Practicing Prayer?

06 Aug

I’ve written before about the phenomenon of practicing.

You may or may not have noticed the list of “Recent Reads” down towards the bottom of the right sidebar. Current reading projects include: The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Enthroned on Our Praise, and The House of the Seven Gables, which my wife and I are reading aloud together.

But a few weeks ago, I read through a Christian classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. The book is routinely cited in support of the notion that whatever we’re doing in the course of our day can be an outworking of prayer. In the midst of whatever we’re doing, we can be in continual conversation with God.

Nice idea, perhaps, but I’m not so certain that this way of living is the spiritual ideal that we all need to shoot for.

I’ve had people suggest that I try praying and walking, praying and gardening, praying and doing laundry, praying and doing dishes, praying and driving, praying and reading emails. For me, each of those has been complete “failures.”

I’m a one-track-mind kind of guy. I’m really terrible at multitasking when it means having to absorb multiple streams of input at once. If I’m on the phone and my wife tries to tell me something, forget it; either I have to ignore the person on the phone or I have to ignore my wife–I can’t process both at the same time.

When I was in graduate school, I used to put a movie on in the background while studying or writing a paper. Before I knew it, the credits were rolling and I had no idea what happened in the movie. As a result, I learned to only put on movies that I was very familiar with and which didn’t require me to invest any attention.

Nonetheless, we’re encouraged to multitask when it comes to prayer. “All of life should be prayer.” If that were true for me, I literally think that I wouldn’t do anything else at all. Not even eating. For me, it’s one thing at a time; it may not be efficient, but slow and steady wins the race.

So, the question is: do I need to attain this state described by Brother Lawrence in his book? Must I master the skill of doing two things at once, of talking (and listening) to God and…walking/driving/doing chores? Do I need to invest the energy in disciplining my mind, body, and spirit so that I can achieve this state of ethereal efficiency?

So far, I’m not convinced that I do.

Don’t get me wrong: I pray, regularly, daily, and make a significant investment of time in doing so. But I can’t do anything else during those minutes. It’s just prayer. It’s just dialogue with God. Talking and listening, with undivided attention–and even that’s difficult enough, because the mind certainly has a tendency to wander.

Perhaps for some people (A.D.D. types?) the extra stimulation of an additional activity helps to give focus and maintain attention. But not me. GOD + ANYTHING = ONE OR THE OTHER, not both. And I don’t feel bad about it, though sometimes I think I should.

Prayer does take practice. It is a skill of communication that can be developed. All of life can be lived for God, but for me, every moment cannot be lived in continual conversation with Him. Sure, I can be available, ready for Him to speak, for Him to interrupt my day and activity at any time. But to think that I can achieve a state in which I do everything that I’m planning to while also talking to Him is impossible. And frankly, potentially irreverent as well.

My wife usually isn’t too excited when I decide to ignore her words as she speaks up while I’m on the phone with someone. And rightly so: I’m not honoring her or valuing her when I ignore her in those situations. But I don’t know how else to handle the multiple streams of input, and I make my choice of who’s going to get ignored.

The thought of placing myself into a situation where I will have to continually choose to either ignore God or the work that He’s given me to do seems like a bad idea for me. I want to honor Him, to be fully present and engaging in our times together. Giving Him half my attention (as if that were even possible for me) really doesn’t seem like a good idea, and since it’s basically all or nothing with me, I think I’m best to give Him my all, and not try to setup a competition between Him and the day’s errands.

Brother Lawrence may think me unspiritual, undisciplined, falsely segmented in my approach to life.

Oh well. It’s not His relationship with God, it’s mine. And I don’t have a sense from God that He’s displeased about the choices I’m making in this area. And if He is, I’ll make sure that He’s got my undivided attention for a portion of each day so that we can talk about it.


Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Life, Prayer


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10 responses to “Practicing Prayer?

  1. sanora1

    August 6, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Does God Keep the Prayer meter running to see who is logging the most time?

    • A.H.

      August 7, 2012 at 10:16 am

      Thankfully, He doesn’t. But sometimes we do. It’s interesting to me that we might judge the quality of a conversation with a friend without paying any attention to how long it was. But when it comes to God, time seems to be a primary measure. Perhaps that’s because we don’t have a well-developed sense of actually connecting with Him intimately, and so amount of time is the only measure that we can grasp a hold of in order to evaluate our interaction with Him.

      • sanora1

        August 16, 2012 at 9:28 pm

        very well said. What do you think of the idea that God is always on the other end of the line whether we have hung up or not. Consequently, he is listening in on all our internal and external conversations whether we realize it or not?

      • A.H.

        August 17, 2012 at 8:05 am

        I definitely think God is always listening, watching over us. For Him, maintaining 7 billion conversations at the same time is no problem; for me, 2 at once is impossible.

        Because God is with us, watching, and listening all the time, all of life is–or impacts–our prayers, not just the time we spend actively talking and listening to Him. Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Traveller

    August 11, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    I guess I kind of thought Brother Lawrence was referring too something close to the “abide” or “remain” in the vine of John 15 (not that I have ever read the whole book….not). So…and there is more and more being written saying no one can multi-task…how do you do the “abiding” thing, while focussed on something that is not prayer? Or the “pray without ceasing”? Maybe all the other stuff IS prayer, when a whole life is offered to and lived before God…? I could buy that. And then…a lifetime of learning ot live it.

  3. Corey

    August 12, 2012 at 3:40 am

    There’s actually been a lot of research into multitasking in recent years. The current research seems to say that it makes you feel satisfied, but you will not perform as well as single tasking. (Search for “multitasking makes you feel good” for tons of hits on this.) So it’s kind of a lie. It’s habit forming, so I wouldn’t recommend even trying it.

    I work as a software programmer and I’m occasionally involved in hiring people. If any programmer told me that they could multitask, I would never hire them. It simply cannot be done.

    However, when I program, I do so with a goal in mind. I’m holding a number of things in my head that have to be immediately accomplished, but I’m working on something bigger that I keep in the back of my mind. Sometimes I focus on the bigger thing, but mostly I’m working on small components that will be required for the bigger thing to work. As I’m working on the smaller components, I have to think about how they fit into the bigger framework. Often I don’t think it through well enough and have to rework parts so they fit together properly. I would imagine that most other engineering tasks are similar. Perhaps many other non-engineering task are, too.

    I’ve often wondered about the 1 Thes 5:17 verse “Pray without ceasing” or “pray constantly” really means. Especially since it comes in the middle of a bunch of other things that Paul is telling us to do in a constant fashion. My above analogy is perhaps the closest I have come to a meaning for me. We do a lot of things in life, but we (should) have a goal, something that we keep in the back of our minds during the minutia of life. Something (Someone?) that guides what we do and gives us purpose.

    Not that I really accomplish this in any regular fashion. If I wrote software like I lived my life, I would never be able to hold a job.

    I’ve read some of “The Practice of the Presence of God” and it doesn’t really engage me. Maybe it would if I was more spiritually mature, but I’m just not there. It does make me think, though, that such a thing may be possible.

    • A.H.

      August 12, 2012 at 4:00 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts, Traveller & Corey. We’re certainly not the first ones to be asking the question of, “How does this all work in real life? Continual prayer?” I just came across this statement in a book on worship: “Service relates the importance of recognizing that one’s actions outside of sacred time and space have implications for how well one can worship within those spheres that are dedicated to God.”

      I think this plays into what Corey was talking about, having an overarching goal that guides our life and actions. The idea above seems to say that keeping God in our mind throughout our daily life enables us to worship Him all the more rightly during specifically God-focused times like church services, prayer meetings, etc.

      You hear people say “all of life is prayer” (or can be). If we use a definition of prayer like “conversation with God,” I don’t see how that can work. But if we take the approach of having an intentionality in living for God, offering ourselves to God, seeking after God, then it’s not so much a struggle with multitasking as it is having a purposefulness and awareness in what we do.

      That’s my thought…for the moment. Looking forward to more dialogue!

  4. blessedwithjoy

    August 16, 2012 at 11:21 am

    I have been struggling with practicing prayer myself. I have tried walking and gardening and cleaning and cooking . . . while praying. While I have not been able to use these times to intercede for others, I have been able to keep my heart attuned to what the Lord may want to teach me.

    Recently I have been reading “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller. He says, “Some people pray on their way to work. My one caution is that it is tough to be intimate when you are multitasking. It would weaken a marriage if talking to your spouse in the car was the only time you communicated. It will do the same to your relationship with God.” I fully agree with this statement.

    We shouldn’t just talk to God while multitasking, however we should be aware of His presence leading and guiding us throughout the day and also keep our ears open to what He may say to us. As I am multitasking with prayer and gardening (or something else), I’m not doing either with perfection but I am trying to make the most of the opportunities I have to spend with our Father.

    • A.H.

      September 4, 2012 at 2:38 pm

      Just found a similar idea in a book by John Piper. He’s talking about the apostles in Acts 6 appointing others to take care of the ministry of feeding widows so that they could continue to devote themselves to prayer. He says:

      “If they [the apostles] had thought of prayer as something you do while washing dishes or cooking (or driving a car between hospitals), they would not have seen table-serving as a threat to prayer. Prayer was a time-consuming labor during which other duties had to be set aside.”

  5. A.H.

    August 16, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Just came across this thought in a book called “Enthroned on Our Praise.” I think it relates to the idea of all of life being prayer:

    “Because the challenge of reflecting God is all encompassing–not limited to religious aspects but to every instance of life–there are clear links between how one lives and the prayers that one is able to pray” (p.144).

    So, in that regard, all of life becomes prayer in that our prayers are impacted by all of life. Since prayer is a manifestation of our relationship with God, how we live, even apart from those times when we are actively in direct conversation with Him, still impact that relationship.


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