Pray Like the Disciples: What You Might Be Missing (According to Acts)
Structure. Order. Regimentation.
These words sound corporate, sterile, and aloof.
They hardly fit an age obsessed with authenticity and self-expression. Yet, however free spirited or wild at heart we may imagine ourselves to be, the truth is that every life is structured. Every person repeats daily rhythms that slowly set the music of their character, decision making, values, passions, and relationships.
Whether it’s the rhythms of the smartphone (online shopping, Instagram notifications, compulsive inbox checking) or the rhythms of entertainment (sleep, ESPN, work, YouTube, eat, Netflix, game, repeat) or the rhythms of self-care (meditate, exercise, skin care, counseling, and a long bath), we humans are deeply liturgical creatures.
Every day is a worship service that repeats the same old songs, same old prayers, same old meditations… and this process shapes us into the kind of person we are—and the kind of person we will become.
The main questions we face is not, “Will my life have an order?” or “Does my life have a structure?”
No, the question is whether you’ve shaped the order and structure of your life intentionally or you’ve simply fallen into a rhythm you learned from the surrounding world. If you have created intentional rhythms in your life, do they shape you into the image of Christ or into the image of your favorite influencer?
What You’re Made For
The good news is that God designed us to be like this. In his gracious wisdom, he made us organic. Just as a trellis can guide a vine to produce the finest grapes, he offers us ancient practices designed to produce a beautiful life worth living. Throughout history, these practices have often been called “Spiritual Disciplines”—a title which sometimes suggests that we do them to earn his favor.
But the opposite is true, these “spiritual discipline” are actually “means of grace.” As that strange phrase suggests, God has graciously given us means (tools, practices, rhythms) by which he supplies us his mercy and grace.
These are not works that earn his love. They are practices by which we enjoy his love. Throughout church history, a number of practices have been common means by which we create Christ-centered, Christ-powered order, structure, and regimentation in our lives.
Acts Shows You How
One of the first places we see this clearly in the New Testament is in Acts 3. In this story, John and Peter heal a man who was unable to walk. But before this happens, the author highlights an interesting detail:
One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. (Acts 3:1).
Biblical authors are normally sparse with detail like this, so the inclusion of this information is not incidental. It’s fundamental.
Like many of their fellow Jews, Peter and John prayed three times a day. Because they were in Jerusalem, they did this at the Temple. But if they were away, they would likely orient themselves toward Jerusalem and pray at the same time from a distance. Normally, they would pray through Old Testament scriptures, including the shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and the psalms. Someone would likely read from the scrolls of the law, the prophets, and the writings.
These prayers were not spontaneous or extemporaneous. They were structured, following a regular pattern that participants could expect and memorize.
Be Like Jesus
So why does Luke (the author of Acts) want us to know that Peter and John embraced this ancient Jewish practice of highly structured prayer three times a day?
Perhaps it’s because he was writing largely to Gentiles who were unfamiliar with this practice, and he wanted to pique their interest—inviting them to participate.
In fact, the gospel of Luke recounts similar behavior from Jesus, who embraced other practices like solitude…
“The news about [Jesus] spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15-16)
“Jesus went out to a mountain side to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him.” (Luke 6:12-13)
…memorized prayers and daily prayer rhythms…
“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples. He said to them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’”” (Luke 11:1-2)
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” (Luke 4:1)
It turns out that even the son of God needed a structure, order, and rhythm in his life so that he could, to quote Luke, grow in wisdom and grace.
Perhaps this is why he himself used the metaphor of a vineyard to describe our growth:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Jesus is the vine, he is the source of life. His grace is what makes dead things resurrect into verdant, fruitful glory. But every vine needs a trellis.
If Jesus’s own disciples followed his pattern of rhythmic, ordered, daily, and (yes) even repetitive prayer… what if we should do likewise?
Don’t just stumble into a daily rhythm that makes you more like your newsfeed than Christ. Don’t regiment yourself with a discipline that gives you a six-pack but leaves your soul flabby. Instead, embrace the gift of Christ-centered, Christ-empowered order. Commit yourself to regular, guided prayers designed to guide your growth and craft your life into something beautiful that glorifies your creator.
Rhythm, a new podcast from The Crossing, is here to help. Use this structured, twice-daily prayer, rooted in scripture and Christian tradition, to get in step with the Spirit and reconnect with Jesus.