Frank Laubach, a missionary to the Philippians and the inventor of the world’s most effective literacy education system, resolved one New Year’s to experience God once every waking minute of every day. He experimented with it for years, the journal of which was published in 1937 as Letters by a Modern Mystic. It’s a wonderful book, but my favourite part is the appendix at the end, which is the booklet he published in order to invite others into what he learned. To make seem less intimidating, he called it “The Game with Minutes”. Here’s the essence of it:
Christ is the Only Hope of the World
We shall not become like Christ until we give Him more time. To His disciples He said: “Come with me, walk with me, talk and listen to me, work and rest with me, eat and sleep with me, twenty-four hours a day for three years.” That was their college course—” He chose them,” the Bible says, “that they might be with Him,” 168 hours a week! All who have tried that kind of abiding for a month know the power of it— it is like being born again from center to circumference. It absolutely changes every person who does it. And it will change the world that does it.
How can a man or woman take this course with Christ today? The answer is so simple a child can understand it. Indeed unless we “turn and become like children” we shall not succeed.
- We have a study hour. We read and reread the life of Jesus recorded in the Gospels thoughtfully and prayerfully at least an hour a day. We find fresh ways and new translations, so that this reading will never be dull, but always stimulating and inspiring. Thus we walk with Jesus through Galilee by walking with Him through the pages of His earthly history.
- We make Him our inseparable chum. We try to call Him to mind at least one second of each minute. We do not need to forget other things nor stop our work, but we invite Him to share everything we do or say or think. Hundreds of people have experimented until they have found ways to let Him share every minute that they are awake. In fact, it is no harder to learn this new habit than to learn the touch system in typing, and in time one can win a high percentage of his minutes with as little effort as an expert needs to write a letter.
While these two practices take all our time, yet they do not take it away from any good enterprise. They take Christ into that enterprise and make it more resultful. They also keep a man’s religion steady. If the temperature of a sick man rises and falls daily the doctor regards him as seriously ill. This is the case with religion. Not spiritual chills and fevers, but an abiding faith which gently presses the will toward Christ all day, is a sign of a healthy religion.
The results of this program begin to show clearly in a month. They grow rich after six months, and glorious after ten years.
How to Win
Experience has told us that good resolutions are not enough. We need to discipline our lives to an ordered regime. The “Game with Minutes” is a rather lighthearted name for such a regime in the realm of the spirit. Many of us have found it to be enormously helpful. It is a new name for something as old as Enoch, who “walked with God.” It is a way of living which nearly everybody knows and nearly everybody has ignored. Students will at once recognize it as a fresh approach to Brother Lawrence’s “Practicing the Presence of God.”
You will find this just as easy and just as hard as forming any other habit. You have hitherto thought of God for only a few seconds or minutes a week, and He was out of your mind the rest of the time. Now you are attempting, like Brother Lawrence, to have God in mind each minute you are awake. Such drastic change in habit requires a real effort at the beginning.
Many of us find it very useful to have pictures of Christ where our eyes will fall on them every time we look around. A very happy hobby is to collect the most friendly pictures of Christ, pocket size, so that we can erect our own “shrine” in a few seconds.
How to Begin
Select a favorable hour; try how many minutes of the hour you can remember God at least ONCE each minute; that is to say, bring God to mind at least one second out of every sixty. It is not necessary to remember God every second, for the mind runs along like a rapid stream from one idea to another.
Your score will be low at first, but keep trying, for it constantly becomes easier, and after a while is almost automatic. It follows the well-known laws of habit forming. If you try to write shorthand you are at first very awkward. This is true when you are learning to play a piano, or to ride a bicycle, or to use any new muscles. When you try this “game with minutes” you discover that spiritually you are still a very weak infant. A babe in the crib seizes upon everything at hand to pull himself to his feet, wobbles for a few seconds and falls exhausted. Then he tries again, each time standing a little longer than before. We are like that babe when we begin to try to keep God in mind. We need something to which we can cling. Our minds wobble and fall, then rise for a new effort. Each time we try we shall do better until at last we may be able to remember God as high as 90 percent of the whole day.
While Going Home
Can you win your game with minutes while passing people on the street? Yes! Experiments have revealed a sure way to succeed: offer a swift prayer for the people at whom you glance. It is easy to think an instantaneous prayer while looking people straight in the eye, and the way people smile back at you shows that they like it! This practice gives a surprising exhilaration, as you may prove for yourself. A half-hour spent walking and praying for all one meets, instead of tiring one, gives him a sense of ever heightening energy like a battery being charged. It is a tonic, a good way to overcome a tired feeling.
Some of us walk on the right side of the pavement, leaving room for our unseen Friend, whom we visualize walking by our side, and we engage in silent conversations with Him about the people we meet. For example, we may say: “Dear Companion, what can we do together for this man whom we are passing?” Then we whisper what we believe Christ would answer.
Where to Look for Christ
We have a right to use any aid that proves useful. One such aid is to think of Christ as in a definite location. To be sure, He is a spirit, everywhere at once— and therefore anywhere we realize Him to be. Many of us win our game nearly all of some days by realizing His unseen presence sitting in a chair or walking beside us. Some of us have gazed at our favorite picture of Him until it floats before our memories whenever we glance at His unseen presence, and we almost see Him. Indeed, many of us do see Him in our dreams. Others, like St. Paul, like to feel Him within the breast; many, like St. Patrick, feel Him all around us, above, below, before, behind, as though we walked in His kindly halo. We may have our secret ways of helping us to realize that He is very near and very dear.
On a Train or in a Crowd
We whisper “God” or “Jesus” or “Christ” constantly as we glance at every person near us. We try to see double, as Christ does— we see the person as he is and the person Christ longs to make him. Remarkable things happen, until those in tune look around as though you spoke— especially children. The atmosphere of a room changes when a few people keep whispering to Him about all the rest. Perhaps there is no finer ministry than just to be in meetings or crowds, whispering “Jesus,” and then helping people whenever you see an opportunity. When Dr. Chalmers answers the telephone he whispers: “A child of God will now speak to me.” We can do that when anybody speaks to us.
While in Conversation
Suppose when you reach home you find a group of friends engaged in ordinary conversation. Can you remember God at least once every minute? This is hard, but we have found that we can be successful if we employ some reminders. Here are aids which have proven useful:
- Have a picture of Christ in front of you where you can glance at it frequently.
- Have an empty chair beside you and imagine that your Unseen Master is sitting in it; if possible reach your hand and touch that chair, as though holding His hand. He is there, for He said: “Lo, I am with you always.”
- Keep humming to yourself a favorite prayer hymn— for example, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Have Thine Own Way.”
- Silently pray for each person in the circle.
- Keep whispering inside: “Lord, put Thy thoughts in my mind. Tell me what to say.”
- Best of all, tell your companions about the “Game with Minutes.” If they are interested, you will have no more trouble. You cannot keep God unless you give Him to others.
When we are reading a newspaper or magazine or book, we read it to Him! We often glance at the empty chair where we visualize Him, or at His picture and continue a running conversation with Him inwardly about the pages we are reading. Kagawa says scientific books are letters from God telling how He runs His universe.
Have you ever opened a letter and read it with Jesus, realizing that He smiles with us at the fun, rejoices with us in the successes, and weeps with us at life’s tragedies? If not, you have missed one of life’s sweetest experiences.
If you lean back and think about some problem deeply, how can you remember God? You can do it by forming a new habit. All thought employs silent words and is really conversation with your inner self. Instead of talking to yourself, you will now form the habit of talking to Christ. Many of us who have tried this have found that we think so much better that we never want to try to think without Him again. We are helped if we imagine Him sitting in a chair beside us, talking with us. We say with our tongue what we think Christ might say in reply to our questions. Thus we consult Christ about everything.
When Walking Alone
If you are strolling out of doors alone, you can recall God at least once every minute with no effort, if you remember that “beauty is the voice of God.” Every flower and tree, river and lake, mountain and sunset, is God speaking. “This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings …” So as you look at each lovely thing, you may keep asking: “Dear Father, what are you telling me through this, and this, and this?”
If you have wandered to a place where you can talk aloud without being overheard, you may speak to the Invisible Companion inside you or beside you. Ask Him what is most on His heart and then answer back aloud with your voice what you believe God would reply to you.
Of course we are not always sure whether we have guessed God’s answer right, but it is surprising how much of the time we are very certain. It really is not necessary to be sure that our answer is right, for the answer is not the great thing— He is! God is infinitely more important than His advice or His gifts; indeed, He, Himself, is the great gift. The youth in love does not so much prize what his sweetheart may say or may give him, as the fact that she is his and that she is here. The most precious privilege in talking with God is this intimacy which we can have with Him. We may have a glorious succession of heavenly minutes. How foolish people are to lose life’s most poignant joy, seeing it may be had while taking a walk alone!
Men at Work
Countless thousands of men keep God in mind while engaged in all types of work, mental or manual, and find that they are happier and get better results. Those who endure the most intolerable ordeals gain new strength when they realize that their Unseen Comrade is by their side. To be sure, no man whose business is harmful or whose methods are dishonest can expect God’s partnership. But if an enterprise is useful, God eagerly shares in its real progress. The carpenter can do better work if he talks quietly to God about each task, as Jesus certainly did when He was a carpenter. Many of us have found that we can compose a letter or write a book better when we say “God, think Thy thoughts in my mind. What dost Thou desire written? Here is my hand; use it. Pour Thy wisdom through my hand.” Our thoughts flow faster, and what we write is better. God loves to be a coauthor!
Merchants and Bankers
A merchant who waits on his customers and prays for them at the same time wins their affection and their business. A salesman who prays for those with whom he is dealing has far more likelihood of making a sale. A bookkeeper or banker can whisper to God about every column of figures and be certain that God is even more interested in the figures than he is. The famous astronomer, Sir James Jeans, calls God the “super-mathematician of the universe, making constant use of mathematical formulae that would drive Einstein mad.”
In the Home
Many women cultivate Christ’s companionship while cooking, washing dishes, sweeping, sewing, and caring for children. Aids which they find helpful are …
- Whispering to God about each small matter, knowing that He loves to help.
- Humming or singing a favorite prayer hymn.
- Showing the children how to play the game with minutes, and asking them to share in playing it. Children love this game and develop an inner control when they play it which renders discipline almost needless.
- Having pictures of Christ about the house, as a constant reminder.
- Saying to God, “Think Thy thoughts in my mind.”
When in School
An increasing army of students in school who are winning this game, tell us how they do it. Here is their secret:
When in study period, say: “God, I have just forty precious minutes. Help my wavering thoughts to concentrate so that I may not waste a moment. Show me what is worth remembering in this first paragraph”— then read the lesson to God, instead of reading it to yourself.
When going to recitation, whisper: “Make my mind clear, so that I will be able to recall all I have studied. Take away fear.”
When rising to recite before a group, say: “God, speak through my lips.”
When taking an examination, say all during the hour, “Father, keep my mind clear, and help me to remember all that I have learned. How shall we answer this next question?” Visualize Him looking over your shoulder every minute you are writing. God will not tell you what you have never studied but He does sharpen your memory and take away your stage fright when you ask Him. Have you not discovered that when you pray about some forgotten name it often flashes into your memory?
To be popular with the other students, acquire the habit of breathing a momentary prayer for each student you meet, and while you are in conversation with him. Some instinct tells him you are interested in his welfare and he likes you for it.
During Play Hours
God is interested in our fun as much as we are. Many of us talk to Him during our games. Some of the famous football players long ago discovered that they played better if they prayed all during the game. Some of the famous runners pray during races. If a thing brings health and joy and friendship and a fresh mind, God is keenly interested, because He is interested in us.
While on the playground, do not ask to win, but whisper: “God, get Thy will done exactly. Help us all to do our best. Give us what is far more important than defeating our opponents— make us clean sportsmen and make us good friends.”
God and Love
Sweethearts who have been wise enough to share their love with God have found it incomparably more wonderful. Since “God is Love” He is in deepest sympathy with every fond whisper and look. Husbands and wives, too, give rapturous testimony of homes transformed by praying silently when together. In some cases where they had begun to give each other “nerves,” they have found, after playing this game when they are alone together by day or by night, that their love grew strangely fresh, rich, beautiful, “Like a new honeymoon.” God is the maker of all true marriages, and He gives His highest joy to a man and wife who share their love for each other with Him, who pray inwardly each for the other when they are together looking into one another’s eyes. Married love becomes infinitely more wonderful when Christ is the bond every minute and it grows sweeter as the years go by to the very last day. Imagine, too, what this does for the children!
Troubles and pain come to those who practice God’s presence, as they came to Jesus, but these seem trivial as compared to their new joyous experience. If we have spent our days with Him, we find that when earthquakes, fires, famines, or other catastrophes threaten us, we are not terrified any more than Paul was in time of shipwreck. “Perfect love casteth out Fear.”
This booklet is good for people suffering from illness at home or in hospitals. Nurses remind us that the thoughts of people turn toward God when sick as at no other time. Patients who are convalescing have many idle hours when their minds reach up toward God. Playing this game produces a perfect mental state for rapid recovery.
Those who are seeking to be aware of God constantly have found that their former horror at death has vanished. We may have a new mystic intimacy with our departed loved ones, for though unseen to us, they are with Christ and since He is with us they are with us as well.
Some Prices We Must Pay to Win This Game
The first price is pressure of our wills, gentle but constant. What game is ever won without effort and concentration? The second price is perseverance. A low score at the outset is not the least reason for discouragement; everybody gets a low score for a long while. Each week grows better and requires less strain. The third price is perfect surrender. We lose Christ the moment our wills rebel. If we try to keep even a remote corner of life for self or evil, and refuse to let God rule us wholly, that small worm will spoil the entire fruit. We must be utterly sincere. The fourth price is tell others. When anybody complains that he is losing the game, we flash this question back at him: “Are you telling your friends about it?” For you cannot keep Christ unless you give Him away. The fifth price is to be in a group. We need the stimulus of a few intimate friends who exchange their experiences with us.
This game is not a grim duty. Nobody need play it unless he seeks richer life. It is a delightful privilege. If you forget to play it for minutes or hours or days, do not groan or repent, but begin anew with a smile. It is a thrilling joy— don’t turn it into a sour-faced penance. With God, every minute can be a fresh beginning. Ahead of you lie limitless anticipations.
What It Means by Winning
You win your minute if during that minute you either
- Recall God.
- Sing or hum a devotional hymn.
- Talk or write about God.
- Seek to relieve suffering of any kind in a prayerful spirit.
- Work with the consciousness of God’s presence.
- Whisper to God.
- Feel yourself encompassed by God.
- Look at a picture or a symbol of Christ.
- Read a scripture verse or poem about God.
- Give somebody a helpful hand for the Lord’s sake.
- Breathe a prayer for the people you meet.
- Follow the leading of the Inner Voice.
- Plan or work for the Kingdom of God.
- Testify to others about God, the church, or this game.
- Share suffering or sorrow with another.
- Hear God and see Him in flowers, trees, water, hills, sky.
We never attempt to keep a minute-by-minute record (except perhaps occasionally for an hour), since such a record would interfere with a normal life. We are practicing a new freedom, not a new bondage. We must not get so tied down to score keeping that we lose the glory of it, and its spontaneity. We fix our eyes upon Jesus, not upon a clock.