Book Review: A Pocket Guide to Prayer by Steve Harper


A very meaningful practice for me over the past year and a half has been fixed-hour prayer (which is called by different names in different traditions, such as the daily office or praying the hours). I had been part of communities who practiced fixed-hour prayer together in the past, and really enjoyed it even though I didn't have any idea what we were doing. My real introduction to the practice came as part of my participation in the Transforming Community with Ruth Haley Barton.

For thousands of years, seekers of God have shared in the practice of praying at particular times of the day, as described in Psalm 55:17: "Evening, morning, and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice." (Also see other passages such as Psalm 119:164, Daniel 6:10, Acts 3:1, and Acts 10:9). This rhythm of prayer was central in the practice of ancient Judaism, which means it is almost certainly a way of praying practiced by Jesus and his earliest disciples.

Although many evangelical Christians today are as unfamiliar with the practice as I was for so long, thankfully there are very helpful resources available to help us rediscover it today, so that we too can share together in the sacred rhythm and words of prayer with an innumerable community of God's people through the centuries, even including Christ himself.

A recent addition to these resources, and perhaps one of the most accessible, is A Pocket Guide to Prayer by Steve Harper.

In a very small volume, Harper provides a guide to prayer for five times of the day: upon awakening, morning, noontime, evening, and at bedtime, and the guide provides readings for one month. As is universal in these Christian guides to fixed-hour prayer, the person praying will be led through praying the Psalms, the Lord's Prayer, times of silence, and a reflective reading of the scriptures. This manual also includes the texts of hymns and readings of classic Christian literature for each day of the month.

The book's organization is simple and very usable, but the most helpful thing about it is its size. I'll admit that I have larger than average hands, but this should help you get an understanding of how very "totable" the book is:

Perhaps the most widely used contemporary guide to fixed-hour prayer is the excellent Divine Hours series by Phyllis Tickle. I used these for my first year of this practice, before settling into the Book of Common Prayer this year. As great as the Divine Hours manuals are, their disadvantage is their size. I've put Harper's Pocket Guide next to one of the three volumes of Divine Hours required to get through a year:

It can be a powerful thing for us to incorporate this way of regular praying into our lives, particularly when we realize the community of folks around the world in our own day and through centuries past who have prayed the same words, at the same times, in the same ways. If you are interested in exploring fixed-hour prayer for the first time, or if you have practiced it for years but could use a more mobile guide, this little book is a great resource for us.

(And if you would like to learn more of the history and context of this way of praying, read Praying With the Church by Scot McKnight, which was part of our reading in the Transforming Community. The TC introduced me to the practice; McKnight's book led me to love it and make it a central part of how I seek to grow my friendship with God.)