Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Practicing the Presence of God

Dear Friends,

I grew up in the Episcopal Church. That was when it looked like the conservative Anglican Church of England and not what the progressive Episcopal Church looks like today. Halfway between Luther’s and Calvin’s reformed Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, our “high church” liturgical service was in English but otherwise almost indistinguishable from a Roman Catholic service in Latin. All prayer was read by the priest from the prayer book with appropriate responses by the congregation. Prayer was a ritual and any prayer outside of the church walls was usually the recitation of a written prayer that had been memorized. I faithfully recited the Lord’s Prayer every night before falling asleep. Six decades later, I still do. I’ll never forget the first time I went to a non-liturgical, Pentecostal service and we gathered in prayer groups to pray for one another. I was terrified. It wasn’t just the heart-pounding thought of praying out loud in front of others. How in heaven’s name can a person pray without a prayer book to read from?

But in the early church, prayer was as natural as breathing. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Pray without ceasing? But Paul wasn’t asking the impossible! He was encouraging them to keep on doing what they’d always done! There are those today who follow a regimented prayer time and are much blessed by a prayer ritual that they have made a commitment to follow. That used to be me but I found that I had compartmentalized my life into my (much too short) prayer time with God and then for the other sixteen waking hours my time was spent in work and in the world. My entire spiritual life turned upside down when I came across THE PRACTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD by Brother Lawrence who was a 17th century monk. Brother Lawrence said: “He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”

I start and end everyday in prayer, but prayer is no longer limited to a specific time of my day. It’s become a lifestyle and, like Brother Lawrence, my own constant prayers– that little act of adoration throughout the day –have become the background music of my life. I’ll stop in the middle of what I’m doing and pray: Lord God, here I am, all devoted to Thee; make me according to the desires of Thy heart.

Oswald Chambers was an early twentieth-century Scottish Baptist and Holiness Movement teacher and evangelist, best known for the devotional MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST. He wrote, “Think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts. Our blood flows and our breathing continues ‘without ceasing’; we are not even conscious of it, but it never stops...Prayer is not an exercise; it is the life of the saint. It is coming into perfect fellowship and oneness with God.”

German Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed that true prayer originates in the heart of God, is revealed in His Word and is inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. God also uses the prayers of the saints and “prayer warriors” who have gone before us to inspire us and enrich our prayer language.

British novelist and theologian, C.S. Lewis was a devoted member of the Anglican Church of England and he treasured the church’s BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. So do I. I also use THE DAILY OFFICE of the Anglican Franciscan Monks. The CELTIC DAILY PRAYER from the Northumbria Community in Ireland is a wealth of prayers. The GLENSTAL BOOK OF PRAYER from an Irish Benedictine monastery is written in the earthy Celtic tradition. I deeply appreciate the prayer books of the Eastern Orthodox Church which so beautifully reflect the majesty and mystery of the earliest liturgies in the ancient church. As we are inspired by hearing well-articulated prayers spoken by a person, we are inspired by reading well-written prayers from deep within our Christian history. If your tastes run to the contemporary and charismatic, you might like Sarah Young’s: JESUS CALLING - ENJOYING PEACE IN HIS PRESENCE.

Some of us have been in churches that harshly denounced the use of written prayers as being ritualistic and shallow but we must remember that Jesus prayed extemporaneous prayers and He also prayed the prayers written by King David and others. Jesus and the earliest Christians read and sang from their “worship book,” that contains 150 prayers which cover every conceivable emotion and circumstance. When our own prayers fail. When the darkness closes in and we find it difficult to even find the words to pray, Jesus’ prayer book will always be our best resource. You already have one of those ancient prayer books of course. It’s located in the center of your Bible to make it easy to find and it’s called the BOOK OF PSALMS.

Find a favorite prayer book to enhance your prayer times and then let your prayers become the ambient background in your journey through life. Turn your thoughts and your prayers to God throughout each day and remember, “One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.”

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