Prayer is Practicing the Presence of God

The following is a column by Bishop Scott Jones that  was posted on the conference website.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

One of those bothersome passages could be 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “pray without ceasing.”

There was a time when I thought this commandment meant to be on one’s knees talking to God aloud.

I had studied the Middle Ages in college, and I knew the monks and nuns spent a great deal of time in private and corporate prayer. Many monastic communities had corporate prayer eight times a day. Our words, “vespers,” “compline” and “matins,” all come from the prayer times they observed. But I knew I was not called to be a monk.

Then, I discovered a little book called “Practicing the Presence of God.” Written by a monk named Brother Lawrence in the 17th century, the basic concept has stayed with me all these years. What I took away from the book was the idea of living each minute of each day as if God were present. In this way, I could practice the presence of God.

I wish I were better at this aspect of praying without ceasing. There are lots of times my mind is filled with other tasks, and I am far from the Lord.

Yet, at my best moments, I see each thing that I do as a way of loving God or loving my neighbor. This strikes me as a way of fulfilling the great commandment of Matthew 22:37, which Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:4: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

At the same time, I need those focused times where I give myself to God regularly and devotedly. I try to start each morning with prayer.

I have found the following routine helps me pray each day.

Praise to God: I usually sing or recite a hymn by Charles Wesley. Currently, I am using “Maker in Whom We Live” because of its Trinitarian structure.

Thanksgiving: I want to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. When I ask people how they are doing, sometimes I get the answer, “I am blessed.” I feel that way, too, and thanking God is a reminder of how dependent I am on him.

Confession: God is working on a number of my shortcomings, and God is not finished with me yet. Remembering these before him is a means of grace.

Intercession: I have a long list of people I pray for by name. Some are family members, some are leaders in the Kansas Area, some are political leaders like our state officials and legislators. When I agree to pray for someone, his or her name goes on my list for a time. I also have a prayer calendar with the names of two churches and pastors—one from Kansas East and one from Kansas West—for whom I pray each day.

Covenant Prayer: I always close by reciting Wesley’s Covenant Prayer as a reminder of my relationship to God and my willingness to be used by him for his purposes.

Prayer is a means of grace. By this spiritual discipline, we are connected to God and God’s transforming power. I need that grace to live and to become the person God has called me to be.

Philippians 2:12-13 admonishes me to “work out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in [me], enabling [me] both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

I am able to make progress in the way of salvation only by God’s amazing grace, and prayer is one way it comes to me.