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Monday, January 28, 2008

Breathe In.

Writing on “The Goals of Inner Life” Evelyn Underhill asserts that “adoration, and not intercession or petition must be the very heart of the life of prayer.” Although we often use the acronym ACTS—Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication—as a prescription for personal prayer, we seldom gain a clear understanding of what adoration really means.

Underhill expands our understanding when she writes movingly that prayer “must begin, end, and be enclosed in the atmosphere of adoration; aiming at God for and in Himself. Our ultimate effect as transmitters of the supernal light and love directly depends on this adoring attentiveness. In such a prayer of adoring attentiveness, we open our doors wide to receive His ever-present Spirit . . .” We seldom practice this kind of adoration when we pray. But our need to learn how to pray prayers of adoration is as necessary to maintaining a healthy spiritual life as breathing in is essential to our physical life.

“Only when our souls are filled to the brim can we presume to offer spiritual gifts to other people. The remedy for that sense of impotence, that desperate spiritual exhaustion which religious workers too often know, is, I am sure, an inner life governed not by petition but by adoring prayer. When we find that the demands made upon us are seriously threatening our inward poise, when we feel symptoms of starvation and stress, we can be quite sure that it is time to call a halt . . . ‘Our hearts shall have no rest save in Thee.’ It is only when our hearts are thus actually at rest in God, in peaceful and self-oblivious adoration, that we can hope to show His attractiveness to other people.

“Thus it is surely of the first importance for those who are called to exacting lives of service, to determine that nothing shall interfere with the development and steady daily practice of loving and adoring prayer, a prayer full of intimacy and awe. It alone maintains the soul’s energy and peace, and checks the temptation to leave God for His service. I think that if you have only as little as half an hour to give each morning to your private prayer, it is not too much to make up your minds to spend half that time in such adoration.

“For it is the central service asked by God of human souls and its neglect is responsible for much lack of spiritual depth and power” (Concerning The Inner Life, Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England, 1999, pages 47-50).

O come let us adore Him. Pray. Breathe In.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Personal Spiritual Fitness

How’s your progress with your New Year resolutions? Did you make any?

The gyms are full of newcomers this month, and we have to wait longer than usual for an open treadmill or elliptical trainer. Most people set goals for physical fitness, but what about your personal spiritual fitness? Are you in training? Have you set any goals to maintain or improve your personal spiritual fitness?

The first priority for a minister, writes Evelyn Underhill, is that “his own inner life should be maintained in a healthy state; his own contact with God be steady and true”

It isn’t just the career minister who needs a strong inner life. Paul encouraged every Christian to grow in faith: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17). You may be the only “minister” or “religious worker” that your neighbors, friends, or colleagues ever know. As Evelyn Underhill wrote, you are one of the “assistant shepherds.”

So if you are a layman or woman who does the work of ministry—counseling, encouraging, teaching, or discipling others—you must become spiritually fit.

“The soul of a priest—in fact, the soul of every religious worker—stands in a special relation towards God and other souls . . . He is one of the assistant shepherds, not one of the sheep. He has got to stick it out in all weathers; to be always ready, always serving, always eager to feed and save. An unremitting, patient, fostering care, the willing endurance of exhaustion, hardship, and risk: all these things may be asked of him. He is constantly called upon to give out spiritual energy and sympathy. And he has got to maintain his own supplies, his own religious health and suppleness, in a manner adequate to that demand; so to deepen his own life, that he is capable of deepening the lives of others. In the striking phrase of St. Bernard, if he is adequately to fulfill all his obligations, he must be a reservoir and not a canal” (Concerning The Inner Life, Oneworld Publications, Oxford, England, 1999, pages 13-14).

Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Kind of Furnace

Today, January 5th, Cheryl and I prayed with about 150 other members of our local church during our annual morning of prayer. Praying with one another for our local and global ministry and outreach is one of the privileges of an active church membership.

Praying with our brothers and sisters in Christ is energizing and renewing and may be the best work of all.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words to describe a church or what it is like to experience the ways God works through his people. I like Raniero Cantalamassa’s description of it as “a kind of furnace . . . incinerator . . . hearth . . . and home”:

“We should have an understanding of the Church that is very different from the way the world sees it. The Church is the furnace where the Spirit ‘burns’ in order to destroy sin—a kind of ‘incinerator’ always alight, always at work to do away with the refuse of the soul and to keep the city of God clean. There is a hidden hearth, with welcome fire burning, in the inner privacy of our home which is the Church, and blessed are those who know where to find it and who make a habit of staying close to it, until it becomes their heart’s favorite spot, to which they hurry back every time they feel burdened by guilt and in need of a fresh breath of life” (Come, Creator Spirit, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville Minnesota, 2003, page 119).