I just finished reading Greg Boyd’s latest book (“Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now“), and I cannot recommend it enough. The book deals with the spiritual discipline of “practicing the presence” of God. Essentially what this means is to keep God first and foremost in our thoughts at all times. I have read Brother Lawrence’s classic, “The Practice of the Presence of God”, and while I loved the concepts he spoke of, I was never able to personally apply them to my own life. Boyd’s work provides plenty of exercises to help you apply this discipline in your own life. I was slightly concerned that the exercises would be “hokey” or that I would feel silly engaging in them, but these fears proved to be unfounded. As I write this I am indeed learning to practice the presence of God in my own life.
Being consciously aware of God at all times is not easy, though the reasons why escape me. We devote our lives to Him, we forsake everything for Him, but we cannot keep our focus on Him? What are we missing, and how weak is our faith that we can’t regularly stay in His presence for an extended amount of time? It makes me sad to realize that had I been with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. I too would have probably fallen asleep (Mark 14: 32-42). We have become self-absorbed and self-indulgent people. We give lip service to God, but turn immediately back to our own endeavors. We are distracted by the slightest interruption or diversion. It is frustrating to me how I can be absolutely devoted one minute and anything but the next.
Being mindful of God in every moment is both restricting and limiting. The restrictions, however, are both welcome and necessary. Being aware of God’s presence as you engage in conversation with someone else not only restricts the words you say, but also alters your attitude towards the one to whom you are speaking. Seeing that person as someone for whom Christ died, someone whom Jesus loves just as much as you, allows us to put aside our judgmentalism and see that person the way God sees them. People cease to be unwelcome distractions or uninvited interruptions; instead they become divine appointments. In case you were unaware, as representatives of God’s Kingdom, every encounter we have is, by definition, a divine appointment.
The choices we make and the thoughts we think are greatly impacted by being mindful of God’s presence. At last, I am truly learning how to take every thought captive. My initial, judgmental thoughts when seeing someone are immediately filtered as I bring to mind the fact the God is in our presence. When practicing the presence, being aware of God in your midst, you are able to stop a negative thought in midstream and redirect it to a God pleasing and affirming thought. Smiles come easier and stress becomes far less frequent or relevant. Temptations no longer seem so inviting. Imagining God in your midst (for indeed He is) makes it profoundly difficult to choose a sinful thought, word or deed. Once we become aware of God’s presence in our lives on a moment by moment basis, our thought patterns are radically altered. We no longer have the ability to slip into a sinful behavior; instead we must now purposefully choose the sinful path. Once we have slowed down the decision making process to a conscious choice, it becomes amazingly simple to reject sin and choose Christ. This is incredibly freeing and the true beauty of practicing the presence. Not only will our lives look more like Jesus, but we will be filled with the purity of walking in His light.
If you let it, this spiritual discipline will radically rock your life. You will find freedom from patterns and behaviors you had long given up on defeating. We have lost sight of the fact that one of the names given to Jesus was “Immanuel”, literally, “God with us”. By practicing the presence we are able to rediscover the truth that God is indeed with us in every moment of our lives. I encourage all of you to purchase a copy of this book. You can do so by clicking here or going to your favorite bookstore. Once you’ve read the book, I encourage you to come back and leave a comment about how it impacted you, and how you’re doing on “practicing the presence” in your own life. Remember God is with you no matter where you are, or what you’re doing. We need only be awakened to the reality of His presence.