How Tim Keller Seeks to Pray without Ceasing

by Tim Keller

Like many other believers, I’ve always sought to have a time of devotion and prayer each morning. And like most other believers, I have found it a struggle to be consistent.

Imagine my surprise when I came across a place in John Calvin’s Institutes where he argues that, when it comes to daily prayer, once is not enough.

Calvin points to the exhortation to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) and says that, of course, every Christian should aspire to pray to God constantly through the day. But, he adds: “Since our weakness is such that it has to be supported by many aids, and our sluggishness such that it needs to be goaded, it is fitting each one of us should set apart certain hours for this exercise.”

Calvin taught that we should designate set times, though brief, during which “all the devotion of the heart should be completely engaged.” He proposed five times:

  • when we wake in the morning
  • before we begin work
  • at midday meal
  • after the meal (or after the day’s work)
  • when we are getting ready for bed at night

He immediately adds, “This must not be any superstitious observance of hours—as “paying our debt to God” and forcing him to hear us (3.20.50).

Compose Daily Prayers

Though I knew about this exhortation years ago, only recently did I learn that Calvin actually prepared five prayers for these various times of day—and included them in his 1542/45 Geneva Catechism. They were meant to be examples for individuals and families to use. This encouraged me to use his prayers as a foundation for composing my own.

I would encourage others to do the same thing I did with Calvin: take these as examples and use them to compose your own. Having something written, which I can read and use as a basis for prayer to God—and taking only one minute for each—has been extremely helpful for remembering the presence of God and the truths I learned that morning in Bible reading. It “frames” the entire day with God and the gospel.

Below are the prayers I use. Again, use them simply as the basis for crafting your own.

Upon Rising: For Love

Father, thank you for the grace that has preserved my life to this moment. Now give me enough love for this day—a sense of love from you (so I’m not scared or driven), a welling up of love for you (so I’m not proud or selfish), and a resulting love for others (so I am not cold or distracted). Let your Spirit illumine my mind and enlarge my heart for that. And because it means nothing to begin well if one does not persevere, I ask that you would continue and increase your grace in me until you have led me into full communion with your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, that I may see his beautiful and great glory. And as I laid down in sleep and rose this morning only by your grace, keep me in a joyful, lively remembrance that whatever happens, I will someday know my final rising—the resurrection—because Jesus Christ laid down in death for me, and rose for my justification. In Jesus’s name.

Before Workday: For Perseverance

Lord, all day may you give me an awareness of your presence, fruitfulness yet patience with your appointments, wisdom and compassion in my dealings, and Fatherly protection against dangers and adversities. Let me accept whatever degree of success or difficulty in my work you give me this day, and especially make me compassionate and ready to be interrupted in order to do good to others. In Jesus’s name.

Midday: For Presence and Recollection

O Lord God, thank you for sustaining my physical life through food and shelter; for giving me new life through the gospel; for the assurance that my bad things will turn out for good, and that my good things cannot be taken from me; and for the certainty of the best and perfect life, which is yet to come. Now give me a joyful sense of your presence, and freedom from my characteristic sins of perfectionistic works-righteousness, fear of criticism, and self-comfort. Don’t allow my affections to be tangled in inordinate desires for the things of this world, but let me set my heart on things above, where Christ, my life, is seated at your right hand. In Jesus’s name. (Recollect morning Bible insights.)

End of Workday: For People I’ve Met or Dealt with Today

Lord, send down your blessings, temporal and spiritual, on my family, friends, and neighbors. Bless those who have done us good today, and pardon all those who have done or wished us ill, and give them repentance and better minds. Be merciful to those who are in any trouble or suffering, and minister to them according to their needs. Do this for the sake of the One who went about doing good, the Man of Sorrows, your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. In his name.

Upon Sleep: For Rest

O Lord, defend us from all dangers and also from the fear of them tonight. Grant us grace, not only to rest our bodies, but to have spiritual repose, in soul and conscience, in your grace and love, so we might be comforted and eased in all ways. And since no day passes that I do not sin in so many ways, please bury all my offenses in your mercy, that I might not lose your presence. Forgive me for Jesus’s sake. Finally, grant us grace always to live in such a state that we may never be afraid to die; so that, living and dying, we may be yours, through the merits and satisfaction of your Son Christ Jesus, in whose name we offer up these our imperfect prayers. Amen.

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