In recent posts, I have been writing about my journey through different stages of prayer. When I first started to pray, I treated God like a divine Santa. My prayers never went beyond asking God for things. Then I learned to expand my prayer to include other elements, like honoring God, confessing, giving thanks, and of course asking for things. Then I learned to treat prayer as a two-way conversation. I learned to devote time to listen to God. My journey took me through Santa prayers to formal prayers and then conversational prayers.
Conversational prayer is wonderful, but there is one more stop on the journey or prayer. I call it full-time prayer. Some time after college, I began to realize that my standard approach to prayer was to pray when I wanted. If my prayers were like a telephone call, it was the bat-phone. It only rang one way. But what if the prayer phone rings both ways?
Full-time prayer can happen in the order Walter Wangerin Jr. describes: we speak, God listens, God speaks, we listen. But it can also be reordered. Full-time prayer can also be ordered like this: God speaks, we listen, we speak, God listens. Full-time prayer is constant. It is how someone who has stopped practicing discipleship and started being a disciple prays.
This is the kind of prayer Paul writes about in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 when he instructs the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing.” We are not the only ones who can initiate a prayer conversation. But if we are going to engage in full-time prayer, we need to be attentive. We need to be constantly in the presence of God in order to hear his invitation into conversation.
This is what Brother Lawrence meant when he spoke about practicing the presence of God and why he says our time in the real world feeds our set aside times of prayer and not the other way around.