Arthur Middleton on time and prayer


Time belongs to God

Time measured by our clocks is not a full and correct conception of actual time. We must think of it in terms of the personal structure of each existing life. It is a gift of God. The New Testament understands it in terms of the decisive moment of time, the God-given moment. ‘My time is at hand,’ says Jesus. Life presents prominent moments in which certain works can be accomplished. ‘Now is the accepted time’ means that time is the opportunity given us by God, which we can grasp; or we can be like Jerusalem and ‘fail to know the time of your visitation’. Hence it is not our own time we choose to arrange for ourselves, but the commanded opportunity – a definite step in God’s plan of salvation. This lays on us an urgency to seize the time of the specific moment in which God expresses his will to us. If we do not listen now, at once, the opportunity will quickly pass us by. In this way God shapes the time of our life.

Between people who love each other there is a wordless communication. The sleeping mother still has an instinctive ear for her child asleep in another room, and is awakened from sleep when the child is disturbed or in need. Similarly, the husband who loves his wife knows immediately by her disposition and the look in her eyes when she is tired. We can experience the same communication with Christ if we love him with all our heart. Then our ear will be permanently tuned to perceive his voice among all the discordant noise of the world around us.

If we have the conviction that Christ is the Lord of our time, that he has a definite design for each day as well as for our entire life, and that this expresses itself in a series of time’s distinctive moments, the rest will follow. We will really become calm, and listen within ourselves to learn what he desires from us. Prayer helps us to grow into such a disposition and focuses our vision with a perspective that is not of this world.

‘Rising early in the morning’, says Bishop Theophan, ‘stand as firmly as possible before God in your heart, as you offer your morning prayers; and then go to the work apportioned to you by God, without withdrawing from Him in your feelings and consciousness. In this way you will do your work with the powers of your soul and body, but in your mind and heart you will remain with God.’


The Mixed Life

The ideal of the ‘mixed life’ enables the finding of an appropriate moment for the tasks that need to be done; and this includes finding an appropriate moment that can be given entirely to God. It is essential to be practical and that means recognising our real limitations in order to make the best use of’ the possibilities available. Two considerations are vital at this stage. At all costs the quality of prayer must be preserved and it may have to be done at the expense of quantity. It will also require a balanced ‘diet’ that will bring into our prayer the various elements of adoration, thanksgiving, contrition, and intercession. Avoid the temptation to pick congenial bits – because that will lead not only to a very inadequate idea of prayer, but also to a very inadequate idea of God.


From Prayer in the Workaday World by Arthur Middleton