Week Twenty Six - Day One
This will be our last week together working the Daily Offices. I hope you will try to maintain the discipline yourself during the summer. Next fall I will pick this up again and work us through some of the specific disciplines and practices that help us grow spiritually.
As we end, I believe it will be helpful for us to survey where we’ve been. Okay … so let’s review. If you began the Daily Office Project with us then you may remember that we started this whole exercise with a general introduction. I want to repeat that introduction here to remind us why we’re engaged in a spiritual activity like this. The italicized parts below are lifted from our very first day together. Here’s where we started:
“147 I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I have put my hope in your word.
148 My eyes stay open through the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promises.
149 Hear my voice in accordance with your love;
preserve my life, O LORD, according to your laws.”
Let’s face it. Not only do we like to eat; we need to eat. Our bodies need the fuel. Without food, we run out of energy and eventually we die.
The same is true spiritually. If we do not nourish ourselves, we run out of energy and eventually … well, it’s not good. No wonder so many of us live in a kind of spiritual haze and emotional malaise. We simply do not nourish ourselves spiritually; we don’t “eat” with much (or with any) regularity. This project is designed to address that need in our lives. Together, I hope we can have balanced, nourishing, daily spiritual meals. And I hope we can arrange those meals in such a way that it not only nourishes us, but it really does fit with our lives.
This devotional project is based on three critical prongs, all of which are ancient and proven, and all of which are necessary if we are going to be successful in developing real spiritual health. I’m convinced that what has been lacking for me is the right map, the right procedure and a company of co-conspirators. In other words, I need a meaningful spiritual structure, meaningful ritual, and the encouragement of community.
It has been our hope that the substance of the morning and evening document and the cell texts has provided the structure, while the timing of a morning reading, an evening reading and a twice a day interruption has provided the ritual. I have prayed throughout that we would all be able to find a company of co-conspirators in this project. Next fall we will be more intentional with that.
Take a moment and look again at the Scripture reference at the beginning. This comes from a collection of old Jewish hymns which we call Psalms. The Psalmist is making the point that he is so profoundly dependent on God that he tries to connect with Him day and night. The phrase “through the watches of the night” is particularly interesting don’t you think? It suggests … what? A habit … a ritual?
In fact, the habit of crying out to God at preordained times of the day was well-known among Jews for centuries. Early Christians followed the practice as well. For example, the Didache, a manual written in 60 A.D. to provide instruction in Christian worship, recommended that Christ followers should pray the Lord's Prayer three times a day. And many of the early church leaders advocated similar practices.
So we’re going to spend the next nine months together developing and working the habit of crying out to God at preordained times. We’re going to start our day reflecting on some specific spiritual truth. At noon we will receive a text on our phones. It will be fairly short; perhaps some verse of Scripture or a short, inspiring quotation that follows the same theme as the morning. The text is intentional. It is meant to intrude on our day! I think we need the interruption. This should create a moment for us in which we allow God to insert Himself into the middle of our day. The same thing will happen at 5 PM. Then we will end our day with a shorter meditation, again on the same theme. Throughout the project, we will be introduced to various rituals and habits. I have prayed that these rituals will be means of grace for us.
We spent the first several weeks together beginning at the very beginning. We started by looking at the believability of God and then we talked about what He is like. As we moved toward the last few weeks together, our time focused more and more on simply reading passages of Scripture and allowing them to speak to us. When we pick up the project again, our method will be similar. We will begin with a thorough explanation of and defense of the Bible itself. Then we will move even more deeply into using it as a devotional tool for ourselves. For now, let’s end this first phase by looking at the last book of the Bible. We have looked at several forms of literature in the library we call the Bible, and the book of Revelation presents one more form of literature: it is apocalyptic. We will have more to say about this in coming days.
BEFORE YOU START YOUR DAY
- 1.Look again at verse 148 in the Psalm above. Let’s use this to launch us on our day.
- a.Try to rehearse that verse several times in your mind. When the Psalmist says “watches” he is referring to the practice of passing/looking over an area at certain times through the night to guard the city or the camp. Think about your day today as a series of “watches” and allow yourself to be reminded of your pursuit of spiritual nourishment through them. In fact, as you rehearse verse 148 substitute “day” for “night” and think about your day to come.
- b.As you rehearse the verse, think about what it might mean for you to “keep your eyes open” today.
- 2.Dedicate your day to God.
 By the second and third centuries, such Church Fathers as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian wrote of the practice of Morning and Evening Prayer, and of the prayers at terce, sext, and none. The prayers could be prayed individually or in groups. By the third century, the Desert Fathers (the earliest monks), began to live out St. Paul's command to "pray without ceasing" (I_Thessalonians 5:17) by having one group of monks pray one fixed-hour prayer while having another group pray the next prayer.
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