Following the example of Jesus, we can experience God’s presence in our lives as we seek to dwell in God’s kingdom on earth. This can occur both individually in prayer and meditation and collectively as we worship together.
Where Is God?
In our prayers we may think that we are addressing a faraway deity residing in heaven. Or we may feel God’s presence in our midst. Either perception can be applicable to living in God’s kingdom on earth.
We can consider that we are residing in an outpost of heaven, communicating with our commander-in-chief at headquarters, so to speak. Or we can feel that God the Universal Spirit is with us as we live in God’s kingdom here and now.
Verbal and Nonverbal.
Our prayers can be both verbal in nature and nonverbal. This is recognized in Psalm 19:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord, my rock and redeemer (Psalm 19:14).
Words emphasizes thinking, meditations of the heart are expressions of feeling. Each mode has its proper role. Together they offer completeness in our relationship with God.
A Variety of Expressions
Prayers can have a variety of expressions. Many appear in the few short verses of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught (Matthew 6:9-13 RSV with some editing).
- Personal relationship with God (“Our Father who art in heaven”)
- Praise (“Hallowed be thy name”)
- Concern for society (“Thy kingdom come”)
- Obedience (“Thy will be done”)
- Petition (“Give us this day our daily bread’)
- Confession and request for forgiveness (for “our trespasses”)
- Forgiveness of others (“who trespass against us”)
- Guidance (“lead us not into temptation”)
- Protection (“deliver us from evil”)
- Acknowledgement of God’s supremacy (“the power and the glory forever”)
Elsewhere in the Bible we find other expressions (NRSV):
- Lamentation (“Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord!” Psalm 130.1)
- Thanksgiving (“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” Psalm 107.1)
- Commitment (“Here am I, send me.” Isaiah 6:8)
Prayers during the Day
Our prayer life can begin as we awaken in morning by saying, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it” (Psalm 118:24 NRSV). We can think, “Here is another day to live in God’s kingdom.”
After arising some persons set aside a time for daily devotions. They may pray unaided. Or they may read the Bible or other devotional material and reflect on the meaning as they offer prayers. Some families have devotions together at breakfast or with the evening meal.
Everyone can offer a prayer of thanks before each meal, silently or spoken with others at the table.
Prayers can come spontaneously, brought on by particular situations. Such as: “Help me, O Lord” when facing a challenge. “How wonderful is Thy world” upon seeing a scene of beauty. “Make me an instrument of Thy peace” when confronting conflict. “Bring forth thy healing power” when being with a sick person.
You can pray at set times during the day. This was the practice of Jewish people in Jesus’ day, and still it is. The first Christian apostles continued this practice. It evolved into what is now known in the Roman Catholic Church as the Liturgy of Hours with variations in Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches. In Islam, the third major monotheistic religion, Muslims pray five times a day. In our modern world we can set an electronic device to remind us to pray periodically.
Praying in Depth
Beyond periodic prayers during the day, you can choose a time and place for focused praying in depth. Adopt a comfortable posture, relax, breathe slowly in and out, and center in on your relationship with God. Empty your mind of everyday thoughts except those matters you want to take to God. This sets the stage for various expressions of verbal prayer – “the words of my mouth.”
This kind of preparation also enables us to go beyond “words” to “the mediations of my heart”. This is less verbal and more an intuitive sense of God’s presence. It emphasizes feeling more than reasoning. To deepen meditation some persons focus on a word or phrase, such as “God is love” or “Thine alone”. Some use prayer beads.
For your in-depth praying you can choose a place of inspiration: A church or chapel with stained glass windows. A place in nature, such as field, forest, lakeside, seashore, city park, your own backyard.
In these ways you can experience God’s presence in ways that surpass human understanding. For some God’s Spirit seems to take over their lives in a mystic experience that constitutes a higher level of consciousness, a feeling of unity with God and all of creation.
Pray without Ceasing
For most of us prayer and meditation come and go. Yet the Apostle Paul in a pastoral letter to the church in Thessalonica told his brothers and sisters to “pray without ceasing” (1Thessalonians 5:17 NRSV). Over the centuries monks and nuns, for example, have carried out this instruction in a cloistered setting.
Particularly notable is Brother Lawrence (c.1612-1691) who lived in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. A former soldier with little formal education, he was assigned to the kitchen and later to the sandal shop. Beyond participating in the regular prayer services of the monastery, he developed the habitual sense of God’s presence in every task he performed.
He achieved this not through intellectual activity but rather perpetually feeling the love of God in his heart. He believed that “Everyone is capable of such familiar communion with God, some more, some less.” (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God. Logos Publishers, 1999. p. 93.)
This practice need not be reserved for the monastery. Thomas R. Kelly (1893-1941), a Quaker professor, has shown how this can be accomplished by all of us in our everyday lives. In an essay on “The Light Within” Kelly tells how we can order our mental life so that we can experience a deep level of devotion while simultaneously participating in the daily events of the secular world.
Kelly explains, “At first the practice of inward prayer is a process of alternation between the outer things and the Inner Light.” But through continued practice and discipline inward prayer and outward living can occur together. (Thomas R. Kelly, “The Light Within” in A Testament of Devotion. HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.)
For Us Today
The instruction of Brother Lawrence and Thomas Kelly have applicability as we seek to live in God’s kingdom which is both within and amongst us. We don’t have to wait for a new life beyond the grave to be with God. Rather in our present life on earth we can develop the sense of God’s presence at all times.
We can maintain our relationship with God as we simultaneously relate to the people around us. In this manner we are actually living in God’s kingdom here on earth.