One of the best things that happened in my early spiritual development was that I was taught to spend daily time with Christ. One of my early mentors told me that God spells love 'T-I-M-E'. And having received little instruction in the scriptures, I was hungry to find out what God had to say to me through the scriptures.
For several years, I daily mined the scriptures for both theological and practical truths that caused my spiritual health to grow by leaps and bounds. And along with my book by book study of the scriptures, I fumbled my way through learning to pray as well.
Eventually and gradually the 'newness' of scripture started to wear off for me, but I had experienced so much personal growth through my daily times with Christ, I was not about to give that up. Instead, for a number of years I started to drift from one devotional practice to another. For a season, I would read Spurgeon's Morning and Evening. And then I practiced inductive study. Then I would practice Life Application journaling. Then I would keep a prayer journal. And then I would memorize scripture and seek to hear God's voice. I benefited from all of these practices, and still return to them at times. But when I return to them now, they are a supplement to the main dish of my devotional life. What is the main dish? The Daily Office of course.
The Daily Office, or Canonical Hours as they are called in other traditions, is the regularly occurring intervals of prayer in the great tradition of the Church. Forms of the Daily Office are used in the eastern church, the Catholic church and of course in the Anglican tradition as well. Through the Book of Common Prayer, and through much memorization at this point, I am daily able to start my waking hours with glorious prayers that are much more than I could muster by myself at 6am. The prayers cover comprehensive topics from confession, to thanks, to praise and global intersession in a concise fashion. And they are attractively and systematically interwoven with the breadth of scripture. Over the course of two years I read through the bulk of scripture, and daily, often morning and evening, my days are wrapped in substantive times of prayer. The times of prayer can range from 5 minutes if I utilize the noon or Compline (before bedtime) prayers, to a full 45 minutes if I spend some extra times of intercession during morning prayer. But the practice doesn't have to be intimidating. In fact, if you have access to a tablet or smartphone, you can listen to the daily office in audio format during your day, or you can download an app which places the daily readings into the prayer office for you (the link is http://www.missionstclare.com/english/). The app's morning and evening prayer liturgies may seem long, but many of the intercessory prayers and canticles are optional if you would like to move through it more quickly. You can also split up the readings into two in the morning and one in the evening to save a bit more time if you need.
Here is one example of the wonderful prayers that we can participate in regularly through the daily office:
V. Show us your mercy, O Lord;
R. And grant us your salvation.
V. Clothe your ministers with righteousness;
R. Let your people sing with joy.
V. Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
R. For only in you can we live in safety.
V. Lord, keep this nation under your care;
R. And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
V. Let your way be known upon earth;
R. Your saving health among all nations.
V. Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
R. Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
V. Create in us clean hearts, O God;
R. And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.
I would encourage you to consider the Daily Office as a source of devotional depth and stability that can keep you growing throughout the years of your journey with Christ.
Not all Christians take a Sabbath. Some do, and some don't. And this is how it should be. In fact, in Romans 14:5, St. Paul instructs the Christians in Rome to refrain from judging one another, whether they keep one day set apart as a Sabbath or not. The apostle tells us to live according to your convictions on this one, and do not look down on those that do differently. But he also says to be fully convinced of your practice, and I am. And here is why:
I didn't start my Christian life taking a day apart for rest, worship and family. But in college the grind of endless chapters and assignments always looming overhead took its toll on me, and I decided to begin taking one day a week set aside to stop, and rest, and pray. I have never gone back. It has been difficult at times, especially at first. It took some trust and some planning to be able to finish in six days what you used to do in seven. But it somehow seemed to work out, just like when you start tithing. And the benefits have never left me.
Here are some of the benefits that a Sabbath day has afforded:
1. A break and escape from a southern California culture bent on busyness, and flashing images and ambition.
2. A space for my soul to reset and be prepared, even energized for the six days ahead.
3. Quality time with my wife, kids and extended family on a weekly basis.
4. Margin for regular art, music and poetry to be developed.
5. A break from the never-ending needs of ministry.
6. A realization that it is grace that builds God kingdom, not my frantic work.
Because I help direct worship on Sundays, that is not my day of rest. I am intentional about entering into the joy of corporate worship as much as I am able while leading, but I still wouldn't describe it as 'rest.' So I take my rest on Fridays. The world doesn't knock on my door as often as on Saturdays. And those that know me try to protect this space for me and my family. It is a well of life for us. I encourage you to consider a day of rest, family, and worship in your week. Not a day of flashing images in front of the TV, but rather a day of quietly getting in touch with God's presence before you launch into the rest of the week. Maybe Sunday would be a good day. Or maybe Saturday. Or maybe this doesn't sound attractive to you at all. Whichever way you choose, be fully convinced :)
Here is a recent poem I wrote on Friday Sabbath:
Tasks surround me, wild beasts biting bits of precious thoughts.
'You may only go if you kill us,' they lie.
But tucked into my vest, I unsheathe Paper and pen.
I cage the beasts inside four clean white corners. They can't escape.
I pack more beasts within, they begin to howl and moan and shake the
four white corners, and I fear they will escape to torment me again.
But the pinks of the sky show that the day is near done. The sun sets.
Not summer stillness. Not evening stillness, but Sabbath stillness.
I fold the four corners up, and I stick it deep in my pocket.
This isn't a day for little beasts.
It is a day for ferocious rest.
Author: Cameron Lemons
Reflections from the pastor