Practicing Simple Presence

By Cathy Gates (Director of Thrive Ministries)

About 18 months ago my husband and I moved.  As with all moves, we found a few broken items when we unpacked.  One of them was a small figurine of an angel kneeling in prayer.  Her head had broken off of her body.  I placed in on one of my bookshelves until I had time to repair it.. 

One day as I sat with the Lord, I was struggling to stay focused – on him and on the scripture I was reading, and my mind was drifting as I prayed. At one point I looked up and saw the little angel kneeling in prayer with her head on the shelf beside her body.  I heard the Spirit whisper “Cathy, sometimes you are like this little angel. You are doing the right things, you are in the right place, you are taking time to be with me, but, your head is somewhere else”. 

Are you awake

1 Corinthians 3:16 says Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

We understand the concept that the Spirit lives in us BUT are we in fact awake to the Spirit of God that lives in each of us?

God is fully present in every moment in our lives.  The question is – Are we fully present to God’s presence in every moment of our lives?

Sometimes I wonder about how much I miss of what God is saying to me. How much I’ve missed him saying in the last year?  Or the last month or week.  Have I missed something today? 

Have you ever driven somewhere and when you arrive you wonder how you got there because you can’t remember anything about the trip? Each day we do so many things on autopilot that we can miss present moment experiences. 

In her book Sacred Rhythms Ruth Haley Barton describes three barriers to being fully present with God. 

  1. Speed of life and ministry. We move so fast that there is no time to draw aside as Moses did to even notice God in our midst let alone what he might be saying to us. 
  1. Past / Future focus of our thinking – What happened yesterday that concerns us or what is going to happen tomorrow, next week or next month occupies most of our attention and thinking.
  1. Distraction of technology. Technology although helpful, causes us to be ABSENT in the present moment. (Have you ever noticed someone crossing the street against a red light texting and totally oblivious to the danger they are in?)

Technology has the potential to create a vacuum of present moment experiences with God and others.  And it renders us unaware of what is going on inside of us. 

What if God is gently trying to get our attention in the midst of everyday moments, drawing us deeper into relationship with him?

What might happen if we intentionally look for God’s presence and listen for God’s voice in our lives each day? I believe this has the potential to transform our relationship with him

Try these few steps. 

  1. Slow down.  Intentionally be fully present with all your senses and your spirit. (What do you see, hear, smell, touch, taste) Wait patiently and expectantly for God do draw your attention to something.
  2. Take a closer look.  Allow what has drawn your attention to become your single focus.
  3. Be curious. What questions pop up at you pay attention?
  4. Be humble – Don’t assume you know what God is saying to you.  Be still and say “Speak Lord. Your servant is listening.” And then actually listen😊
  5. Follow the thread. Is this present moment experience part of a thread running through your life?
  6. Make note of your feelings as you spend this moment with the Lord.
Want to set aside intentional time to be fully present to God? 
Join us for a Soul Focus Retreat.

Always One More Thing: Alan Fadling’s Advice for the Labouring Leader

written by J CARSON CARRIERE | MARCH 2024

Let’s face it: Christian leaders can get caught up in all that is involved in day-to-day responsibilities. Think about your own typical day, week, or month. Are you repeatedly pushing your rest and refreshment back on your schedule – continually making false promises to yourself:

“I can rest at the end of the day”

“I’ll take a break at lunch”

“I’ll go to bed early”

“I’ll take a breather on the drive between appointments.”

“My vacation is in a few weeks; I’ll rest then.”

Approaching our work this way may give us a sense of purpose and meaning, but it hinders resiliency and will exponentially drain us. You plug onward, constantly contributing to your cause and life soon becomes a treadmill with no “Off” switch.

That’s the trouble many of us face. If rest is relegated to something optional – and not built into our schedule- we risk burnout or leaving our role altogether.The fact is, stuffing your workday with “to-dos” without including scheduled breaks does not produce vitality.

It more often yields opposite effects – making one weaker instead of stronger, tired instead of energetic, despondent instead of uplifted, worldly instead of spiritual.

Is it time to step off the treadmill to rest and be refreshed?

Incorporate rest into your spiritual rhythm!

In his book, An Unhurried Life, Alan Fadling shares our struggle for rest.

“Many of us are perhaps feeling our need for real rest more today than ever before. Getting better sleep, setting aside a day each week not to measure productivity or accomplishment, even guarding some weeks each year to rest deeply—these are things most of us still struggle to do.” (Fadling)

Why do we struggle with rest so much?

Pointing to Jesus’ life, Fadling proposes seven reasons we don’t rest well.

This month we will briefly introduce three of them: the problems with our image of God, our weariness and fatigue, and the numbness/rest problem. (We will cover the rest of the reasons in upcoming blogs over the next few months).

Reason #1: A distorted image of God

“Children learn how to prioritize God when they observe their parents putting Him first. The environment in which we grow up influences the rest of our life. The family dynamic, particularly parental behaviour, impacts our perspective about ourselves, others, and the Lord”. (In Touch Ministries Canada)

Your image of God can be influenced by a lot of things – culture, race, relationships, and history, to name a few. But the most powerful influence is the family we grew up in. Our image of God is often shaped more by our lived experience with our earthly fathers than it is by our theology.

“We may discover that our gut image of God is a God who only gives us work. Especially when it comes to engaging with the important work of God’s kingdom, we might imagine that our only faithful way forward is to work until we drop. There was a saying that leaders I looked up to were fond of proclaiming: “I’d rather burn out than rust out for God.” It sounded quite noble and profoundly virtuous.” (Fadling)

God has revealed all he wants us to know about himself – his nature and character — in Scripture.

So, to understand the nature of God and to clear up any distorted views we might have, it is to Scripture that we must turn. There are many such passages, but on the topic of rest, Fadling points us to Psalm 23.

In the Psalm, David describes God’s provision and care at a personal level – your shepherd who refreshes your soul with rest, leading you to still waters and nurturing green pastures.

God loves his sheep and is concerned for their souls.

Reflect: Do you consider yourself a ruster or a burner?

Might it be time to revitalize your image of God in the language of Psalm 23? Try closing your eyes and seeing yourself in Psalm 23 with the Good Shepherd.

Reason #2: Wearied and Fatigued

How many times have you been so tired, that instead of rest, you seek escape? You lie in bed; your thoughts are racing, and you reach for your phone to check out the latest X feed or Instagram posting, check a few emails.

Or you chase internet rabbit holes, reading memes and watching videos that have no immediate relevance in your life; they are just a convenient and easily accessible place to numb your mind for a while.

But resiliency needs much more than that.

“To do what would actually refresh, renew, or restore us takes some time

and effort. We might give ourselves a chance to slow down enough inside

to read a good book. We might go outside and watch for the creative care

of God around us. We might turn off our devices and settle into a good

conversation with a friend. Good rest requires effort, and when we’re

overtired, the effort can feel like too much for us.” (Fadling)

Fadling again points us to Scripture, this time at God’s call for his people to rest.

The author of Hebrews says there is “a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (4:9) and we should “make every effort to enter that rest” for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His.”

To “make every effort” means to be intentional, and firmly embed the time in your schedule.

Reflect: Take some time to consider what uniquely brings you rest and refreshment physically, emotionally, relationally, mentally, and spiritually.

Do you ever find yourself so tired, that instead of rest, you seek escape? Name one or two of your favourite go-tos for escape.

Reason #3: Numbing instead of resting.

“It’s never been easier to waste time on empty activities. We can turn on

any one of the many streaming services available today, and the autoplay

function will keep us occupied indefinitely. We can open YouTube or

Facebook, and again, autoplay will provide us with video clips that the

platform’s algorithm predicts we’ll find intriguing.” (Fadling)

Fadling calls these “mindless moments of escape” And that’s all they are. It might feel good to escape in a mind-numbing activity, but it’s not real rest and it rarely (if ever) has made us feel refreshed, renewed, restored, or reenergized — words that describe what happens when we rest well. Maybe talk with a friend; go for a walk or a bike ride; listen to music, meditate on a special passage of the Bible, or sit in silence, on a park bench…. But NOT at your desk.

Reflect: Identify your favourite mindless moments of escape.

Identify your favourite ‘mindless moments of escape.’ Choose a few things from your unique list of rest and refreshment activities. Incorporate one or two into your week.

Going Forward

With the difficulties we’ve all experienced over the past four or five years, today more than ever is a good season to schedule some regular downtime with Jesus, our Good Shepherd; to drink from the Living Water and feed on the lush pasture of God’s word and God’s presence.

Reflect: Read Psalm 23 again, asking God how he would like to shepherd you to places of rest and refreshment.


Order Alan’s book – An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest

Listen to Alan’s Podcasts

Visit the Unhurried Living Website

Maybe you’re ready for rest and refreshment, today. Join our upcoming Soul Focus retreat.

Soul Focus Retreats

Personal spiritual retreats designed specifically for pastors, ministry leaders and spouses. Join others as you cultivate a deeper walk with God, develop and practice the principles of soul care, and build an authentic community.

Soul Focus Retreats 2024

Each half-day retreat will include breakfast (in-person sessions only)*, teaching, prayer, silence and solitude for listening, personal reflection, and small group interaction. 

2024 Dates:  Join us in person Thursdays March 21, May 16, September 19 and November 14

TIME:  8:30am-Noon.  

Please see our Events page for more information and to register for specific retreats or a Soul Focus Journey Group.

Cost:  Soul Focus in-person cost is $40 per person.  
Can’t afford the cost?  We encourage you to join us and contribute what you can generously afford. 

Payment can be made by cheque payable to Thrive Ministries or e-transfer to .
Mail cheques to: Thrive Ministries, PO Box 28013, Lakeport, St. Catharine’s, Ont. L2N 7P8

Soul Focus Retreats (Custom for your leadership group)

We would be happy to work with you to design a Soul Focus retreat for your staff or leadership group. You can choose one of our suggested topics or we can build a custom retreat for you. Contact us to discuss specifics for your group and cost.

Each retreat includes teaching, spiritual practices, personal time of solitude and silence, group sharing and prayer ministry time.

Some suggested topics;

  1. Awakening to the Presence of God in Everyday Moments
  2. Come as You Are
  3. The Wall – When God Interrupts
  4. Cultivating a Spiritually Alive Walk with God
  5. Down and Out (Based on Exodus 3:7-8)
  6. Hidden Hindrances (Based on 2Kings5:1-15)
  7. Jesus, Who do You Say I Am?
  8. Finding Jesus on the Road of Life
  9. Spiritual and Emotional Health of Christian Leaders

Simple Faith Series 

Combine 2 or 3 of the following spiritual practices to create a custom retreat designed to help you draw nearer to God.

  • Simple Presence
  • Simple Gratitude
  • Simple Prayer
  • Simple Silence & Solitude
  • Simple Joy
  • Simple Scripture
  • Simple Worship

Thrive Ministries provides:

  • Session facilitation
  • Materials
  • Experientials

Requesting Group provides:

  • Venue
  • Food
  • Registration
  • Facilitator expenses (mileage*, accommodation, meals)
  • Retreat material expenses
  • Honorarium 

Brenda Drost on Unfinished Business

I grew up in church. My dad was a pastor. I have been in church my whole life. This was the single, best thing I have ever done for myself spiritually.”

Brenda Drost

Brenda loved serving in full time ministry from the beginning. She was passionate about the work God had set in front of her to do. It energized her and filled her with joy, but after a while, she noticed that passion slowly fade. During a time of extreme pressure and difficulty, Brenda recalls how her joy in serving God drained away and instead became a heavy burden.

Instead of energizing her, ministry became draining. Brenda was starting to burnout. She threw herself into the work with renewed resolve, but it just got worse. Eventually she reached a point where she just wanted to quit. 

“Here I was a pastor, counselling other women, but I felt like I was lost. I had nothing left in me to give. I didn’t know how to get back to that place (of joy). I was depleted spiritually, emotionally, and physically.”

Brenda decided to get away and have a quiet retreat for a couple of days to seek God. During that time she told God she wanted to quit, but He didn’t release her from it. So, instead she asked for someone to help her through. Two weeks later she met Cathy Gates.

“I knew right away that she was that answer to prayer that I needed, and she invited me to Unfinished Business.”

Unfinished Business is a Christ-centred, small group environment where hurting christians and ministry leaders can explore their “unfinished business” and experience healing and freedom in Christ. It usually runs over a four to five month period. 

Brenda didn’t really know what to expect, and was nervous about being vulnerable with other people, but she relays how the confidential and intimate nature of the group laid those fears to rest:

“A lot of times pastors feel like they have no one they can talk to. Thrive was a place to be broken. People who were willing to take my hand and walk me through it. It was a safe place.”

After Unfinished Business, Brenda says she feels more equipped for ministry, that her relationship with God has grown deeper, and that she was able to put a lot of her own fear and insecurities behind her. She knew she had overcome some serious issues and should a difficult season like that come again, she has the tools to deal with it. The joy is back!

“The really cool thing is that I can now turn around and help other women who need it. As I work as a pastor, I come into contact with other women in leadership who are going through the same (difficulty), and I can turn around and be that safe place for them. I have the tools to help them now.”

Unfinished Business would not have the impact it does without the prayers and financial support that so many have generously given. Thank You!

I am interested in joining an Unfinished Business Group.

There are groups solely for women and solely for men available. If you are interested in joining a group, please contact Cathy Gates. 

How can I help?

Do you want to support Unfinished Business specifically so that others can benefit from the in-depth teaching? Your gift is greatly appreciated! 

Go to, click DONATE, and write “for Unfinished Business” in the comments.