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"Ora Labora"
by Tom Goodman
May 31, 2007

If you are 35, you have 500 days to live.

That was the title of a magazine article.  According to the author, if you take away the time you will spend sleeping, working, and tending to personal matters such as hygiene, odd chores, eating, and traveling, you’re left with 500 days of leisure between 35 and 70.

In his book, Deepening Your Ministry Through Prayer and Personal Growth, Ben Patterson reflected on how best to spend his remaining 500 days.  He wrote, “If this world is all there is, then none of us should waste our time praying.  We should literally be grabbing for all the gusto we can get.”

Of course, this world is not all there is, but those of us who lead in ministry can betray a worldly way of thinking when we think we’re too busy to pray.  Patterson continues:

A sign of our times, religiously, is the fact that Hans Küng’s otherwise brilliant theological work On Being a Christian did not have a chapter in it on prayer.  When asked about its absence, he apologized and admitted it was a serious oversight.  But, he explained, at the time of writing he was so harassed by the Vatican and busy trying to meet his publisher’s deadline that he simply forgot.  That is my point exactly.  Prayer is always the first thing to go when we get caught up in the world’s pace.  And only prayer can deliver us from that pace.

Patterson says that his many conversations with colleagues in ministry have led him to conclude that prayer is one of the most neglected features of church life:

Prayer is always getting nudged aside, neglected, or perfunctorily performed as more pressing concerns take center stage.  Many of us feel we just have too much to do to make time to pray.  That is the problem.  At bottom, we don’t believe we are really doing anything when we pray—other than pray, that is.

St. Benedict of Nursia founded his Benedictine order in the sixth-century under the slogan Ora Labora.  The Latin word ora means to pray, and labora means to work.  He taught his followers that to pray was to work, and to work was to pray.  Patterson wrote:

Following that rule, the Benedictine order broke down the artificial dichotomy between work and prayer.  From there they also bridged the gap between the manual arts and the liberal arts, the physical and the intellectual, and the empirical and the speculative.  A great tradition developed in which learning, science, agriculture, architecture, and art flourished.  Much of what is thought of as beautiful nature in Europe today, particularly in France, was created by the Benedictine monks who drained swamps and cleared forests.

It’s interesting that when Paul wrote the Colossians, he said this about their pastor, Epaphras, who was visiting Paul:  “Epaphras is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured… he is working hard for you” (NIV).  Notice that Paul described prayer as “working hard.”

It’s not just pastors who need to be “working hard” in prayer.  Faithfulness in prayer should characterize all of us who lead others at church.  Patterson wrote:

Our prayer is our work!  Only when that is true for us will our work be prayer: real worship, praise, adoration, and sacrifice.  The classical postures of prayer, arms stretched out and hands open, or head bowed and hands folded, are gestures of openness and submission to God.  They express perhaps the greatest paradox of prayer: that only when we give up on our human efforts can God’s work begin and, mysteriously, human effort can come to fulfillment.  As Dr. Hallesby puts it in his book Prayer, “Wherever we touch his Almighty arm, some of his omnipotence streams in upon us, into our souls and into our bodies.  And not only that, but, through us, it streams out to others.”

Ora labora!


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