While the man of God was in that place with his companions, one of the brethren, either as a test or because of some sin, began to be chastised by a violent fever. Since they had no food except such as the barks and herbs furnished, they began with one mind to desire that all should give themselves up to prayer and fasting for the sake of the welfare of their sick brother.
- Jonas, Lift of St. Columban
If any man, to whom God has granted it, understands what life he ought to live to become eternal in place of mortal, wise in place of stupid, heavenly in place of earthly, first let him keep his discernment pure that he may employ it for living well, and look not on what is but on what shall be. For that which is not shall be, and he should consider what he sees not, by means of what he sees, and attempt to be what he was created, and call God’s grace to help his striving.
- Columbanus, Sermon III
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 4.19
When Celtic Christians went on peregrinatio, they went with the clothes on their backs and a satchel filled with books. They insisted that God, Who had called them to the work, would be faithful to supply all their needs through His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
This was no mere cliché or empty ideal. It was practice, and for thousands of wandering missionary/monks who followed Columbanus into Europe, it proved a most effective approach for making sure their needs were met.
Whenever needs arose – what they could see – they increased prayer and fasting, believing that, by looking to Him Whom they could not see, the situation they were confronting would be resolved according to the promises of Christ. The more they looked to the Lord and expressed their confidence in Him, and brought their needs before Him, the more the Lord supplied their needs and multiplied their ranks in the field.
This was their practice whenever needs of any kind arose. They were already men of prayer who fasted daily; but when special needs came before them, they ratcheted up their efforts to demonstrate their complete confidence in the Lord.
In the case of this one who had fallen ill, as Columbanus and his men prayed, a man arrived at Annegray with a cart laden with food, which, he insisted, God had instructed him to bring to the monks. That food became God’s answered prayer for their colleague, and he recovered.
The man who brought the food to them, asked for prayer for his wife, who was ill with a fever. The monks prayed fervently, and by the time the man returned home, his wife was well – without the benefit of additional food or medical attention. God can heal by using material means, and He can heal apart from them.
As we look around at our world, what do we see? To be brief, as Cornelius Plantiga expressed it, things are “not the way they’re supposed to be.” Our world is sick, and physical remedies for the kind of moral and spiritual distress that plague us are grossly inadequate. The world keeps looking to material solutions – money, political change, better jobs, an end to war. These are but barks and herbs for what ails us.
We need relief that comes from above, and that only comes in response to prayer and fasting. The Church is supposed to be a house of prayer – asking, seeking, and knocking without ceasing – so that God will do great things and mysteries to bless and restore His world (Jer. 33.3).
But we are not as faithful in prayer and fasting as Columbanus and his men were. We agree with the world that its ailments can be healed by political means leading to economic improvement. Our prayers, as individual believers and congregations, tend to be occasional, perfunctory, and self-serving. And fasting isn’t even on the radar screen of most contemporary believers.
So we have not, because we ask not. But we ask not, because we do not believe God alone is big enough, faithful enough, loving enough, and responsive enough to hear us when we pray. Our vision of what might be remains defined in terms of material and personal wellbeing, rather than righteousness, peace, joy, and glory in the Lord.
Columbanus and his companions were trailblazers for a missions and revival movement that renewed the churches of Europe, awakened multitudes of unbelievers to the Good News of Jesus and His Kingdom, and set the stage for a restoration of culture and society that brought the blessings of God to nations and peoples all over Europe.
What “will be” is what our God has promised: The Kingdom of the Prince of peace increasing on earth without end (Is. 9.6, 7). We “live well”: when the coming of this Kingdom is our focus and desire, and the driving force in all we do; when we bow our knees to the Lord, pleading with Him for revival, renewal, and awakening in our day; and when we show by fasting and other forms of obedience that we are hoping not in the things we can see, but in the things we cannot see to bring healing to our sad, sick world.
For these troubled times, what can you learn from Columbanus about where to look and how to look there so that you will live well?
Psalm 46.1-5 (St. Chrysostom: We Have Not Known Thee As We Ought)
God is our refuge and our strength; He is our help in times of need.
Thus though the earth beneath us should change, the sea consume the mountain range;
Waters may roar with raging speed; yet God will rescue us at length.
God’s everlasting, joyous grace gladdens the city where He dwells.
Safely in Him, we will not be moved; when morning dawns, His love will be proved.
Fears and distresses Jesus dispels for His beloved, chosen race.
I want to pray more, Lord, and, yes, even to fast, so help me as I…
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.