Benedict of Nursia (480-543) is best known as the father of modern monasticism; his feast day, for those who mark such celebrations, is today, July 11. He wrote what has become known as the Rule of Benedict, a lengthy guide for those who seek to live in cloistered community.
I could say much about Benedict, but I will limit it to this, for today: Benedict said that for the monk, nothing is to be preferred to what he called “the work of God.” And what is the work of God, for Benedict?
Put simply, prayer.
In a more involved sense, Benedict referred to the divine office as the work of God, the multiple daily occasions where the monks drop whatever else they’re doing to gather together to pray and sing the Psalms. While each monk is assigned work within the community based on training and gifting, his real work is to pray. Ora et labora is the Benedictine motto: pray and work.
Last week, I wrote about patience, and how time spent waiting in line can be used to pray for others – even the people waiting in line near us, whom we may not know. In response, I was asked two excellent questions by a faithful reader of Encouragement From The Word: first, Why would God need or want us to pray for someone we know nothing about? and second, Since God already knows what is best for that individual and we don’t, why would our prayer have any influence on God?
I responded by saying that prayer has less to do with us influencing God than it does with developing our relationship with God. I remember when I was getting to know the woman who is now my wife, in those early weeks and months, we talked, whether on the phone or in person, a lot. If you’ve been in a serious relationship, you probably have done the same. We would talk about anything and everything, and it wasn’t about information sharing; it was about relationship building.
And on those occasions when we pray for others, whose situations (or maybe even names) we do not know, we commend them to God’s love and care, and let the Lord deal with their individual circumstances. While we may not be able to pray with precision, we can build our relationship with the Lord through such prayers.
When I pray with a monastic community (and I do, when time allows), I am not always acquainted with the people or issues that fill their times of prayer. The Psalm chants that we sing are not always familiar to me. But these times, like the times I spent waiting in line and praying for others, help to strengthen my walk with God. And that is never time wasted!
How can you redeem time by spending it building up your relationship with God?
“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NLT).