – especially those that primarily parse the Scripture to which they refer or those with uncommon wisdom and insight.
But devotional books aren’t the Bread of Life. In John 1, we see the author distinguishing between John the Baptist, who was not himself the light but bore witness to the light, and Jesus, who is the light itself – the light that is life to all humanity. Sometimes we’re more comfortable with proximity to John the Baptist, as it were, than we are with proximity to Jesus.
But in times of heightened noise, one of the best things we can do is to dip into Scripture itself. Because I’m not hungry for Devotional Collection Aimed at North American Women Pushing Forty Who Are Likely to Have Shopped at Target in the Past 12 Months. I’m starving for Jesus. Give me Jesus. There are millions of commentators and bloggers and gurus and influencers. Some of them are great, fulfilling a need or even a vocation.
But right now the world is groaning. “Where else would we go? You have the words of life.” When you’re sick of talking heads or you’re in triage mode, you just want Jesus.
So why not just open a physical Bible or Bible app? Why a Daily Office app, specifically?
2. Scripture Variety and Scope
The Daily Office already includes excerpts from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms. You don’t have to decide where to begin. Maybe that sounds lazy; if you’re a leader in your congregation or you’re tired or you’re a tired leader, not having to decide where to begin might sound quite appealing.
Daily Office apps remove another hurdle because you don’t have to navigate the sections of a physical Book of Common Prayer or look up references in a physical Bible. Rather, the excerpt is right there in front of you, ready to go.
(There’s much to be said for reading physical books or noting in physical margins, including research on retention or mental mapping; but jotting down a few notes on the daily reading helps retention as well.)
Sometimes identifiable themes thread through the passages from the Old and New Testaments. Sometimes they seem more randomly paired. The Daily Office helps to correct the tendency to swerve more heavily into one section of Scripture more than another, by putting a “balanced diet” onto our plate for us. It’s like a grab-bag fresh produce subscription box showing up at your door, in contrast to entering the fresh vegetable section of a store and veering toward your automatic weekly go-to of baby carrots and salad mix. The Daily Office makes sure that sometimes you try rutabagas or jicama, so to speak, prying your fingers off of your familiar household stand-by’s.
There are combinations of scriptural texts that simply wouldn’t occur to me if I didn’t discover them presented to me side by side. There is rich, fresh sustenance in these creative combinations.
3. Guided Prayer with Global Christians
Whether you thumb through a Book of Common Prayer or download a Daily Office app, you’ll find an odd sense of community in progressing through a shared liturgy, even if you’re sitting by yourself at a park.
The closest thing the Daily Office has to commentary comes in the form of the written prayers, many of which are quite old. At times, I’ve found myself unable to stitch words together in much of a prayer. Then, I’ve read the Daily Office and found what I didn’t know I needed or wanted to say, said for me. At other times, I’ve shared a collect from that day on social media, only to have acquaintances comment on why they love that particular prayer – a reminder of the worshiping community spread across the globe.
There is also keen solace in skimming over the prayer prompts for the day. When I feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of need or tragedy in the world, the Daily Office calmly settles the uproar into a neat line. Groups of people are remembered on particular days: pray for those affected by natural disaster; pray for those who work in the justice system; pray for the sick and dying; pray for those who work in health care. And just like that, I join millions of other Christians who find a path marked out neatly to guide our intercessions.
If you find yourself weary of the fractious noise, hungry for something simple and quiet, maybe you would find new sustenance in the Daily Office. There are a variety of apps; sometimes I read the morning selection; sometimes I read the morning and evening selections; sometimes I read the night selection; sometimes I don’t open the app for several days.
But there are few better resources when you need to turn down the commentary, let yourself be exposed to a variety of Scripture, and receive the words and prayer prompts of others to help give voice to the intercession you may not have the words for.
Do you already read the Daily Office? When did you begin the habit? What have you gleaned from that experience?
Featured image courtesy Kentaro Toma via Unsplash.