Here’s a thought:
We have weekly religious duties. Every week, God wants us to work six days and rest on the Sabbath (Gen 2:3; Exodus 20:8). The idea is to set the day aside for him and his people. Many of you know that I make quite a big deal of this, and think it’s a very important antidote to consumerism.
If you push me, I’d be willing to recognise some annual and monthly duties too, though the puritan in me is a bit reluctant! After all, Paul warns about the dangers of religious calendars in the new covenant (Gal 4:10). Industrialisation and globalisation have reduced our direct connection to the soil, and the electric light-bulb has cut us off from the heavens above, but I think some religious reflection on the seasons is encouraged by Scripture (Gen 1:14; 8:22; Psalm 65:11).
But we also have daily religious duties. For example, the Psalmist refers to daily times of prayer at “evening and morning and at noon” (Ps 55:17). “seven times a day I praise you” (Psalm 119:164). Daniel prayed three times a day (Dan 6:10). I expect cultivating these daily rhythms of piety is something we all struggle with.
But it’s striking that some of these daily duties aren’t just private; they clearly involve other Christians:
- “exhort one another daily, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13).
- The believers in Jerusalem were “day by day attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes” (Acts 2:46).
- The Bereans “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). It’s pretty clear this was a communal examination of Scripture in the synagogue, not privately in their quiet time.
- Paul was “reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus”, maybe from 11am to 4pm (Acts 19:9).
I’m not about to propose that every Christian needs to come to church daily. But it makes you think… Calvin’s Geneva had daily services at 4am or 5am every week day! You’d gather to hear the word before your day’s work. The Church of England tradition is to have morning and evening prayers (matins and evensong) every day.
I wonder what’s happened to those daily habits? The Reformed churches encouraged quite a bit of the daily religious rhythms inherited from the medieval church to move into family worship, which I’m all for. But the verses above clearly have a churchly dimension.
Obviously, modern life has got busy, and people travel much further to work. But it’s noticeable that Muslims still manage to do daily prayers at the mosque. Clearly, the ways this could play out in a city congregation is going to be different to a commuter town; the ways it could play out in Ilford will be different to central London. A number of city churches have capitalised on lunchtime services, which is one possibility. During the first lockdown, we used zoom to meet daily for morning and evening prayer. I don’t really have an answer, but with lockdown having profoundly shaken up our routines, maybe it’s worth asking ourselves how are these daily, churchly duties playing out in our lives?
Perhaps there’s more mileage in a (short and sweet) daily service than we’ve realised…