Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
St Paul learned through hard experience how to be content in every situation. He was able to reflect on his life daily and always place himself in God’s hands and in God’s plan. And this certainly didn’t happen because things were always going well for him or because God protected him from any suffering or problems. According to his own comments (see for example 2 Corinthians 11:23-28), he suffered frequently and yet still saw himself in God’s hands and so trusted that whatever happened, God was with him.
Taking time to reflect on one’s life is one tool a Christian can use to evaluate his/her life in order to give thanks to God for blessings received, to change one’s heart/mind/direction in life (i.e., repent), to make corrections in one’s life or to double down on things that one needs to add or do more of. From the desert fathers we read the following spiritual advice which though originally given to monks has implications for every Christian.
Abba Nisteros said: ‘In the evening and at dawn the monk ought to take stock: “Of the things that God wills, what have we done and what of the things that God wills not have we done?” – and thus to investigate his own entire life; for Abba Arsenius lived in this way. Endeavor to stand before God each day without sin. Pray to God as though you are in his presence, for he truly is present. Do not make rules for yourself; judge nobody. It is foreign to the monk to swear, to commit perjury, to lie, to curse, to deride, to laugh. He who is honored or praised beyond his worth is severely punished.’ (GIVE ME A WORD, p 213)
Worth repeating from the above spiritual direction is “Pray to God as though you are in his presence, for he truly is present.” We should strive to make ourselves aware of God’s presence at every moment of our lives. Whether we are in church or at home, whether we are playing, vacationing, working, exercising, resting, shopping, surfing the internet, or in any other activity, we need to cultivate in our hearts and minds awareness that we are always in God’s presence. Creating that awareness of God’s presence helps keep God close to our hearts rather than thinking of God as some distant or remote deity who has no concern for us.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.