The Hours of Prayer
Biblical Times of Memorial
by: Robert (Bob) Somerville
"Peter and John went together into the temple at the hour of prayer."
Perhaps you have never considered it. There are specific hours of the day ordained of God which can be particularly meaningful to the Christian's prayer life. Just as surely as God has ordained a memorial day of the week for corporate worship (together with annual days of celebration), He also ordained special hours of the day for prayer to bring particular honor to Himself. The three Biblical memorial hours of prayer are specifically the third hour, the sixth hour and the ninth hour of the day, or 9:00 A.M., 12 Noon and 3:00 P.M. These were important prayer disciplines faithfully observed by the Old Testament saints, the New Testament Church and by our Lord Jesus Christ. The hours of Prayer" were continually honored because they were divinely appointed. The practice of observing them is being restored to the prayer system of the Body of Christ.
The apostles of Jesus, knowing the vital role that prayer plays in the believer's spiritual life, were willing students requesting of Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray." Since we are living in the TIME OF RESTORATION and renewal of the Church, the practice of honoring the Biblical "Hours of Prayer" can be another enriching element of restoration in the Body of Christ to bring new life. These memorial hours of prayer are elements of perfected worship for reasons that we shall explore.
Needless to say, prayer is an essential element to the God-man relationship. For this reason God said that His house (the Church) "shall be called a House of Prayer" (Isaiah 56:7). Prayer is more important than faith. Let's qualify that by saying that they are interdependent. However, the rewards of faith are contingent upon our expressions of it through verbal petition or request. Jesus put it much more succinctly by saying "Ask and ye shall receive". Over the years we have been inundated with "How-To" books on Christian living. Books on prayer have been no exception. Indeed there have been some great books written about the meaning of prayer, proper methods, purpose and many critiques on "The Lord's Prayer". However the importance of, nor the Biblical concept of having daily "Hours of Prayer" have yet been adequately addressed. It is one of those references in the scripture that we often "read over" without really reading. Let us examine it.
These specific hours of prayer are an integral part of "God's Divine Prayer System". Considering our modern day propensity for "random-religion" or extemporaneous spirituality, cloaked with such pious phrases as "when I feel inspired", some tend to shy away from anything that smacks of discipline, order and regulation fearing the ravages of ritualism and / or legalism. While it is true that we should "pray without ceasing", the fact is that most of us do not. God knows the human spirit and its intrinsic need for discipline. It is this condition that accounts for His need to introduce some systematic or regulating elements into the worship order and prayer life of His people. The spiritual life is very similar to the natural life, in that if it is not given some guidance and programming it will soon fall into negligence and disarray.
Daniel prayed three times a day
In the Old Testament era the hours of prayer were also known as the hours of "oblation" or sacrifice (Daniel 9:21, II Kings 16:15). It is recorded that the prophet Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10). Daniel did not pray three times a day just because he felt strangely "inspired" to do it. He prayed three times a day because it was part of his Godly Judaic heritage. It was a meaningful component of his daily prayer system. Although this prayer practice was established in the Old Testament, as it rightly should be (Hebrews 10:1), it is more often mentioned in the New Testament. These hours of sacrifice, or Hours of Prayer (particularly the third and ninth hours) were prophetic in nature. Jesus our supreme sacrifice was crucified in the third hour of the day (Mark 15:25). His witness of "darkness at noon day" occurred in the sixth hour (Mark 15:33-34; Matthew 27:45). Finally at the time of the evening oblation being the ninth hour Jesus gave up the ghost and died for the sins of the world (Luke 23:44-46). These hours of prayer are "Memorials" of Him who made it possible for you and me to enter the Holiest of Holies (spiritually for ourselves) coming boldly before the throne of God in prayer, making our petitions known (Hebrews 10:19). What greater motive would the Church need for recognizing and giving at least occasional honor to these Hours of Prayer than bringing honor to Jesus?
The New Testament is filled with glorious accounts of how God has honored these special hours by responding to prayer in a significant way. Here are some examples: It was the third hour on the memorial day of Pentecost, when the one hundred and twenty disciples were in the upper room praying for the promise of the Father when cloven tongues of fire sat upon each of them and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3, 15). Not only was it the prophetic day (Pentecost) but also the prophetic hour.
The New Testament Church customarily went to the temple at the hours of prayer. Evidence of this is revealed in the account of a miraculous event which occurred at a particular time when two of the disciples of Jesus were entering the temple shortly after the day of Pentecost: "Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the HOUR OF PRAYER, being the ninth hour" (Acts 3:1). On this occasion a lame man was gloriously healed when the apostle Peter took him by the hand and said, "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk...and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength" (Acts 3:6-7). They were not at the temple by happenstance nor randomly entering the temple but very deliberately doing so at the Hour of Prayer.
Not to be overlooked is the story of the apostle Peter and Cornelius of Caesarea (Acts 10). In effect, it is a reenactment of the Day of Pentecost. The only major difference is that it was happening to a body of Gentiles on this occasion rather than a body of Jews. God began to set the stage for a dispensational change. The thrust of the Gospel from this point on, would be focused on the Gentile nations. The unique circumstances of this story were divinely orchestrated. Cornelius, though a soldier in the Roman army, was a devout man who "prayed to God alway" and was very liberal in his alms giving. He was in prayer about the ninth hour when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a vision and instructed him to "send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter." The next day as Cornelius' servants came to Joppa, Peter was also having a spiritual experience. "Peter went up upon the house top to pray about the sixth hour." Suddenly he fell into a trance and saw a vision of a great sheet let down from heaven full of all kinds of unclean beasts. God proceeded to instruct Peter to accept these Gentiles because they had now been cleansed. It was simply an object lesson to prepare Peter for ministry to a people (Gentiles) whom he considered unacceptable for the kingdom of God. His obedience to God resulted in a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the house (family) of Cornelius and consequently the Gentile nations. It is obvious that observing the memorial Hours of Prayer was a vital part of the spiritual value system of both of these great men of God.
Offerings and Prayer
Another important dimension of prayer life which is coupled with Hours of Prayer relates to our "gifts" or offerings. Jesus spoke of this when instructing the disciples about acceptable prayer practices: "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; LEAVE THERE THY GIFT before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matthew 5:23-24).
Prayer and offerings go hand in hand. Gifts should be offered at the times of prayer. In biblical times one did not come to the House of God to pray without an offering, even if it were only "a widow's mite", especially at the hours of prayer. It could and should be these daily prayer offerings that accumulate during the week which are then brought to the church to be given at weekend worship time. Our church offerings should not be offerings of the "discovery" nature which we happen to find in our pockets or purse after we arrive. Bring a deliberate offering to the House of God.
Finally, Jesus being a Jew and well acquainted with this Biblical prayer system, no doubt had the Hours of Prayer in mind when He taught His disciples the value of "secret closet" prayer. Public demonstrations of observing the Hours of Prayer "to be seen of men" is not recommended, although that would be better than none at all (if void of self pride). Jesus said, "But thou, when thou prayest. enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly" (Matthew 6:6). Every believer should have a place set aside. Whether it be in our home, on a mountain, or elsewhere, it is good to have a designated place to observe these Hours of Prayer. One's home is particularly important in this regard. In their plans to build a new home some Christians are now including a specially designed room for use as a prayer chapel. It is a "sound proof" room where full disclosure can be made to God and uninhibited praise can be offered.
When you see people being openly blessed of God, you can be reasonably assured that there has been some activity in the secret prayer closet. With a designated prayer place, one tends to be more readily reminded and activated to a systematic prayer order in his life.
Children of Darkness Often Wiser
The Mohammedans customarily pray five times a day. The first prayer is performed in the morning before sunrise, the second just after noon, the third in the late afternoon, the fourth immediately after sunset and the fifth before retiring to bed. In strict doctrine, the five daily prayers cannot be waived even for the sick. They perform these prayers no matter what their situation or circumstance. These committed people pray five times a day whether they are in an airplane, a subway, an office building, in the grocery store or out on the street. By and large, we in the Christian community are not as diligent. That is a statistical fact. Perhaps the words of Jesus are applicable when He stated, ". . .for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light" (Luke 16:8). The point is that God also has a prayer schedule worthy of honor and worthy of being incorporated into our religious activities. The Mohammedan bible, called the Koran, which is little more than a corruption of the Holy Bible, requires that they pray only three times a day. Through the passing of time however, the Moslems have added two extra hours to the biblical mandate but the Christian community has apparently deleted them altogether. We have resorted to self-devised prayer schedules to fit our particular situations. Perhaps this is due in part to our not being aware of these biblical truths concerning the Hours of Prayer. Many Christians have no standardized prayer system. In truth, we have been given a biblical system but it has been neglected.
Prayer is meaningful at any hour of the day but there is added significance when it is performed at the divinely appointed hours. The more divine order that we can restore to the Body of Christ, the more favor of God we shall receive. The observance of these Hours of Prayer is not a matter of salvation, but rather a matter of order in the House of Prayer (the Church) Isaiah 56:7.
When the Church puts all of these components of the Biblical prayer system in place. it will see more of the blessings and approval of God. Try it. Even if you do get tossed into a den of lions for praying three times a day, you'll be in good prayer company and on the side of victory with Daniel the prophet.
Note: This treatise is written on the following premise:
a) The Jewish "day" comprised 24 hours and was divided into 12 hour periods called night and day, respectively (John 11:9).
b) The first hour of "darkness" began at 6 P.M. and ended at 7 P.M. (of the first 12 hour period).
c) Correspondingly, the first hour of "daylight" (of the second 12 hour period) began at 6 A.M. and ended at 7 A.M.
Reference Unger's Bible Dictionary pages 1098-1099.
Logically, this defines "Hours of Prayer" specifically as:
3rd Hour - 8 A.M. to 9 A.M.
6th Hour - 11 A.M. to 12 Noon
9th Hour - 2 P.M. to 3 P.M.