Celtic Spiritual Poetry (7)
Everyone should call upon and beseech the Lord of heaven and earth
to stir up fear and love of Him within his heart; for until the fear
of God enters his heart, one is but lukewarm.
When fear is weak, repentance is weak.
When repentance is weak, religion is weak.
For he who does not fear God will not love Him.
He who does not love Him will not fulfill His commandments.
He who does not fulfill His commandments will not possess eternal life
For in fear, love is found.
In love, holy works are found.
In holy works is found eternal life in heaven.
- Colmán mac Beógnai, “The Alphabet of Devotion” (ca. 600 AD)
Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart…
- Luke 18.1
Every Christian is called to holiness, to be holy, as our Father in heaven is holy, and to work hard at bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7.1). For the fear of God contains love for God, and when we fear God and love Him, we are on the path that leads to holiness.
But how can this be realized? How can wretched, small, miserable sinners such as we ever hope to increase in holiness?
Certainly not in our own strength, for we have neither the inclination, the will, the wit, nor the power to be holy. Holiness belongs to the Lord, and He nurtures it in those who fear and love Him, and who serve Him in holy works. Our duty is to understand and embrace the call to holiness, and to seek the Lord earnestly, that He might “stir up fear and love” for Him in our souls, day after day after day.
This is why Jesus said we ought always to pray and not grow weary. It’s why Paul exhorts us to pray without ceasing, and in everything to pray with thanks and supplication to the Lord (1 Thess. 5.17; Phil. 4.6, 7). It pleases God to use our prayers in His work of making us holy; and we show that we believe this, and that we long for that which God longs for as we persevere in prayer, seeking the fear and love of God that issue in holy works.
And isn’t it just here that most of us fall woefully short of Jesus’ teaching? Who of us can say that to pray always and without ceasing is what we seek most of all in our lives? Who of us actually practices it? And for those who do, or who even aspire to, how many of those prayers are devoted to increasing in the fear and love of God?
As Colmán explained, we will have no true religion and no hope of eternal life with God apart from fearing and loving Him. For these lead to repentance, the laying aside of every weight of sin, so that we might run our race to Jesus without hindrance or distraction (Heb. 12.1, 2). So let us encourage one another in this great challenge. The devil does not want you to pray. The world does not want you to pray. You may not much feel like praying.
But Jesus wants you to pray, and to pray for God to stir up fear and love for Him in your heart. For then you will know His power at work in you, transforming you into the image of His Son, and fitting your words and deeds for holy works, to the praise of the glory of God’s marvelous grace.
Will you make it your daily quest to increase in prayer, seeking a greater measure of fear and love for God? If you will, He will hear your prayer, and answer you, and show you great things and mysteries of holiness such as you have never known before (Jer. 33.3).
Psalm 55.1-3, 16-19 (Bread of Life: Break Thou the Bread of Life)
Hear now my prayer, O Lord, hide not from me.
Answer me by Your Word and set me free!
Wicked men sore oppress; restless am I.
Lord, ease my soul’s distress and hear my cry!
Lord, I will call on You, answer and save!
Morning and evening too, my voice I raise.
Grant me Your peace, O Lord; answer my foes!
All who reject God’s Word He overthrows.
Lord, only You can give me the will and power to pray like this. Help me today to…
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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.
I will be drawing from two translation of “The Alphabet of Devotion”: John Carey, King of Mysteries: Early Irish Religious Writings (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1998), pp. 231 ff; and Thomas Owen Clancy and Gilbert Márkus,Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1995, 1997), pp. 195 ff.