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What does 1. this show me about God?
2. What does this teach me about life?
3. What direction does this give me for my life today? And you need to go through questions one and two before you’re qualified really to answer question three. Otherwise you’ll answer three on the basis of impressionism, and you will in the outcome miss a great deal of what each passage has to say to you.
I expect you’ve proved this in experience. What does it tell you about God, what does it tell you about life and its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, with its temptations and its baffles and its responsibilities, and so on and so forth. There is a lot of thinking to do, but it’s fruitful thinking. Whether I do it well, of course, is another question, but this is what I try to do.
Then it comes round in due course that it’s breakfast time and on with the day’s work. I try during the day to remember whom I belong to and whom I’m serving. I do try to cultivate, to practice what they call “arrow prayers,” where you’re constantly making remarks or offering questions or reactions or praises to God as you go along. It’s called in some circles “the practice of the presence of God.” I’m not very good at it, but I try to do it, and it does become more and more of a habit the more you try. So that I’m attempting, you see, to live consciously in God’s presence as the day goes on.
In relationships I try to remember that I must behave godly, and I try to control my tongue and my temper and sometimes my impatience. And certainly when I’m in any sort of relation to another human being, I try to focus my interest on that human being and ask myself, “Do I have any ministry to this human being?” The answer may be yes, the answer may be no, but at least one tries to act friendly and respectful and affirmative and warm in all these relationships.
I have to fight my natural tendencies to shy withdrawal—that’s the error in my make-up, and I have to counter it—well, I try to counter it. None of us ought to allow ourselves to fall victims to our own temperaments, so it’s rather important that at some stage we should do an inventory of our temperament and discover what our natural inclinations are and discern where there are weaknesses and where there are changes that could be made with advantage.
And then eventually comes bedtime, but by bedtime I am personally bushed. So I don’t attempt to do any serious praying at night—I wish God goodnight and off to sleep. Well that’s me; I have to do all my serious praying in the morning. There are evening people, of course, same as there are morning people. Usually there’s one of each in every marriage relationship—one is an owl the other is a lark—you’ve heard all that and you’ve observed that it is true. It’s not surprising, it should be true—opposites attract, didn’t you know that? Oh, yes—but that’s not what I’m being asked about, so I won’t say anymore about it.
But seriously, find out when you are “firing on all cylinders” mentally, and give God that good time rather than waiting until you’re half-asleep already before you start trying to talk to him seriously about anything.
J.I. Packer was for many years Professor of Historic and Systematic Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is a senior editor of Christianity Today and author of numerous books including Knowing God, Rediscovering Holiness, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God, and Quest for Godliness. He is an ordained Anglican minister and holds the D.Phil. from Oxford University.