Let’s fix time. I’ve told you this story before; but I think it is a hoot, so, you get to hear it again. One day, Julius Caesar decided he had to fix the calendar. Before his time, all calendars were based on the lunar cycle. But the lunar calendar was 11 days shorter than a solar calendar. In an attempt to fix things, the time police mandated the addition of an extra leap month to the calendar at the end of every three years. Suffice it to say, that it wasn’t long before Julius Caesar had enough of those sort of time shenanigans and decided that the time was right for a completely new calendar, one that was based solely on the sun. The result of this Julian calendar was that the year was now comprised of 365 ¼ days and would start in January and not in March. (March was previously thought to be the beginning of the year because you had to wait until March to start planting or to start marching off to a new war). Not only that, but this calendar added two more months to the year. That’s right, before the big J got involved in the calendar, there were only ten months in a year which explains why the last four months of our calendar are named after numbers — September, October, November and December – seven, eight, nine and ten (November is derived from the Latin “Novem” or nine). And then in a stroke of genius, someone suggested that they name these two new months after the most popular Caesars, Julius and Augustus (you can bet that guy got a great performance review!). And that was our calendar for hundreds of years. Then in the year 525, a monk decided that time ought to be divided in two eras, one before and one after the coming of Christ. This monk’s name was Dionysius Exiguous, which when translated means, “Denis the Short.” So, Denis researched and researched and figured out when Jesus was born and made that year one. But his “fix” required that people went from 1 BC to 1 AD without once having to pass through year 0 (meaning they could not collect $200). But to make matters worse, Denis the Short was unfortunately wrong in his calculations. And that’s how we ended up with the strange anomaly where Jesus was actually born 4 or 5 years Before Christ. It’s like, before he was, he was! Anyway, all things went swimmingly well until Pope Gregory. By this time, (let’s say 1582) everyone had noticed that the solar year was in fact slightly shorter than Julius Caesar had thought. The Julian clock was 11 minutes and 14 seconds fast every year; and after a bunch of years, that adds up (it was also messing up when Easter was to be celebrated). So, Pope Gregory set out to fix it. On the night of October 4, 1582, everyone went to bed as usual, only to arise the next morning on October 15, ten days into the future. With one stroke of his pen, Pope Gregory travelled into the future and fixed time. Thank you, Pope G!
Our prayer today is Proper 18. Ask me why I like this prayer, and I will tell you that it “fixes” all sorts of things.
Grant us, O Lord,
to trust in you with all our hearts;
for, as you always resist the proud
who confide in their own strength,
so you never forsake those
who make their boast of your mercy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Here are my three reasons for choosing this prayer as one of my top TEN PRAYERS. I love that it asks God to work in us so that we would trust him with all of our hearts. See, I am good at knowing about God; and I am good at articulating how we ought to respond to God. I am even good at telling us why we should have faith in God. I am just not that good at trusting God. See, trust is a relational term. It involves love, loyalty, harmony, and good will. It also expresses our reliance on the other person. When we trust, we don’t have to worry. If all this prayer does is to ask God to produce more trust in me, this prayer would be invaluable because I know my own heart; and I know I don’t trust God with my life nearly as much as I could. And here’s a benefit in disguise. In the heat of the moment, I often forget about trusting God. I simply go on auto-pilot and try to solve things in my own wisdom and strength. But praying this prayer often reminds me of my lack of trust and my best heart’s desire to rest in God’s goodness and love. Praying this prayer frequently helps me to remember to trust in every situation.
I also love that this prayer shows me my sin. Again, most of the time, I am blind to my own sin (but don’t worry about my eyesight; I have 20-20 vision when it comes to your sin!); but this sin accuses me so that I cannot escape the truth: I am one of the proud who always confides in my own strength. As a result, I need to know that God resists people like me. It is also true that, long before I can trust God, I need to jettison my own pride and self-reliance. See, the main problem with trusting God is not that we don’t have enough faith in God; it is that we have too much faith in ourselves. We don’t want God’s help (pride). We don’t want to appear weak (more pride), and we don’t want to owe God anything (more and more pride). We are self-reliant through and through. And this prayer exposes that, and for that I am extremely grateful.
But exposing my sin is an unhappy thought unless there is hope. Here’s the third reason I love this prayer. It contains the promise that God will never forsake those who rejoice in God’s grace and mercy. Here’s my life’s goal (I just thought of it, and so I am anxious to share it): I want to become an expert at rejoicing in God’s grace and mercy. What a great thought. While God resists the proud, he never forsakes those who boast in God’s mercy. Never. Not once. Not ever. I love this prayer because I rejoice in God’s grace. And here’s the secret: grace fixes everything.
But there’s another element here that might fix things. Psalm 119:164 says:
“Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous laws.”
Now, this could be some pietistic exaggeration or a form of enthusiastic hyperbole, but it seems more likely that the psalmist was speaking literally. Seven times a day, he set apart a time to pray and to give God the praise due his name. It is a historical fact that the faithful Jews set apart “fixed” times each day to pray. Seven times a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, the Jewish community would stop what they were doing and go to prayer. Interestingly, the church in Acts gives clear signs that this was their practice, as well. And by the time we get to the Church Fathers, we see that this had become a common practice then, too. God’s people had set times of prayer every morning and every night, and then three times during the day. They prayed at 9 am. They prayed at noon and they prayed at 3 pm. They believed that these “fixed” times of prayer fixed things in their lives. They believed these times reoriented their hearts to God. They believed that these times exposed their sins and encouraged them to repent. And they believed they helped them to trust more in God’s goodness
And even the prayers they prayed were fixed. They prayed the Psalms. They used the Lord’s Prayer. They used “memorized” prayers that had been used for centuries. And they recited certain creeds and passage to refocus their hearts on God (for instance, “the Shema” from Deuteronomy 6 or the Jesus Creed from Mark 12). By praying at fixed times, they also believed they were fulfilling Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
What if we took their example seriously and prayed five times a day, once upon getting up, once before retiring and three other fixed times in the day (or around breakfast, around lunch, around dinner, plus two more). These prayer times don’t need to be long, but they do need to be fixed at a set time. In one sense, they need to interrupt our busy schedules so that we can reorient ourselves to God’s love, God’s kingdom, God’s will, God’s grace and God’s worship. See, set prayers and fixed times can go a long way to “fix” our weak and ineffective prayers (where we depend on our own strength) and free us to trust in and rejoice in God’s mercy and grace. And that is a win-win.
So, pick a time, any time and then tell everyone, “Don’t bother me, I’m fixin’ to pray” (and trust me, you will be fixing a lot of things!). In short, get out of the prayer fix you are in with this quick fix and be like Pope Gregory and fix your calendar by adding fixed times to pray set prayers. I promise, it will fix your wagon.