Spiritual growth objective: Talk with God in an ongoing conversation throughout all the activities of daily life.
Introduction to a praying life
Life in Christ requires both set times for focused prayer (we can call this prayer “face-to-face”) and also continual prayer woven through all of our daily life as an ongoing dialogue with God (we can call this prayer “side-by-side”).
God instructs us to pray often in ways that cannot be contained in one or two set times of prayer per day. For example, consider how often and comprehensively these biblical texts teach us to pray:
1 Thessalonians 5:17: “pray without ceasing”
Ephesians 6:18: “praying at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication.”
Psalm 16:8: “I set the Lord always before me…”
Philippians 4:4, 7: “Rejoice in the Lord always; . . . in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
We have constant access in Christ to the King of kings, and he invites us to walk with him and bring every joy and sorrow and need to him as we walk through life with him. This requires cultivating a continual, ongoing conversation and communion with God, a practice that Christians have called the “practice of the presence of God.”
Is this practice too difficult and impractical? Can anyone truly “pray without ceasing” throughout all the activities and pressures of each day that clamor for our attention? Many other Christians who have gone before us have cultivated this practice, and they have wisdom and encouragement to share.
Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century monk whose little book The Practice of the Presence of God has become a spiritual classic, describes his experience this way:
There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God . . . Think often on God, by day, by night, in your business and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave him not alone . . . The time of business does not differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament . . . We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.
Jan Johnson, an author on Christian spiritual formation, describes in her book Enjoying the Presence of God the way this practice clarified the overall goal of her spiritual life:
I had complicated the spiritual life with my notebooks and checklists and invented my own version of ‘spiritual correctness.’ In truth, I needed only one thing—God . . . I needed a God-centered lifetime. I saw that my responsibility as a Christian was to seek God’s company.
Presbyterian missionary and literacy educator Frank Laubach wrote about the impact of this practice in his life as follows:
I feel simply carried along each hour, doing my part in a plan which is far beyond myself. This sense of cooperation with God in little things is what so astonishes me, for I never have felt it this way before. . . I must work, to be sure, but there is God working along with me. To know this gives a sense of security and assurance for the future which is also new to my life. . . It was as though some deep artesian well had been struck in my soul and strength came forth. I do not claim success even for a day yet, in my mind, not complete success all day, but some days are close to success, and every day is tingling with the joy of a glorious discovery.
Study and learn a praying life
Practicing the presence of God is a habit of mind and heart, and developing this ongoing conversation with God throughout the day requires at least three foundations:
(1) A correct vision or understanding of prayer that flows from a right understanding of God and our relationship with him as beloved sons and daughters. We will only pray eagerly when we know the security of our forgiveness and acceptance by God, God’s unlimited love and grace for us, God’s active presence in our lives, and God’s unlimited power to do more than we can ask or imagine.
(2) A correct vision or understanding of the free access we have to God in Christ and the kind of open, honest, loving dialogue he desires to have with us and offers to us every moment.
(3) Consistent practice in turning the attention of one’s mind and heart to God, and some practical means to help us grow in this practice.
The following resources provide instruction about living in a continual dialogue of “side-by-side” prayer with God.
Paul Miller, A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (NavPress, 2017).
A great starting point to learn the foundations of practicing the presence of God (especially the first two). Miller’s numerous anecdotes illustrate the highly personal quality of relationship and ongoing conversation with God that is appropriate and available to sons and daughters of God. Most highly recommended!
Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Dutton, 2014).
A more comprehensive book covering all three foundations. Keller covers all aspects of biblical teaching about prayer, the experience of prayer, and the practice of prayer, with helpful lessons from famous writings about prayer in church history.
More practical methods
Here are some practical suggestions about how to build a greater awareness of God’s presence by seeing daily routines and experiences as opportunities for encountering God and speaking with God.
- If you are weary and unfocused, start by simply acknowledging that to God (he knows it already!) and praying about that.
- If your mind wanders, follow it, and pray about what preoccupies you (rather than just dwelling on it/stewing over it).
- When you wake up, make your first thought a prayer to walk through the day with an awareness of God’s presence. (This will be easier if you make a habit of removing smartphones, tablets, and computers from your bedroom and refusing to open them before turning to God in Bible-based prayer each morning.)
- Set an alarm or notification that alerts you to pray 1-2 minutes each hour. (You might consider combining this practice with a single Scripture text selected for the day to memorize and use as a means of repeatedly re-focusing one’s mind and heart on God.)
- When you are lying in bed going to sleep, make your final thoughts of the day prayers of thanks for God’s blessings that day, confession of any sin he brings to mind, and rest in his mercy and care (see Psalm 3:5).
- When doing a task during the day:
– Pray quickly before beginning a task.
+ “Establish the work of our hands…” (Psalm 90:17)
+ Brother Lawrence once summarized his prayer before each to daily task this way: “O my GOD, since you are with me, and I must now, in obedience to your commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I ask you to give me the grace to continue in your presence; and to this end, prosper my work with your help, receive all my work, and possess all my affections.”
– Pray short prayers while doing a task: “Lord, have mercy.” “Lord, help me,” etc.
– Pray when completing a task. Give thanks and pray for fruit from your labor.
- Build margins of time between tasks and appointments as much as possible to pause and take a breath to re-focus on the Lord and to pray for what comes next.
- When thinking of a person, pray for that person: “Lord, thank you for this person (praise/thanks). Is this person/conversation showing me I need to change (confession)? Turn this person’s heart to you (petition).”
- Before, during, or after talking with (or emailing, or texting…) a person, pray for that person: “Lord, show me this person’s heart. What is your purpose for them and for this conversation? Help me listen well. Help me forgive them. Remind me what you have taught me. Bring forth what you have put in me to serve this person.”
- Before, during, or after a time at church or another public gathering, pray for what is happening: “Lord, show me my mission in this event. Who at this gathering do you want me to talk to? to listen to? to laugh with? to reach with my words?”
- When watching TV or reading/viewing on the internet, focus prayers on what is in front of you at the moment. When you see big issues addressed (e.g., politics, education, art/music, business/finance, science/technology), pray about those things and for people you know involved in them. When you attend events (e.g., a concert, a trip to the art museum, a movie, or a play), pray for artists and the world of art.
- How can the same experience lead to different kinds of prayers, i.e., something for which to give praise/thanks, something exposed in me that needs confession, suffering that needs lament, and/or something that needs my petitions for God’s work? Example: visiting a friend in the hospital; new neighbor moves in next door.
- What NOT to do:
– Do not strain. Prayer “side-by-side” with God is not straining to achieve but more like awakening to the God who is already present and acting, more like opening up our minds and hearts with a greater awareness of God’s constant presence and bringing him consciously into what we are thinking and doing.
– Do not think it means always talking, still less always talking out loud. The goal is turning one’s mind and heart continually to the Lord. This involves meditative listening as much as speaking.
– Do not be discouraged. It is a habit that takes time to learn. How do you know you are straining? If you are discouraged and anxious about your failures. Remember the grace of the gospel! Simply confess, thank God for his understanding and constant forgiveness, and move on.
For more on practical methods, see
Jan Johnson, Enjoying the Presence of God: Discovering Intimacy with God in the Daily Rhythms of Life (NavPress, 1996).
(1) Check your understanding, drawing on Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life or another resource on prayer to develop your vision and understanding of the continual dialogue of “side-by-side” prayer with God.
- Why is “side-by-side” prayer throughout the day so important?
- How should the presence, power, love, and grace of God that we experience in union with Christ invite and motivate ongoing prayer with God?
- What are the false assumptions/beliefs and practical obstacles and habits that prevent us from turning to God regularly in each situation?
(2) Study the list of practical methods above and select one or more practices to include in your daily rhythms as part of your spiritual growth plan/rule of life.
Postscript: Malcolm Guite’s poem “Heaven in Ordinary” expresses the wonder that awaits when we practice the presence of God by praying without ceasing and discover that everything ordinary becomes a medium for knowing the extraordinary God who is always active and present to us in the world he made, sustains, and redeems.
Because high heaven made itself so low
That I might glimpse it through a stable door,
Or hear it bless me through a hammer blow,
And call me through the voices of the poor,
Amidst the clutter of the every day,
Illuminating things I thought I knew,
Whose dark glass brightens, even as I pray.
Then this world’s walls no longer stay my eyes,
A veil is lifted likewise from my heart,
The moment holds me in its strange surprise,
The gates of paradise are drawn apart,
I see his tree, with blossom on its bough,
And nothing can be ordinary now.