I talked in the previous post about how the title for this blog comes from a book on spiritual devotion written by a monk. “Practicing the presence of God” can seem best achieved in isolation. Many of us even feel guilty about how little time we spend alone with God or at least only thinking about God wherever we are. The truth is, the call of the Christian disciple is not universally to be present with God only and acknowledge His presence in a “removed” setting. Yes, even Jesus withdrew at times to spend quiet hours away from others giving attention to His relationship with the Father, and I believe that’s important to model. But before giving His life He prayed for His followers, declaring that we are not “of the world” but neither to be “taken out of the world” (John 17).
One of the things I am learning most about ministry is the significance of presence. Someone recently joked with me that church would be great if not for all the humans. We really have an uncanny ability to foul things up and make a place seem unappealing. But for better and for worse, you can’t have church without people. You can’t have the Body of Christ upon the earth, the community filled with the Holy Spirit of God through which God is redeeming and transforming the world, without human beings. From beginning to end of the biblical story God repeatedly displays an insane insistence on using flawed creatures with seemingly infinite limitations to carry out His supernatural activity.
Practicing presence, being fully present with others in speech, relationship, prayer, compassion, etc. is what it means to truly live out the Incarnation – God with us. Another quote I heard recently that took root in my soul is this: “The most important person is the one in front of you.” This is a statement, perhaps even an overstatement, of the importance of practicing presence. We live in a culture that seems to drive us more and more the other direction, even leading us to believe we can be present with others through technological devices while ignoring those in the room with us, or even that we can be equally present with all! But Christ-likeness requires imitating Incarnation, being as present with others as God has chosen to be with us.
Why is this blog called “Practicing Presence”? Part one of the answer.
When I was in high school, the leader of my youth Bible study gave me a gift. It was a book that I had never heard of until after I received it, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. I learned eventually that it was not only a fairly well-known book but one of tremendous spiritual significance to those who are blessed to read it. One edition I have calls it “A Classic of Practical Christian Devotion.” That’s about spot on. This tiny book written by a simple and humble saint who enjoyed closeness with God takes the depths of devotion, a continual dwelling in and with the God of the cosmos, and makes it as practical as washing dishes. The arrival of this book in my life was timely to say the least. I read it the summer between high school and college with an excitement I don’t ever remember feeling toward a book prior. I was working for the concession stand of Rave Motion Pictures off of Hwy 90 in Daphne, AL, and I would read it outside behind the theater on my breaks.
Six months and some days ago I started this new blog. I wanted a blog with a focus, some idea that would guide and channel my written thoughts. The name is taken from this book. I can think of no better pair of words to describe my vocation, occupation, faith, and life’s goal. I want at the most basic level to practice presence, first of all with God. There are too many of us, it seems, that do all sorts of things to live for God not realizing that at some point we have ceased to even be present with Him or abide continually in his presence with us. Brother Lawrence was a French Carmelite monk of the 17th century who found God in life’s simplest acts of service and work such as gardening and washing dishes for the monastery. I imagine it could take my lifetime to understand all the richness of the book. But I hope in everything else in which I am present – family, ministry, work, relationships – I will be rooted in the presence I practice in and with God as He is in and with me.
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)