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Isidore of Seville: Two Wings for Prayer

“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.'” Matthew 21:13

“With regard to time it has truly been said (1 Thessalonians 5:17), “Pray without ceasing,” but this applies to individuals; in a religious community there is a service at certain hours to signal the divisions of the day – at the third hour, the sixth, and the ninth (i.e. Terce, Sext, and Nones) – and likewise the divisions of the night.

These hours of prayers are apportioned so that, if we should by chance be occupied, the specific time would draw our attention to the divine office. These times are found in Scripture (Psalm 119:164).

First, the Holy Spirit was poured into the gathered disciples at the third hour (Acts 2:15). Peter, on the day in which he experienced the vision of communication in the vessel, had ascended in order to pray at the sixth hour (Acts 10:9–16). Likewise Peter with John went to the temple at the ninth hour when he healed the paralytic (Acts 3:1–8).

But we also read that Daniel observed these times in his prayer (Daniel 6:13), and in any case it is the teaching from the Israelites that we should pray not less than three times a day, for we are debtors of three – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – not counting, of course, other prayers as well, which are due without any notice being given, at the onset of day or of night or of the watches of the night.

But we are also not to consume food before we have interposed a prayer, for refreshment of the spirit should come first, because heavenly things come before earthly. Moreover, he who wishes for his prayer to fly to God should make two wings for it, fasting and almsgiving, and it will ascend swiftly and be clearly heard.”

Isidore of Seville (c. 556-636) in The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, Book IV, xix. De Officiis, 60-64, ed. by Stephen A. Barney, W. J. Lewis, J. A. Beach and Oliver Berghof with Muriel Hall (Cambridge: CUP, 2006) 150.

On Holy Week Monday we are reminded that Jesus cleansed the temple. It was not to be a place of buying and selling as if money sustained the ministry there. It was to be a house of prayer for the nations sustained by God.

What if we made our church buildings into places of prayer for the nations? Imagine prayer at the divine hours of 6am, 9am, 12noon, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, and then some time in the late night or early morning each and every day?

And what if we added two wings to prayer: fasting and almsgiving? Think of the revival that would follow? Consider how this would get God’s attention and what the watching world would witness?

My biggest takeaway from Lent 2019 is the impact of observing the divine hours and feeding on a Psalm seven times a day combining it with prayer and almsgiving. It has impacted me in indescribable ways.

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Peter Kreeft: Prayer and Time

“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. John 6:9-11

“We have time and prayer backwards. We think time determines prayer, but prayer determines time. We think our lack of time is the cause of our lack of prayer, but our lack of prayer is the cause of our lack of time.

When a little boy offered Christ five loaves and two fishes, he multiplied them miraculously. He does the same with our time, but only if we offer it to him in prayer. This is literally miraculous, yet I know it happens from repeated experience. Every day that I say I am too busy to pray, I seem to have no time, accomplish little, and feel frazzled and enslaved by time. Every day that I say I’m too busy not to pray, every time I offer some time-loaves and life-fishes to Christ, he miraculously multiplies them and I share his conquest of time. I have no idea how he does it, I know that he does it, time after time.

And yet I resist sacrificing my loaves and fishes to him. I am an idiot. That’s one of the things original sin means: spiritual insanity, preferring misery to joy, little bits of hell to little bits of heaven.

We must restore our spiritual sanity. One giant step in that direction is to think truly about time.
Time is like the setting of a play. The setting is really part of the play, contained by the play, determined by the play. But we often think the opposite: we think the play is contained by the setting. We think that the theme, the meaning, the spirit of the play is in its material setting instead of the other way around…

And since time measures the movements of material bodies, while prayer measures the movements of the soul, time is really in prayer rather than prayer in time. Prayer determines and changes and miraculously multiplies time (the loaves and fishes). But prayer multiplies time only if and when we sacrifice our time, offer it up. There’s the rub. We fear sacrifice…

Eternity is not in the future but in the present. The future is unreal, not yet real. One of the devil’s most ridiculous and successful lies is the idea that we should devote our lives to pursuing and acquiring goods we do not yet have rather than enjoying the ones we do have. This makes us slaves to time, to the unreal future, forever, for “tomorrow is always a day away.”

The first rule for prayer, the most important first step, is not about how to do it, but to just do it; not to perfect and complete it but to begin it. Once the car is moving, it’s easy to steer it in the right direction, but it’s much harder to start it up when it’s stalled. And prayer is stalled in our world.

So stop reading and start praying. Right now.”

Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, from his blogpost entitled, “Time.”

Do what he says. Take time to pray today. Prayer determines time. It helps us grasp what is real and good and true and right. Prayer multiplies time, but only when we sacrifice time.

Live in this reality regarding prayer and time in life after Lent and you will enjoy what you have now, you will find freedom from slavery to things, your time and capacity for generous living will grow exponentially.

And if you have no idea what I just said, stop reading and start praying, now. You don’t figure it out until you live it out. You must sacrifice time for prayer to discover this experientially.

What better day to start than Palm Sunday. Christ is with you. Christ is with me. He is with us.

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Teresa of Ávila: Defect

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

“Our body has this defect that, the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs and desires it finds.”

Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) as recounted by William J. Elenchin in Happy Without the Meal (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2013) 65.

Fasting teaches us that we don’t really need all the things we think we need. We must learn this because our flesh confuses luxuries with necessities.

We like something once. Then we want it all the time. The more we get it, the more we become a slave to it. The only thing we need is Christ.

The tricky thing that trips up even committed followers of Christ is money. They think they need money to sustain themselves and their families.

This is why the writer of Hebrews reminded us to keep ourselves free of the love of money, which means “I need money to sustain me.” Money does not sustain us. Christ does!

This is why fasting, when combined with giving and prayer during Lent, shapes us into people whose generosity, rooted in contentment, shows the world that having Christ is having all you need.

He heals our defect. We realize we don’t need care and comforts. Though it’s great to enjoy them occasionally. He is all we have ever needed, all we need, and all we will ever need.

Live in this reality in life after Lent.

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Matt Fradd: Are you dieting?

And [Jesus] told them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” Mark 9:29

“Prayer without fasting is like boxing with one hand tied behind your back, and that fasting without prayer is, well, dieting.”

Matt Fradd on Twitter on 24 August 2013.

Are you dieting? Seriously! Lent is not about sacrificing some kind of food in order to lose a few pounds. It’s about locating power greater than your own.

Part of living, giving, serving, and loving in a manner that exhibits generosity that is distinctly Christian to a watching world is tapping into divine power and abundant capacity.

When the disciples realized that the challenges exceeded their power and abilities, Jesus told them to pray and fast. Instead, so often, we push hard in our own strength and end up weary and worn out.

Don’t diet. Do what He says. I am learning that you don’t figure this out until you live it out.

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John of the Cross: Never Give Up Prayer

Then Jesus told His disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. Luke 18:1

“Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.”

John of the Cross (1542-1591) in “Counsels to a Religious” in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington D.C.: ICS, 2017) 729.

Two things happened linked to the Lenten discipline of prayer in Kentucky over the last two days. I must share them as they relate to generosity and God’s provision linked to answered prayer.

Firstly, upon arrival I had a meeting and time of prayer with my hosts at Asbury Seminary. We prayed specifically that God would surprise our schools with provision for taking time away from work to grow and learn together.

God miraculously moved. Not one but two schools learned of $1 million gifts while we were convened. God reminded us afresh as colleagues that He is our Provider and that He hears our prayers.

Secondly, in giving myself in service to others while I am praying for God’s provision for Global Trust Partners, I prayed for Him to supply in a way that would show me I was supposed to be serving them.

After two long days, God surprised me with just that. He’s raised up another mighty man to stand with me and support GTP. It was not the result of my work but His work in this brother’s life. I am praising the Lord.

I don’t know where you find yourself today, but I want to encourage you to “never give up prayer.” You may be saying to yourself, “But what does faithful prayer have to do with generosity?”

Prayer reorients us to realize our role and God’s role in His work. I have been reminded to serve generously and trust God to supply abundantly. We show our love and trust in God through prayer and service. Never give up prayer.

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Benedict of Nursia: Pray and Work

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:17

“O Lord, I place myself in your hands and dedicate myself to you. I pledge myself to do your will in all things: To love the Lord God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength. Not to kill. Not to steal. Not to covet. Not to bear false witness. To honor all persons. Not to do to another what I would not wish done to myself. To chastise the body. Not to seek after pleasures. To love fasting. To relieve the poor. To clothe the naked. To visit the sick. To bury the dead. To help in trouble. To console the sorrowing. To hold myself aloof from worldly ways.

To prefer nothing to the love of Christ. Not to give way to anger. Not to foster a desire for revenge. Not to entertain deceit in the heart. Not to make a false peace. Not to forsake charity. Not to swear, lest I swear falsely. To speak the truth with heart and tongue. Not to return evil for evil. To do no injury: yea, even to bear patiently any injury done to me. To love my enemies. Not to curse those who curse me, but rather to bless them. To bear persecution for justice’ sake. Not to be proud. Not to be given to intoxicating drink. Not to be an over-eater. Not to be lazy. Not to be slothful. Not to be a murmured. Not to be a detractor. To put my trust in God.

To refer the good I see in myself to God. To refer any evil in myself to myself. To fear the Day of Judgment. To be in dread of hell. To desire eternal life with spiritual longing. To keep death before my eyes daily. To keep constant watch over my actions. To remember that God sees me everywhere. To call upon Christ for defense against evil thoughts that arises in my heart. To guard my tongue against wicked speech. To avoid much speaking. To avoid idle talk. To read only what is good to read. To look at only what is good to see. To pray often.

To ask forgiveness daily for my sins, and to seek ways to amend my life. To obey my superiors in all things rightful. Not to desire to be thought holy, but to seek holiness. To fulfill the commandments of God by good works. To love chastity. To hate no one. Not to be jealous or envious of anyone. Not to love strife. Not to love pride. To honor the aged. To pray for my enemies. To make peace after a quarrel, before the setting of the sun. Never to despair of your mercy, O God of Mercy. Amen.”

The Prayer of St. Benedict by Benedict of Nursia (480-547). The Rule of St. Benedict is often summed up with the Latin expression “ora et labora” or “pray and work.”

This prayer seemed fitting because it mentions the Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer, and giving as a part of everyday life. It is also relevant to my situation. I am facilitating meetings with administrators of 13 leading theological schools at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, and we are discussing our faithful work that must be rooted in prayer. This prayer, ascribed to Benedict, helps us as God’s workers to stay centered and focused on Christ. I pray it blesses you and those you share it with (along with the new header photo from horse farm country).

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Council of Trent: Uprooting all sin

For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world. 1 John 2:16

“Pastors should teach that all kinds of satisfaction are reducible to three heads: prayer, fasting and almsdeeds, which correspond to three kinds of goods which we have received from God, those of the soul, those of the body and what are called external goods.

Nothing can be more effectual in uprooting all sin from the soul than these three kinds of satisfaction. For since whatever is in the world is the [lust] of the flesh, the [lust] of the eyes, and the pride of life, everyone can see that to these three causes of disease are opposed also three remedies. To the first is opposed fasting; to the second, almsdeeds; to the third, prayer.

Moreover, if we consider those whom our sins injure, we shall easily perceive why all kinds of satisfaction are reduced especially to these three. For those (we offend by our sins) are: God, our neighbour and ourselves. God we appease by prayer, our neighbour we satisfy by alms, and ourselves we chastise by fasting.”

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) in “The Catechism of the Council of Trent” (John A. McHugh and Charles J. Callan, 1923) 189.

The Council of Trent drew from the rich legacy of the church. Therein we find quotes from Augustine, Chrysostom, and many other saints in church history.

We also find that fasting, praying, and almsdeeds are presented as three primary practices that minister to our soul and our body. They teach us how to relate to earthly goods and work to uproot all sin from our lives.

Notice that the Council urges pastors to teach this. Pastors, pay attention! Urge prayer so people connect with God. Call for alms to show love of neighbor. Exhort fasting to save us from ourselves.

It is fitting that I quote the Council of Trent today as one of my books that I am giving to some of the seminary leaders today is my most recent ECFA Press book, The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance.

Thanks for your prayers for fruitful meetings at Asbury Theological Seminary. I arrived late last night so I will try to post a beautiful header photo from Kentucky tomorrow.

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Columba of Iona: Fast and Vigils

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Luke 2:36-37

“According to tradition St. Columba was tall and of dignified mien. Adamnan says: “He was angelic in appearance, graceful in speech, holy in work” (Praef., II). His voice was strong, sweet, and sonorous capable at times of being heard at a great distance. He inherited the ardent temperament and strong passions of his race. It has been sometimes said that he was of an angry and vindictive spirit not only because of his supposed part in the battle of Cooldrevny but also because of irritant related by Adamnan (II, xxiii sq.) But the deeds that roused his indignation were wrongs done to others, and the retribution that overtook the perpetrators was rather predicted than actually invoked. Whatever faults were inherent in his nature he overcame and he stands before the world conspicuous for humility and charity not only towards has brethren, but towards strangers also. He was generous and warm-hearted, tender and kind even to dumb creatures. He was ever ready to sympathize with the joys and sorrows of others. His fasts and vigils were carried to a great extent. The stone pillow on which he slept is said to be still preserved in Iona. His chastity of body and purity of mind are extolled by all his biographers. Notwithstanding his wonderful austerities, Adamnan assures us he was beloved by all, “for a holy joyousness that ever beamed from his countenance revealed the gladness with which the Holy Spirit filled his soul”. (Praef., II.)”

Columba (521-597) was abbot of Iona. This account is informed by the writings of Adamnan (624-704) who was abbot of Iona shortly after him. This post is for my mother. My ancestry traces to Iona through her. She was curious to see if I could locate the Lenten disciplines there, and I did (source: New Advent). Thanks for the suggestion, Mom!

While this is not a traditional meditation, I like to make posts like this occasionally to inspire us to think how we want to be remembered: for grace and generosity, for standing up for victims of injustice, and for fasting and vigils (late night or early morning prayers) that released the power of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives.

Columba’s legacy reminded me of Anna in today’s Scripture who was also known for her fasting and praying. No wonder she had such a long and fruitful prophetic ministry. Her worship or service night and day was fasting and praying. Through those disciplines she tapped in to all that is good and blessed others daily in the Temple.

This excerpt about Columba touched me most deeply: “He was generous and warm-hearted, tender and kind even to dumb creatures. He was ever ready to sympathize with the joys and sorrows of others. His fasts and vigils were carried to a great extent.” What a legacy!

Father, make it so for my life and for each one reading this. Thank you for my ancestors and their deep faith. Following in their footsteps, cause our fasting and vigils to shape us into people known for humility, charity, generosity, and kindness by the power the Holy Spirit at work in us. Do this, I ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Pray for me as I fly to Houston, Texas, and then to Lexington, Kentucky, today to facilitate meetings of presidents and senior administrators of 13 leading seminaries on Tuesday and Wednesday at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Pray for wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit to serve them well. Thank you.

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Columba of Iona: Fasts and Vigils

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Luke 2:36-37

“According to tradition St. Columba was tall and of dignified mien. Adamnan says: “He was angelic in appearance, graceful in speech, holy in work” (Praef., II). His voice was strong, sweet, and sonorous capable at times of being heard at a great distance. He inherited the ardent temperament and strong passions of his race. It has been sometimes said that he was of an angry and vindictive spirit not only because of his supposed part in the battle of Cooldrevny but also because of irritant related by Adamnan (II, xxiii sq.) But the deeds that roused his indignation were wrongs done to others, and the retribution that overtook the perpetrators was rather predicted than actually invoked. Whatever faults were inherent in his nature he overcame and he stands before the world conspicuous for humility and charity not only towards has brethren, but towards strangers also. He was generous and warm-hearted, tender and kind even to dumb creatures. He was ever ready to sympathize with the joys and sorrows of others. His fasts and vigils were carried to a great extent. The stone pillow on which he slept is said to be still preserved in Iona. His chastity of body and purity of mind are extolled by all his biographers. Notwithstanding his wonderful austerities, Adamnan assures us he was beloved by all, “for a holy joyousness that ever beamed from his countenance revealed the gladness with which the Holy Spirit filled his soul”. (Praef., II.)”

Columba (521-597) was abbot of Iona. This account is informed by the writings of Adamnan (624-704) who was abbot of Iona shortly after him. This post is for my mother. My ancestry traces to Iona through her. She was curious to see if I could locate the Lenten disciplines there, and I did (source: New Advent). Thanks for the suggestion, Mom!

While this is not a traditional meditation, I like to make posts like this occasionally to inspire us to think how we want to be remembered: for grace and generosity, for standing up for victims of injustice, and for fasting and vigils (late night or early morning prayers) that released the power of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives.

Columba’s legacy reminded me of Anna in today’s Scripture who was also known for her fasting and praying. No wonder she had such a long and fruitful prophetic ministry. Her worship or service night and day was fasting and praying. Through those disciplines she tapped in to all that is good and blessed others daily in the Temple.

This excerpt about Columba touched me most deeply: “He was generous and warm-hearted, tender and kind even to dumb creatures. He was ever ready to sympathize with the joys and sorrows of others. His fasts and vigils were carried to a great extent.” What a legacy!

Father, make it so for my life and for each one reading this. Thank you for my ancestors and their deep faith. Following in their footsteps, cause our fasting and vigils to shape us into people known for humility, charity, generosity, and kindness by the power the Holy Spirit at work in us. Do this, I ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Pray for me as I fly to Houston, Texas, and then to Lexington, Kentucky, today to facilitate meetings of presidents and senior administrators of 13 leading seminaries on Tuesday and Wednesday at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Pray for wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit to serve them well. Thank you.

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Jean-Pierre de Caussade: Holy Joy

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

“You cannot imagine anything more wonderful than their union, candour, and simplicity. Impressed by their great austerities I asked them one day if such a hard life did not affect their health and shorten their lives. They replied that there were hardly ever any invalids amongst them, and that very few died young, most of them living to be over eighty. They added that fasting and mortification contributed to improve their health and to prolong life, which good cheer usually tended to shorten. I have never beheld such gaiety and holy joy anywhere else…”

Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) in “Letters on the Practice of Abandonment to Divine Providence” excerpt from Letter VII “To a Holy Community” in Abandonment to Divine Providence (Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library) 133.

This post represents a priceless glimpse into the correspondence of deeply committed followers of Christ who are abandoned to divine providence.

In this letter, Jean-Pierre is writing about his experience with the Community of Poor Clares. As you may recall, Clare of Assisi was a close companion of Francis who urged women to follow the rule of Francis which is summed up in three texts from the Gospels: Matthew 19:21Luke 9:3, and Matthew 16:24.

To this day, the Community of Poor Clares are known for living lives of prayer in community with joy. People may think that austere fasting and mortification leave a person empty, but notice that Jean-Pierre finds them healthy and joyful. They experience holy joy.

I pray that is your experience of fasting and mortification too. We deny ourselves daily during Lent not to in any way bring harm to the body and spirit, but rather to help us. The benefits are both spiritual and physical. No wonder Jesus said that anyone who wants to be a disciple must deny themselves daily and follow Him.

What at first glance seems like a hard life actually contributes to a healthy life. It appears that we are giving up things, when in reality we are getting better things. It’s a paradox of the generosity journey. You don’t figure out until you live it out.

The best part about the feast days of Lent (the seven Sundays), is that you learn to appreciate that which you have fasted from, but now your find yourself no longer under the control of such things. You realize, you don’t really need them after all, though maybe you thought you did. You find yourself free and bountifully cared for by divine providence. This is where the joy comes into view.

I pray that in Christ your joy is full and holy!

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