[this is my fifth and final post for the month of July for The Society for Christian Psychology]
For several months now I have been experimenting with the idea and practice of what Brother Lawrence called “Practicing the Presence of God.” I am finding the practice essential to walking as a disciple of Jesus in my everyday life. Few practices address the sense of abandonment and loneliness I often struggle with like this one. I am amazed at how the practice runs up against and provokes corrupt and false views of myself and God. I am forced to really consider and work out what kind of God is with me, and to reconcile this with what I know of myself – no easy task!
Recently I picked up a book again that I had read years ago by John Ortberg titled, God is Closer Than You Think. Ortberg has a chart on p.27 that is titled “Foundational Truths of My Life with God,” with the helpful suggestion to read through it daily for two weeks, so that it becomes part of the thought life. I am finding it extremely helpful in remembering God throughout the day and having conversations with him. I hope others will benefit from it too.
- God is always present and active in my life, whether or not I see him.
- Coming to recognize and experience God’s presence is learned behavior; I can cultivate it.
- My task is to meet God in this moment.
- I am always tempted to live “outside” of this moment. When I do that, I lose my sense of God’s presence.
- Sometimes God seems far away for reasons I do not understand. Those moments, too, are opportunities to learn.
- Whenever I fail, I can always start again right away.
- No one knows the full extent to which a human being can experience God’s presence.
- My desire for God ebbs and flows, but his desire for me is constant.
- Every thought [and I would add, “feeling”] carries a “spiritual charge” that moves me a little closer to or a little farther from God.
- Every aspect of my life – work, relationships, hobbies, errands – is of immense and genuine interest to God.
- My path to experiencing God’s presence will not look quite like anyone else’s.
- Straining and trying too hard do not help.
One of the things that strikes me about Ortberg’s list is how it strikes the unusual balance of being both highly ambitious and utterly realistic. It assumes that anyone can learn to cultivate this daily practice, but it also provides ample room for failure. Both the ambition and the room for failure are due to the goodness and faithfulness of Jesus and his desire for us.
Further, the list assumes that God is the kind of God who is interested in the mundane details, patterns and rhythms of my daily life, which has been one of my biggest struggles in practicing the presence of God. However you want to theologically couch it, God considers me worthy of hanging out with every minute of every day. This blows my mind.
Living “in the now” has been a recurrent theme in my experiments. There is literally no way to practice God’s presence if we are being pulled into the past (via shame, regret, etc.) or into the future (via worry). The only time in which we meet with God is the present moment, but very few people actually know how to live there. Hurry and worry are usually what we practice! I look forward to any thoughts you, the reader, might have on this.
John Ortberg, God is Closer Than You Think. Zondervan, 2005.