In Thessalonians, Paul tells us of Jesus’ instruction to pray without ceasing. As most of us were taught to pray with our hands folded and/or on our knees we question how this can be done when we have so many other things to do to sustain life. But our busy lives and prayer do that have to be mutually exclusive. Let’s start with being more aware of what is happening around us right now.
The lesson of awareness is total presence; it is the art of doing one thing at a time and living in the present moment. The past is past; we do not yet live in the future; and the only true focus of life is the present.
For most of us attentiveness is not easy since the normal span of human concentration is only 20 seconds. To live in the present moment is to experience life and not just to think about it. We can spend so much time and energy imagining all sorts of possible situations, while all the time, life itself is passing us by. The magic of the present moment eludes us because we are still trapped in the past or fearful of the future. Jesus directs us not to worry about tomorrow; “today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6: 34). The same advice could apply to the past as well.
Living in the moment means to see what is really happening, to hear what is really being said. It is to experience rather than to project. It implies an attitude of receiving from God rather than controlling, of being gifted rather than achieving. It is to appreciate with humble reverence the little things as well as the great. It takes nothing for granted.
To live in the present moment is not to impose a whole lot of thought and meaning on every event. It is, rather, to let the experience itself reveal its own inner meaning and for us to become humble disciples in the great school of life itself. it is the same attentiveness to the moment that brings us the fellowship of our friends and the companionship of God.
Ultimately, then, we can only live in the present. We can plan for the future, we can learn from the past, but we can only live our lives in the reality of the present moment. Creative living means responding to the present situation.
One Thing at a Time
Strength and awareness come through presence as we learn to do one thing at a time. Of course, it is not really a question of doing one thing at a time, it is a matter of realizing that, in fact, that is all we can do! Most of the time, however, we try to do the impossible. We pressurize ourselves with a restless anxiety and feelings of hurry, and we never really give ourselves to the task at hand. The anxious mind teems with images of duties, obligations and responsibilities. So much to do and so little time to do it… Yet even in the busiest day, the countless tasks come one at a time.
Presence of God
Learning to live in the presence of God implies, first, learning to live in the present moment. God is not an abstraction. He is immediately and personally present to everything that is. If he is real, he is real here and now, whatever the circumstances, whatever the situation. If he is not in the present moment, he is nowhere.
Learning to see the things God has made is one of the best ways of learning to see him. Perhaps, this is why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field (Matthew 6: 26-30 ). Look, really look, and they will point us to our Father’s house.
In Matthew’s gospel in the Last Judgement scene (Matthew 25: 31-46 see below), those on the king’s left hand were condemned not because they did not see Christ in others, but because they did not even see the others – the sick, the hungry, the naked. Because they missed the present reality, they missed the reality of Christ.
Pray Without Ceasing
I once met a man who moved through his workday speaking to God whenever he was moved to do so, with no regard for who heard him or what he was doing. Although this was a little confusing for those around him, this is the kind of personal friendship we seek with God and a good example of what our ceaseless prayer life can be. We do not have to be on our knees.
Our goal is to always stay connected to God – our inner being, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – while we are attentive to our surroundings and navigate life. This is what Paul meant when he said ” Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes 5:16-18). By living in the moment we become more aware of God’s presence and able to hear his call.
The following links also speak to our awareness of God in our everyday life:
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Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt 6:34)
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? (Matt 6:26-30)
The Sheep and the Goats
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25: 31-46)
Patterns of Prayer by Eugene McCaffrey