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A good start? 7 February 2008

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Ponderings.
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“…whenever you begin any good work, beg most earnestly of Him to perfect it…”

I’m very good at starting things, and pretty appalling at finishing them. I tend to sit fairly closely to the principle that most people are content with 75%, or even less, and therefore never claim perfection.

The passage which struck me this morning from the Rule of St Benedict is elementary. It is both simple and profound, and for someone like me, with a tendency to rush into things and forget the basics, is profoundly challenging.

To speak of beginning a good work also implies, to me, that we have an awareness of the nature of that work at the very outset. It is certainly true that we can have a very strong awareness of when something we are about to do is not good, selfish or even evil. Whether we can assess all the potentials of our works is, I think, less certain, as is a genuine grappling with starting a course of action which may be good, but about which we are unsure.

All the better then to engage in the second phrase, to beg of Him (God), “most earnestly to perfect it”.

To commend good intentions to God seems pretty obvious, yet is still something I can easily fail to do. In the need to fulfil the regular commitments, the sermon or the meeting, the temptation remains to simply get on with it, and to trust that the God we serve in Jesus will bless it and bring it to fruition. And yet, that is a misapplication of faith, a presumption – and I do it all the time.

And neither is it enough to simply pray. There are times, true enough, when an “arrow prayer,” a quick, immediate prayer, is the only possible or practical response. This is not really the case, however, in beginning a good work, if that is, we take work to be something of an extended nature.

I was preaching last night in the Ash Wednesday service, based upon Isaiah 58 and Matthew 16, that real prayer, like real fasting, is a time-consuming and costly business. And it’s true. What better way than to seek to begin, and to hallow, to consecrate, a work of good intention. How much does the very action of the prayer transform the practice, I wonder?

And finally, notice what we are encouraged to seek of God’s involvement in the task. Completion? The drawing of a line according to our standards of a job well done? No. The target is the conclusion of the work according to the divine standard, not of ending, nor adequacy, but of perfection.

Perfection is most definitely a state that can only truly be achieved by God, the action of the divine, not simply our own. Perfection, in his eyes, may not be the same as ours either – which is a slight digression and a topic for another time, perhaps.

The good work, rooted in prayer, seeking the divinely-willed conclusion, is to be our goal. Earnest prayer is in itself a sacrifice of time and effort, not too dissimilar to the foundations of a building, I would guess. It leaves time and space for dialogue with God, time for an awareness of our strengths and limitations.

And it’s something that I know I don’t do even half as often as I should. Maybe in the founding prayer too all the worries about the many tasks which need to be done will reveal those most important to God rather than to us. Or to me.

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