Most of our models for prayer, contemplation and conversing with God are based upon the idea of retreat. They involve withdrawing from the distractions and busyness of everyday life. Is this because we think God is far removed from us and not involved in our everyday circumstances, or because we have largely ignored developing Christian practices that can help us become more attentive to the presence and guidance of God in everything that we do?
Are the following biblical statements just vague and unrealistic ideals, or are these intended to be regular Christian practices?
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – “Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.
- 1 Corinthians 10:31 – “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
- Colossians 3:23 – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters….It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
- Romans 12:1 – “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.”
- Romans 12:12 – “be constant in prayer”
- Ephesians 6:18 – “Pray in the Spirit at all times”
- Colossians 4:2 – “Continue steadfastly in prayer”
- Philippians 4:6 – “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
- Hebrews 13:15 – “Continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God”
Today there are many people promoting the significant physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of “mindfulness” for those struggling with the increasing complexity and competing time demands of the modern marketplace. Most of these teachers draw on Buddhist and New Age perspectives, rather than Christian resources. I don’t want to debate the pros and cons of this movement, but I do wonder if it would have the same attraction if Christian churches hadn’t failed to connect contemplation and action and forgotten how to implement the practices that ought to grow out of the scriptures cited above.
Certainly the lives of Daniel, Nehemiah, the woman in Proverbs 31, Jesus and Paul demonstrate creative combinations of contemplation and action, prayerful reflection and purposeful work. Looking at the different ways commentators historically have interpreted the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) also demonstrates how many struggle to value and connect both contemplation and work (See here).
The assignment attached to this module asks: Where in the Bible and in Christian tradition do we find distinctively active everyday models and instructions for prayer and conversing with God?
Perhaps rather than teaching about this topic first and then setting the assignment, the assignment can be done first and then class discussion follows. Students could be asked before this discussion to come prepared to present their findings and to share any resources they have found particularly helpful and to share the questions they are wrestling with.
Most of our models for prayer and conversing with God are retreating models. Where in the Bible and in Christian tradition do we find distinctively active everyday models and instructions for prayer and conversing with God? What are some practices that can help us to connect prayer and worship with work?
Describe some of these examples and explain ways in which they differ from retreating models. What have you personally found most helpful in this exploration?
In addition to examining some of the Bible passages referred to above, other useful resources might include:
- Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
- Joyce Huggett, Finding God in the Fast Lane
- Richard J. Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home
- Alister E. McGrath, Spirituality in an Age of Change:Rediscovering the Spirit of the Reformers
- Gregory F. A. Pierce, spirituality @work:10 ways to balance your life on the job
- Norvene West,Friend of the Soul: A Benedictine Spirituality of Work
- Dennis Okholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People
- Thomas Landy, As Leaven in the World:Catholic Perspectives on Faith, Vocation and the Intellectual Life (In particular Part III “Spiritualities:Ora Giving Life to Labora”)
You might also like to look at the 90 second video “Hope for the Overworked” from Chuck Conniry, Vice President and Dean of George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Chuck describes Brother Lawrence as the patron saint for the overworked – Brother Lawrence shows Christians how to engage deeply in spirituality without having to escape to a quiet place and how work can be a context in which we experience Christ’s presence.