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Dawn to Dark  //  An interview with author Doug Jones about his upcoming book

Dawn to Dark
 

Today, we’re excited to offer a little something different. A good friend of Project Renovation, Doug Jones recently wrote a book entitled Dawn to Dark: A Book of Christian Prayer. In the past Doug has led several Soul Thirst retreats for the Project and has recently begun teaching Student Ministry courses at the Master’s level. We took some time with Doug to talk about the spiritual discipline of Fixed-hour prayer and his new book.

Doug, tell us a little about yourself. How’d you get into youth ministry?

Doug: I grew up in Florida, it was there as a teenager that I became a follower of Jesus.  Not long after that I sensed that God might be leading me into a youth ministry.  I ended up studying Bible for my undergraduate degree at Messiah College and Youth Ministry in a Master’s program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  Since then I have been a full-time Youth Pastor, Part-Time consultant, Middle School Teacher, Interim Youth Pastor, volunteer youth worker, retreat leader, and teacher of things youth ministry.  It’s been a great 25 or so year journey assisting and encouraging young people, young adults, and fellow youth workers to grow more into the likeness of Jesus for the good of our world.

 

And what about Project Renovation? How did you get connected with that?

Doug: I stumbled onto Project Renovation through the back door.  I was helping to lead a seminar at Lancaster Bible College and there met Rick Rhoads; over the course of the day we both seemed to find kindred spirits in one another.  Through continued dialogue he introduced me to Project Renovation and invited me to help lead a Soul Thirst.  Since then I have attended or had the privilege to lead five or so of these wonderful formation retreats.

 

Your book focuses on the spiritual discipline of fixed-hour prayer. For some of us, that might be an unfamiliar practice. Could you give us a little picture of what it is and where it comes from?

Doug: Most of us are acquainted with prayer as conversation, embedded in this is the image of “talking with God as a friend.”  Along with this long-standing tradition; there is another tradition of prayer in the Church, which could be called, Common Prayer.  Fixed-hour prayer is a practice which emerges from our Common Prayer.  A form of prayer employed by God’s people gathered to join their hearts, heads and voices in a unified and concerted way.  This type of prayer has a long history.

For centuries Christians have stopped to pray at various points in the day for the purpose of saying their common prayer.  In the morning, at mid-day, as the sun set and before going to bed, followers of Jesus would join their voices in praying a variety of written prayers, read from the book Psalms, reflect on a passage of Scripture and recite the Lord’s Prayer as a way to remember God, admit their dependency on God and as an act of worship and devotion. Fixed-hour prayer finds its genesis in the practice of Israel and evidence of it can be seen in the Older and Newer Testaments.

 

Tell us a little more about that. Where do we see Fixed-hour prayer in Scripture?

Doug: Sure. While fixed hour prayer is not explicitly pointed out or taught, this practice of prayer is definitely assumed in the Bible.  Daniel was thrown in to the lion’s den for praying facing Jerusalem three different times each day (as was his custom).  Many of the psalms specifically mention praying in the morning or the evening (see Psalm 5:3; 88:13; 92:2 for morning or 17:1-3; 63:5-6; 141:2 for evening).  New Testament passages also refer to the practice of fixed hour prayer.  For example Pentecost happened while the disciples were gathered for morning prayer (prayer at the third hour); Peter had his rooftop vision while observing mid-day prayer (prayer at the sixth hour); and Peter and John healed a lame man on the temple steps as they were heading to gather with other believers for evening prayer (prayer at the ninth hour).

Since that time the practice has continued.  From gatherings of the early church, to cloisters of monks, to the writings of reformers and down through our common history Fixed-Hour Prayer has endured as an heirloom that has been passed on to next generations as a valuable Christian practice.

 

How did you come across fixed-hour prayer and what has it meant to you personally?

Doug: My prayer life had become hard and very frustrating.  Conversational prayer had become nearly impossible, I couldn’t find the words, I couldn’t concentrate and it seemed I said the same two or three sentences and then gave up.  Not a great place to be in when you are on staff at church and expected to be a “professional pray-er.” Out of this journey of desperation – trying to make any sense out of prayer led me to fixed-hour prayer.  It was much more twisted than I can convey in a paragraph or two, but ultimately it was a conversation with a pastor friend that led me to this new/old way of prayer.

My friend offered me a primer on fixed-hour prayer using The Book of Common Prayer.  As I sat there listening to my friend and looking at the words of the prayers on the page, I felt a sense of relief, gratitude and hope.  It was what I had been seeking, a vocabulary for prayer – and I found it in a 400 year old book.  Prayer had become something I didn’t have to invent and spontaneously produce, it could be something I opened my life up to using the words of those who had faithfully prayed before me.

It dawned on my not long after this introduction that Jesus had done something similar with the disciples.  When the disciples asked him to teach them to pray, he offered not principles, teachings or stories, but words to pray (in the form of The Lord’s Prayer).

The result for me is that over the past 13 or so years from that original conversation, my prayer life has gained traction from the use of prayer books.  It has deepened my understanding of praying, the one to whom I am praying and of my own human nature.  I have seen my selfishness quenched and my shallowness deepened; my ability to pray both using my own words and the words of others has developed substantially; and my love and appreciation of God has become more passionate and hopefully resulted in greater obedience.

 

You mentioned going through a season of struggle with conversational prayer, and I know a number of youth pastors reading this can resonate with that. What do you think the relationship between conversational and common prayer should look like? I guess I’m wondering how common prayer should fit into our prayer life.

Doug: Fixed-hour prayer or common prayer is meant to complement our conversational prayer.  When all we do is practice one form of prayer to the neglect of the other; our prayer life suffers.  Conversational prayer without common prayer becomes isolated, self-centered, self-serving and sometimes mere self-talk.  Common prayer without conversation prayer can become a dead ritual, a recitation with little authenticity and art with little heart.  We need both approaches to keep our prayers communal, meaningful, personal, honest and appropriately God-centered.

With that being said, Common Prayer (fixed-hour prayer) is a great way to introduce a variety of prayer styles, vocabulary and appropriate topics and issues for which we should be depending upon God.  In youth ministry it seems this would be a terrific approach for our teaching others how to pray.  Besides providing a rich vocabulary, the directions of our prayer and the guidance or agenda for prayer; it also allows for great participation, vocalizing our prayers and focusing our attention.

Fixed-hour prayer is a tradition that is worthy of us passing down.  A prayer tradition that when we invest in it, is like live hot coals that with little fanning will catch into a full-flamed fire.

 

What advice would you give to someone who’s never tried Fixed-hour prayer but is interested in getting started?

Doug: How we start often determines how, or if we will finish.  So, it is a great question you ask.  We often overestimate our ability and time in the near term and thus put unrealistic expectations upon ourselves that lead to frustration and failure.

My advice as it relates to fixed-hour prayer is to start with praying one of the hours as part of your practice – pray morning or noon or evening or night.  Choose one that is least likely to get regularly interrupted and then observe the prayer time using a prayer manual for at least a month or more.  In time you may find the desire to add an additional hour and in time or for seasons (Advent, Lent, Eastertide) you can pray 3 or 4 hours.

Be generous with yourself.  You will miss days and you will grow weary, but with grace and perseverance this practice will yield new vistas from which you will see God, yourself, the Church and your place in Creation.

 

Your book Dawn to Dark is a primer on Fixed-hour prayer, tell us a little bit about it and why you wrote it. What do you hope people are able to get out of it?

Doug: Dawn to Dark was actually a book that I was asked to write.  It was a privilege to write.  It is intended to serve as an introduction for people to gain an understanding of the practice of fixed-hour prayer and to offer a way to engage in this way of praying.  The book has four parts:

  • Part 1 – Introduction to Fixed-Hour Prayer
  • Part 2 – Two Week Cycle of Prayer for Dawn, Daylight and Dusk and 1 Week of Prayers for Dark
  • Part 3 – Prayers for Various Seasons and Situations
  • Part 4 – Appendices – 1 year Lectionary and a guide to the Christian Seasons

My hope for Dawn to Dark is that it will help folks unfamiliar with the practice of Fixed-hour prayer find in it what I have:

  • a way to become more saturated in the Scriptures;
  • a way to join my voice with the larger church in concerted prayer;
  • a way to submit my prayer preferences to a much larger and more holistic prayer agenda;
  • a way to see time (hours, weeks, seasons and years) marked as sacred;
  • a way to learn and grow in prayer;
  • a way to fall deeper and deeper in love with our Maker and Molder;
  • a way to open our lives up to God and begin to see prayer as our greatest work and our everyday work, prayer.

Thanks for the time, Doug. I know a number of people connected to the Project have been blessed and impacted by your story and your ministry. We’re grateful for the new book and look forward to hearing how God’s people rediscover the practice of Fixed-hour prayer through it.

To view a sample from Dawn to Dark, click here:
http://www.nph.com/vcmedia/2417/2417545.pdf

To preview or order the book on Amazon, click here.

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