Abiding in Jesus means having faith that God is at work even in horrible circumstances. We can be a “yes” to all that is in God and to each circumstance and person who comes into our lives. We can look at all environments, events and people as coming through God’s hands so we can serve Him.
This is the “good” that all things work for as mentioned in Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Acceptance of this makes our most difficult roles in life less depleting and exhausting. It’s challenging to accept the reality of circumstances and not argue in our minds that they should be different. But it is possible and makes all the difference.
This is not the same as being happy in sad situations. We cannot pretend everything is fine, because our minds know it’s not. We do have to accept that everything is not fine, and that it is impossible for us to change. This allows us to offer more empathy without draining excessive energy.
We are not in heaven yet, and bad things happen in a fallen world. God is still present and wants to abide in us. The joy of the Lord is our strength.
During our work and other activities, even during reading, writing or religious exercises, we must stop regularly for a moment, as often as possible, to worship God.
Praising God from the depth of our hearts brings us closer and closer to abiding in Him. Stopping routinely to lift a word of praise is good, no matter how spiritual the work we were doing.
A worship song can be a good way to do this. Before I retired, I found myself having negative thoughts about the day ahead as I dressed for work. Playing worship music at this time stopped that. If you have a time of day when you are routinely unhappy, try playing a worship song and lifting up your voice to the Lord. It helps!
Carrying on a continual conversation with God can be a challenge. When we run out of words, we can say the Jesus prayer.
It helps to use a “Jesus” prayer when we need to calm down or we are in a situation in which we would otherwise turn to our phones to distract ourselves.
We can pray “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” over and over. Others use other versions. You can find information about Jesus prayers here. I use “Come Holy Spirit.”
In time, we will be able to feel God’s presence without the need for words. Until then, the Jesus prayer feels so comforting. It’s also a nice way to go to sleep at night.
The next Christian mindfulness exercise is the hardest: Carry on a conversation with God and try to make it continual.
The Christian best known for doing this is Brother Lawrence, who died on February 12, 1691. He served as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris, typically working in the kitchen. He never achieved prominence during his life, and yet he is remembered today more than any other Christian of his time.
Brother Lawrence developed an intimate, continual conversation with the Lord. He became known when his letters and writings were compiled into a book called “The Practice of the Presence of God” after his death. You can find a free PDF of the book here.
The Carmelites of Boston website sums up his teachings like this:
Speaking humbly and lovingly with Him (God) all the time, at every moment, especially during times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even infidelity and sin. This habit is formed by repetition of acts and frequently bringing the mind back into God’s presence … conversing with God everywhere, asking Him for what is needed, and rejoicing continuously with Him in countless ways.”
Paul would agree. As he wrote in Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understand, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
This exercise is simple, if hard to remember when we are distracted. We try to center ourselves as we move from place to place, event to event.
We can say: I am calm, peaceful and aware of the presence of God as I enter this home/door/time/event. Using the ringing of the telephone or the sound of a text message has a moment to pause and refocus also helps.
If you have a time of day that’s particularly hard for you … which I nicknamed the arsenic hour when I was a young single mother … having an alarm on the phone to remind you to center can make a big difference.
Listening to yourself with a compassionate ear is another Christian mindfulness exercise that ultimately draws us closer to God. But the interior noise can be deafening.
When this happens, the Three Things exercise can help us to focus our attention, reduce restlessness and add calm. Stretch or drink some water before getting started. Then:
- Note three things that you see.
- Note three things that you hear.
- Note three feelings that you have.
It can be that simple to restore some clear thinking.
Ash Wednesday is a little more than three weeks away so it’s a good time for us to start thinking about our Lenten resolutions. I’ve used Lent to give up bad habits, but more often I take this time to create positive habits.
Think about how we can improve our prayer life, fasting and giving. Some families pick a charity and put their change into a bowl each day. Others give up eating out and give away the money they saved. My church took a recent pledge to not have cell phones at the dinner table. We can find many things to improve if we think and pray about it.
I also always have a Lenten reading program. In the past, I read a biography of a Christian I admired, a devotional and a general book about faith each Lent. Today it’s a lot more random. I just look at the bookshelves to see what I think would be helpful and inspiring.
When we walk with Jesus, everything we do can be a prayer. This is where the practice of Christian mindfulness comes in.
Focus on the task at hand, giving it your attention while seeking to feel the presence of God.
We don’t always have to use words to pray continually, although we generally have to start out that way. Henri J.M. Nouwen, in his book “Here and Now,” recommends starting with a simple prayer … the name Jesus, Come Holy Spirit, the Jesus prayer or anything short like that … and repeating it over and over. This is called a mantram in other traditions.
Nouwen writes: “When we remain faithful to our discipline, even if it is only 10 minutes a day, we gradually come to see … by the candlelight of our prayers … that there is a space within us where God dwells and where we are invited to dwell with God. Once we come to know that inner, holy place … we want to be there and be spiritually fed.”
Staying focused on one thing can be about as difficult as continual prayer. Here’s some encouragement: The Amish accomplish an incredible amount in their days in part because they are working with concentration and not dealing with constant distractions, like cell phones and television. We can do the same by focusing on one task at a time while the mantra bubbles away in the back of our minds.
When events and attitudes make the world feel even more chaotic and frightening, we can take a deep breath and become an antidote to the fiery atmosphere. We can be an island of peace in a stormy sea.
The first step is to bring calm into our minds. Otherwise we add to the fear and anger swirling around us.
One easy way to recenter is to do the 3-4-5 breath that I taught many in crisis management classes. We can do it anywhere, usually with no one around us noticing. It’s so simple:
- Breathe in to a slow count of 3.
- Hold your breath to a slow count of 4.
- Breathe out to a slow count of 5.
Repeat until you can feel yourself calming down. Then open yourself up to feel the presence of God.
Remember: You can be a force for good. You can be a force for peace. That is one way … not always small … to let the light of Christ shine in the world.
The fourth step toward mindfully practicing the presence of God is about our approaches to each day.
Be in the day with a plan and the willingness to disregard that plan to respond to what God allows. As my pastor, Rich Nathan, teaches: Left foot, right foot. Do the next right thing.
We want to be attentively present to the here-and-now situation while also attuned to the voice of God.
Remember: Now is the only moment you have. Now is the future you promised yourself.