The every-day present God
Every so often I come across a piece of Scripture that my brain latches onto. Usually this happens when I encounter a couple key words that alert me, with fresh clarity or challenging precision, to something about who God is and what He requires of me.
A little while ago I experienced one of these “smack me in the face” moments when reading Paul’s first letter to the church of the Thessalonians. One of Paul’s directions to this church includes a simple but profoundly difficult command: “Pray constantly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Right. Thanks for that one, Paul. It sounds nice, but when I think about actually following Paul’s advice it seems completely impossible. “But I don’t WANT to,” I whine to myself, with an inward voice that sounds vaguely like my 4-year-old son. I’d rather let my mind drift into pointless thoughts, or obsess over the various worries of my day. And when I do pray, thirty-one years of church services and small groups has made me feel like my prayers need to follow a special format that any self-respecting evangelical would recognize. But that kind of prayer is really difficult for me to manufacture and can feel inauthentic.
And yet Paul’s command to “pray without ceasing” is still there. He even repeats essentially the same thing to the Ephesians: “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph 6:18). I can’t get the simple command out of my head, and the more I think about it the more I’m convinced there’s something here that I need to put into practice.
Speaking of practice… one of Christianity’s classic writings of devotional spirituality is called The Practice of the Presence of God. This short book recounts several conversations in person and by letter with Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth century lay brother who spent much of his life serving in a monastery in Paris. Brother Lawrence did not appear to be an extraordinary, smart, or important person. His work at the monastery involved kitchen duty and repairing sandals. But he became known as a man who consistently lived his life within the abiding joy of his God. His humility and his love for God was inspirational to those around him.
When asked to explain his closeness to God, Brother Lawrence’s answer centred around a constant exercise of prayer to God: “We ought to act with God in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs, just as they happen… That in this conversation with God we are also employed in praising, adoring, and loving Him incessantly, for His infinite goodness and perfection.” Brother Lawrence carried on a constant conversation with God—not using flowery words or vain repetitions—but speaking plainly to God about his needs and his love for God.
“But that’s not fair!” I whine again, this time with an inner voice that sounds more like my 8-year-old son. “I’d be a saint too if all I had to do was hang out in a monastery.” But Brother Lawrence didn’t like working in the kitchen, and he really didn’t like when he was required to go into town and sell things on behalf of the monastery. Brother Lawrence had accustomed himself to a continual submission to his heavenly Father, with a mind focussed on praise and intercession to his Lord and a quieted heart which was prepared to hear what the Holy Spirit might be speaking.
Inspired by the Brother’s example, I’ve been asking God to remind me of His presence throughout my daily activities. Then, when I remember Him, I’ll begin a simple conversation with God about what’s going on around me. This pulls my focus away from self-centredness and self-protection. Instead, it focusses my perspective around God’s eternity, faithfulness, and relentless love…
- When my kids wake me up for breakfast at 5:45 (EVERY single day!), I am thankful to God that their energy and voracious appetites point to a healthy, loving family.
- During the many work meetings that I participate in, I see imperfect but Christ-following people trying to do God-honouring work through their individual giftings, personalities, and issues.
- In the nearby Wakamow Valley, I see God’s wondrous creativity.
- When I read world news, God pulls my brain away from anxiety and anger and helps me trust in the ultimate sovereignty He exercises over creation.
- And when I struggle with feelings of insufficiency and insecurity, He reminds me of the eternal standing I have in Christ.
Instead of daydreaming about randomness, or carrying on an internal conversation with myself, I can train my inner thoughts to go to Christ. Speaking truth about who God is, and simply asking for his help for myself and others, is certainly a much better use of brain space. In my limited experience with this practice, I’ve experienced glimpses of the joy and fullness of life that our Father is drawing us into, and that we’ll know fully in eternity (Ephesians 3:16-18).
Of course, this continual conversation with God is not easy or natural. So we must rely on God. As Brother Lawrence would say, "Lord, I cannot do this unless thou enablest me." Our Lord will be faithful to help us in our weakness (Romans 8:26-27).