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A Simple Practice & Life-Changing Prayer

Mac McCarthy
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September 21, 2022

Sometimes our faith can get compartmentalized. We focus on God when we are engaging in religious activities like going to church, reading the Bible, or spending time in prayer, but then we go about the rest of our lives as if God didn’t exist. In this post we explore a simple practice and life-changing prayer that can help us pay attention to and join God’s work in our lives at all times.

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Do you ever have a hard time paying attention to God?

I do.

On most days I try to start by being present to God. I wake up, make a cup of coffee, and then go downstairs where it is quiet to spend time with Jesus. I’ll often sit in silence listening to God, read the Scriptures to discern God’s voice, and spend some time in prayer.

But from there the wheels can fall off.

I jump into action and into a full day—conversations and meetings, projects and tasks, emails and phone calls, driving my kids to and from activities. Most days are packed to the brim bouncing from one obligation to the next. When I get to the end of my day and look back, I often realize that I’ve forgotten to pay attention to God altogether. I started my day attending to God, but wasn’t able to attend to God throughout my day. And I work at a church!

My hunch is that I’m not the only one who has experienced this before.

As I talk with and pastor people, I find that many experience this exact same thing. They feel like they are living a compartmentalized life where they connect with God when they are at church, engaging in prayer, or at their small group, but often forget about God the rest of the time. They go to church on Sunday, but struggle to do life with God Monday through Friday. They spend time in prayer each morning, but wonder how to walk with God throughout the rest of the day.

I’m convinced that this compartmentalization of our faith causes us to miss out on the vast majority of God’s activity. God doesn’t want you to live a compartmentalized life, one where spirituality is only part of your life. God wants to do all of life with you, because all of life is spiritual.

God Is Always Present and At Work

The first step in collapsing this compartmentalization is to recognize that God is always present and at work. Every moment. There is never not a moment where God is not personally present to us and at work for our good. Every day. Every minute. Every second. God is present to you and at work for your good!

This means the primary place of discipleship is our actual lives. We don’t just grow spiritually when we are praying, doing Bible studies, or other churchy things. We grow spiritually when we are present to God wherever we happen to be.

If God is always present and at work, then every single moment is drenched in kingdom possibility. God is always knocking on the door of our lives. There are burning bushes everywhere. But are we paying attention? Do we notice where God is at work in our lives? Perhaps this is why the Bible often tells us to stay awake and watchful:

  • Stay awake at all times – Luke 21:36
  • The hour has come for you to wake from sleep – Rom. 13:11
  • If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief in the night – Rev. 3:2
  • Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourselves with strength – Isaiah 52:1
  • Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong – 1 Cor. 16:13
  • Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving – Col. 4:2
  • Stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming – Matt. 24:42
  • Let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober – 1 Thess. 5:6
  • Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake – Rev. 16:15
  • Awake, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you – Eph. 5:14

A Simple Practice & A Life-Changing Prayer

So, how do we do this? How do we go from compartmentalizing our faith to doing life with God? How do we stay spiritually awake and watchful for God’s work and activity?

Practicing the Presence of God

When I was a sophomore in college I stumbled upon a well-known book that changed my life entitled The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.

Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) served as a lay brother at a Carmelite monastery in Paris doing menial tasks like washing dishes and peeling potatoes. But it was while doing these tasks of washing dishes and peeling potatoes that he committed himself to paying attention to God. He made it his life goal to remain in conversation with God at all times. He made this simple practice of paying attention to God every moment the primary focus of his life.

"I have abandoned all particular forms of devotion, all prayer techniques. My only prayer practice is attention. I carry on a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God that fills me with overwhelming joy.
The most holy and necessary practice in our spiritual life is the presence of God. That means finding constant pleasure in his divine company, speaking humbly and lovingly with him in all seasons, at every moment, without limiting the conversation in any way."

The single best way to collapse the compartmentalization of faith is to practice becoming aware of God’s presence at all times by remaining in constant dialogue with God throughout your day.

I’ve found it helpful to place reminders throughout my day to keep me focused. Putting a little note on your bathroom mirror, on the dashboard of your car, or somewhere in your office can be enough to keep you awake and watchful. Attaching check-ins with God to certain activities like driving to and from work or washing your hands can also be helpful.

Know that even with the best systems and reminders in place you will still have moments where you forget to attend to God’s presence. The key here is to be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up or get frustrated when you forget to pay attention. I’d encourage you to very gently bring your attention back to God knowing that the present moment is the only one that matters.

The Prayer of Examen

Note: The Prayer of Examen will be shown below, but can also be found on our resources page for reference at a later time.

The Prayer of Examen was first developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) as a tool to help people become spiritually alert and attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit in everyday life. The Examen is a way of prayerfully reviewing our day in God’s presence with the goal of becoming a divine detective whereby we discover what God is up to in us, through us, and around us by increasing our Spirit-sensitivity.

While the Examen can be done at any time of the day, most often it is done toward the end of the day when you have more to review. I currently practice it each day around lunch time and review the previous 24 hours. You can find whatever time works for you.

There is no predetermined length of time. Generally, it takes about 10-15 minutes, but you can choose to go longer if you prefer. The key is to choose a time and length based upon your schedule and however God is leading you.

Find a quiet place where you can be free from interruptions and engage in deep reflection. A pen and paper can also be helpful to capture anything significant that surfaces.

So what is it and how does it work?

Here’s a roadmap you can use:

Presence

Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.

Get comfortable. Let your body relax and allow your mind to quiet down.

Take a few deep breaths and then ask God to make his presence known to you.

Be still. Take some time to sit and soak up God’s presence.

Do your best not to rush this first step.

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you be attentive to God’s presence.

Rest in the assurance that Jesus longs to be with you and connect with you. If you are finding it difficult to focus or concentrate, try leaning into Scripture as you become aware of Jesus’ presence.

  • Be still and know that I am God. – Psalm 46:10
  • Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. – James 4:8
  • Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest. – Mark 6:31

Gratitude

Begin to look back and review your day with a grateful heart.

Ask God to reveal his grace, all of the gifts he has given you. Notice the big things (life, safety, love) and the small things (a compliment, an encouraging interaction, a good night of sleep). Slowly review your day noticing and naming the things you can be most thankful for in your life.

  • How did God meet your needs today?
  • Where did you experience love today?
  • Where did you experience enjoyment?
  • What makes you most thankful?

As you replay these experiences and encounters from your day, express gratitude to God for each one of them. If you are using a journal, feel free to write them down. 

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights.  – James 1:17

Review

Having reviewed your day with gratitude, now ask God to lead this time of review.

Like watching a movie, begin replaying your day hour by hour. In your imagination, recall each significant moment. Pause and linger over any moments or interactions that feel significant while moving past those that seem less important.

  • What other gifts did God give you today?
  • What was the best part of your day?  The worst?
  • What was particularly frustrating or challenging?
  • When did you fail to act or miss an opportunity?
  • When did you act and respond faithfully to God?
  • Where might God want to affirm or correct you?

Throughout this time of review, try to maintain a posture of compassionate curiosity.

When you notice something negative, try not to condemn yourself. Rather, get curious about what was going on underneath the surface knowing that it is the kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4).  Simply ask for Jesus’ forgiveness and then receive his mercy and loving-kindness.

If you are keeping a journal, write down anything significant that God reveals.

Response 

One of the primary characteristics of a growing disciple is spiritual responsiveness.

Disciples of Jesus are responsive to Jesus.  Now that you’ve reviewed your day in God’s presence and under his guidance, it’s time to respond in some way.  Based on what God has shown you, how might he be inviting you to respond?

  • You might ask for forgiveness.
  • You might seek further direction.
  • You might change a habit or practice.
  • You might write a thank you note.

The key here isn’t to find the perfect response, but a faithful one.

Even an imperfect response can be a faithful response when you are doing your best. Try to be as specific and concrete as possible. Vague or ambiguous responses are often hard to execute, so the more specific the better.  

If you are keeping a journal, write down how you will respond.

I would then encourage you to circle back to notice anything else you learned.

Close by thanking God for the gift of his presence, for anything he revealed to you, and by naming your desire to respond faithfully to all that he has invited you into.

Action Steps:

  • Practice the presence of God throughout each day this week.
  • Put some strategic reminders in the spaces you’re most likely to forget.
  • Set aside 10-15 minutes each day to engage the Prayer of Examen.

Recommended Resources:

Practicing the Presence of God:

The Prayer of Examen:

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