The Importance of Ordinary Prayer, Pt. 1: Waking and Sleeping
Prayer can sometimes seem either overly simple or overly challenging. On the one hand, prayer can be as simple as thinking of a need and saying, God, please take care of this. On the other, stories of great saints who prayed three hours a day make most of us mortals assume that we must be missing something.
Jesus’ words about prayer should lead us to acknowledge that our praying should be more than just a desperate cry in a time of crisis, even if it is good that we cry out when times of crisis come. But prayer is not a competition, nor is it about impressing God, so we should guard against comparing ourselves with others who are “better than” we are. Prayer is a privilege God has given us, an invitation to approach him with our lives that is based on Jesus’ love for us and his reconciling work on the cross. His whole-life offering is a sign that God wants our whole lives to be connected to him.
For this reason, a good way to deepen our life with God is by the ordinary prayers, the prayers that we offer as routine, everyday activities. If these kinds of prayers aren’t part of your life already, it’s easy enough to start.
To begin and end our day with prayer is a practice that is well attested in the Bible and in the testimony of believers. The basic biblical testimony comes from two of the first Psalms: Psalm 5 points us to morning prayer: “In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” And Psalm 4 points to bedtime prayer: “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
Morning and evening can be overwhelming times, when our anxieties and fears about the approaching day can paralyze us, or when we find ourselves fretting over mistakes made the previous day. These Psalms give us words that lead us to put ourselves into the hands of the Lord whose grasp of everything is greater than ours.
The old prayer that children learned for bedtime—“Now I lay me down to sleep…”—is more than a nice little verse. It’s a commitment to a radical trust in God’s providence. Whether I wake to another day or not, I trust myself to God’s care. The very act of offering our sleep time to God is another way to say, “I’m not in control of the world. You are. I can leave not only my worries but the world itself to you, because it’s not me that holds it together. It’s you.”
Our mornings often throw us into a maelstrom of activity: texts and emails to answer, news headlines to worry about, cat videos to forward. But the Psalmist suggests that we lay our requests before the Lord and wait expectantly for what he will do in the day. The act of postponing those busy morning noises and images long enough to take time to pray and remember the Lord who gave himself for us and thus has marked our lives with the cross is a great act of resistance in a world that never stops.
Prayer is not a quick fix for anything. It is an invitation from God to let him be the first conversation partner of all our activities. The beloved Irish hymn “Be Thou My Vision” calls us to see these everyday rhythms as God’s arena, which we do well to step into in joy and trust:
Thou my best thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.