(WORD MADE FLESH)
The ‘Pray Continually’ Experiment
Have you ever wondered what God does with Himself between the periodic times we engage with Him in prayer? I don’t mean to sound disrespectful. I fully understand He has more going on than just attending to my little world. But, think a moment. What does He do about me–-my little world—after I’ve tacked ‘amen’ onto the end of a prayer and turned my attention to something else? Would it be fair to say He attends to me with equal concentration whether I return it or not?
I borrowed a couple of books from the library the other day relieved to see they were both slim pocket-sized works. You might call them primers on prayer, The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence (mid 1600s), and Letters by a Modern Mystic, by Frank C. Laubach (mid 1900s).
I’ve been floored by what I read. Brother Lawrence decided to make his life an experiment. He wanted to see if it was possible to live life fully aware of God’s presence with him. He wanted to try to consciously attend to God’s presence with him throughout the day, every hour, every minute; every thought and every task was to be done in communication with God.
Lawrence summarizes, “My day-to-day life consists of giving God my simple, loving attention. If I am distracted, He calls me back in tones that are supernaturally beautiful…my prayers consist of a simple continuation of this same exercise. Sometimes I imagine that I’m a piece of stone, waiting for the sculptor. When I give myself to God this way, He begins sculpting my soul into the perfect image of His beloved Son.”
He goes on to observe, “…we are content with too little. God has infinite treasures to give us, he says. Why should we be satisfied with a brief moment of worship? With such meager devotion, we restrain the flow of God’s abundant grace. If God can find a soul filled with a lively faith, He pours His grace into it in a torrent that, having found an open channel, gushes out exuberantly.”
Laubach seems to embrace the same life-experiment, saying, “This year I have started out trying to live all my waking moments in conscious listening to the inner voice, asking without ceasing, ‘What, Father, do you desire said? What, Father, do you desire done this minute?’”
My questions are twofold:
- Ought we? — Should this ‘practice of the presence of God’ be a responsibility of followers of Christ? We know it would be rude to ignore the presence of a close friend or family member who was by our side, wanting to communicate with us, aid us in our tasks, be our closest confidante. But don’t we do the same to God much of our day? Or, is it enough to focus fully on Him in prayer times, then focus fully on our tasks and play in other times?
- Can we? — Could this experiment actually work in you and me? Being neither 17th century lay monks nor modern mystics, is it relevant and practical for us? Is it possible to carry on life’s tasks in the 21st century and still “live all my waking moments in conscious listening” as Laubach describes? Is this what the apostle Paul means when he exhorts us to “pray continually” (I Thess. 5:17)? How does this look in day-to-day living? I want to hear from other Christ-followers. What is your experience regarding this staggering challenge?