“I hate and abhor unrighteousness, but I love Your law. I praise You seven times a day, for the judgments of Your righteousness.” (Psalm 118:163-164 LXX) sings the Psalmist, the great prophet of God, David.
No matter the quality of camera you have, neither the situation that you find yourself in to take a photograph of something, if you neglect to take the time to focus on each individual photo that you are taking, then the photographs will become increasingly distorted. Consider, you set up your camera and take aim at your subject, and the first such shot is perfectly clear. And then, if you refuse to pause between each to refocus your camera on your subject, then each one is progressively blurred until it is barely recognizable as being what you so plainly see before your eyes.
So too is it with our spiritual lives. See, we begin washed anew in the blood of the Covenant, and then we are constantly rejecting the thoughts and ideas of the world as it seeks to flood us with it’s influences. Consider the conviction that you feel towards a sermon when leaving service on a Sunday versus the same degree of conviction you feel by Friday night. When you first begin, you have the perfect vision of what you wish to happen in your life, but then throughout the week, you begin to lose that focus, and the image becomes slowly and bitterly distorted, until by Friday night you can barely even remember what it was that you were so convicted about on Sunday night.
This is why the prophet proclaims that he praises the Lord seven times a day, that he can keep his focus set right. “I hate and abhor unrighteousness,” he proclaims. Consider that this is David, the anointed king of the Lord, and in his reverie he proclaims that he despises unrighteousness, that “I love Your law.” He is seeking after the holiness of the Lord. To hate unrighteousness but love His law is to see to abide in His law. And the method that he proclaims that he uses to do that is to “praise You seven times a day.”
See, from the moment we awaken in the morning, we begin being assaulted by all of the temptations of the evil one. Movies, TV shows, advertising billboards, even walking to the store; everywhere in this world we see temptation. It can be the immodest passer-by, the irate customer, the person who cuts you off on the interstate and immediately slows down. All throughout our day, we are faced with the temptation to lose sight of the goal; of the holiness of the Lord. And, much like the photographer, we must take time during the day to refocus our mind, our heart, our head, on the Lord. Otherwise, we are far more likely to find ourselves slowly losing sight of that. See, we have in our minds the clear image of the goal, the clear image of what we want our lives to look like. And then, throughout the rush of the day, that image becomes distorted. Only when we take the time to refocus ourselves on that image are we able to withstand these temptations. It’s why the apostle admonishes us to “pray without ceasing.” The moment we cease to prayer, we open the gates up to allow these temptations to enter in to our lives.
My father confessor prescribed for me a thrice daily prayer rule. Once in the morning, that I might begin my day with my mind firmly focused on the things of the Lord, once in mid-afternoon, that I can pause and refocus on that same image, and once in the evening, that I would end my day focusing on those same goals, and to guard against the enemy using images in my mind and my dreams to tempt me into sin. And, what I have found is this, whence I, for whatever reason, neglect any of those times, I find myself much more likely to give into temptation, in whatever form it appears. Be it anger, despondency, whatever. I find that the moment I neglect to refocus on that initial image, I am often led astray, into other wanderings and failings.
I can speak only of my own experience, however, I find that when I neglect this period, stated all throughout Scripture, of refocusing on the things of the Lord, I constantly find myself drifting. Thus I personally do all that I can to refocus my mind on the things of the Lord, as the apostle admonishes us, “Set your mind on things above, not the things of the earth.” (Colossians 3:2). I read spiritual books (hence my frequent “excerpt from reading today” posts), I dedicate to reading Scripture, I study the history and traditions of the Church, I maintain the prescribed fasts, and, above all else, I pray. The spiritual disciplines that are taught us in the Holy Scripture. I maintain that thrice daily prayer rule, and all throughout the day maintain my focus through the use of the prayer that the publican prayed, the Jesus Prayer, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”
This is by no means a legalistic, “I do this so you must too,” post. Each of us are among the sick, and each attending the hospital of the great Physician. I am merely sharing what wisdom I have attained that has been of great value to me, that perchance another may glean from it something that may be of aid to them. I can’t help, however, concerning these spiritual disciplines, but to remember the words of our beloved Lord to the apostles concerning the demon, “This kind does not go out, except by fasting and prayer.” (Matthew 17:21). To pray and to fast each help us to rid ourselves of ourselves, to “deny ourselves,” and to focus on the One who alone has the power to heal, and who alone is worthy of all worship and praise, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.
May the peace of the Lord be with you all, my beloved brothers and sisters. Christ is in our midst.