What a year it has been: unexpected uncertainties, patterns and rhythms of personal and family life overturned, plans disrupted, usual ministry impossible, and new ways of ministry to learn. On the upside, greater dependence on God to do his work; unexpected opportunities for evangelism and practical support; increased realisation of how valuable it is to meet together; and greater thankfulness for many of God’s gifts that we take for granted. While many have had the challenge of doing ministry, family life and schooling in a confined space, my experience has been more time alone. This has provided an opportunity to grow my prayer life, as I have been learning to ‘practise the presence of God.’
More time alone has provided an opportunity to grow my prayer life. I have been learning to ‘practise the presence of God.’
The expression ‘practising the presence of God’ comes from a book by Brother Laurence. For me it means putting into practice, whenever possible, a conscious thankful awareness of God’s presence, meditation on God’s word, praise and thanks or lament and grief expressed to God, and intercession.
My prayer life has always been at set times. I have been learning to practise God’s presence and pray to him whenever I can. Many Christians do this; I am just catching up with other people! If you don’t already do this, I hope you will give it a go. If you already do this, you may find my experience encouraging.
‘Practising the presence of God’ is the usual expression. Its danger is its self-centredness. I think of it as:
- ‘Growing in being aware of and responding to God’s presence’,
- ‘Increasingly being consciously present in the presence of God’
- [More briefly] ‘Responding to God’s omnipresence’!
(n.b. ‘Practising = ‘putting into practice’, or ‘making a habit of’. not, ‘trying to make it happen’!)
God’s is present everywhere: we should be constantly aware of him
- ‘The LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other’. Deut 4:39.
- ‘Can a man hide himself in secret place so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord?’ Jer 23:24.
- ‘In him we live and move and have our being’. Acts 17:28.
God is present everywhere … We can never escape God’s presence, and we can never invite him to be present.
God is present whether we are believers or not. He is present everywhere even if we do not recognise his presence. God is omnipresent. God is present everywhere in his Son, sustaining this universe: ‘For by him all things were created … and in him all things hold together’. Col 1:16,17. Christ holds the universe together. We should honour and praise Christ for his work of creation, as well as salvation.
We can never escape God’s presence, and we can never invite him to be present. He is present everywhere, and he is present before we are present.
Question: ‘Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?’ (Ps 139:7).
To meet God in everyday life, to be aware of being in the presence of God all the time, is not subjective experientialism, it is reality.
To be aware of being in the presence of God all the time, is not subjective experientialism, it is reality.
God not only created all that is, he also sustains it, moment by moment. As we look at the sky, we see the stars God causes to shine.
Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?
He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. (Is 40:26).
All living creatures receive their daily food from God.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. Ps 145:15,16.
As Calvin wrote,
[God] revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe… he shows his glory to us, whenever we and wherever we cast our gaze. … this skilful ordering of the universe is for us a sort or mirror in which we can contemplate God…
O, if we were only truly committed to God! I assure you: all the elements would sing to us and we, we would get to hear in this world a melody made in heaven, so utterly beautiful.
The Bible not only summons us to read it and meditate on it, it also points beyond itself
God provides for all, believers and unbelievers alike. Jesus said, ‘He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.’ (Matt 5:45) Paul said to unbelievers: ‘[God] did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.’ (Acts 14: 17)
When humans refuse to ‘honour him as God or give thanks to him’ (Rom 1:21) as they see his invisible power and divine nature in the creation, they are condemned.
You may say: ‘Is not the Bible God’s sufficient and clear word, why should we see God’s power in the world around us?’ But the Bible not only summons us to read it and meditate on it, it also points beyond itself: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork’. Ps 19:1.
One of the great discoveries of the Reformation was the fact that we can serve God in our daily, mundane, work. Charles Wesley expressed it in these words:
Forth in your name, O Lord, I go,
my daily labour to pursue,
you only, Lord, resolved to know
in all I think or speak or do.
The task your wisdom has assigned
here let me cheerfully fulfill;
in all my work your presence find,
and prove your good and perfect will.
You may I set at my right hand,
whose eyes my inmost secrets view,
and labour on at your command
and offer all my work to you. [Updated].
God’s presence and the gospel: believers should have a greater and clearer awareness of being in the presence of God through Christ
Not only is God present in our world, he also invites us into his presence through his Son and his gospel. In Genesis 3, God’s judgement is to send out, to drive out sinners from the place where he met with them every day (Gen 3:22-24, 9). When God scatters his people, he judges them (Deut 28:64-68). However, through Christ and through his sacrifice, we are summoned into God’s presence.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus … and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith … (Heb 10:19-22)
God is around us and within us: he is closer than breathing.
We might think that we are born again, forgiven, justified, and adopted, but remain at a distance from God. Not so—we come into God’s presence. This is our reality, regardless of whatever we might (or might not) feel when we pray. Paul puts it even more strongly: God is ‘in Christ’, we are ‘in Christ’, and have ‘come to fulness of life in him’ (Col 2:9,10). We are ‘seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus’: we have been ‘brought near by the blood of Christ’ (Eph 2:6, 13). We as a church are ‘a temple of God’s Holy Spirit’, and are individually ‘a temple of God’s Holy Spirit’ (1Cor 3:16, 6:19). God is around us and within us: he is closer than breathing.
As we sometimes take other people for granted and fail to be fully aware of them, so we can take God for granted, and fail to be fully aware of him.
Practising = making a habit of being aware of and responding to God’s presence: Some useful habits
Here are some of the habits I have been working on, when I am waiting for the kettle to boil, the computer to warm up, when I am walking, in a tram, having a break, when I wake during the night, when nothing much is happening!
- Daily mundane tasks. I remind myself to ‘offer my body to God as a living sacrifice’ (Rom 12:2), and to ‘serve the Lord Christ’ (Col 2:24), as I prepare food, wash the dishes, clean the house, wash the dogs, go shopping, etc.
- People. Whenever I think of someone, or meet someone, or see someone, I pray for them and commit them to God. If they are believers, then I follow Paul’s example and thank God for them before I pray for them. I try to practise ‘constant prayer’ (see Col. 1:9). If no one comes to mind, I pray for family, friends, my church, people in ministry in Australia, overseas mission partners, Australia’s indigenous peoples, those in need, my neighbours, Australia, the nations of the world, etc.
- My body. Truly I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully made!’ (Ps 139:14). So I try to remember to thank God for keeping me alive. The gift of fresh air and lungs that work; the gift of food and drink and a digestive system that works. The gift of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling. The gift of a heart and blood to keep me alive. And increasingly I ask God to repair bits that are not working so well, and/or to help me live wisely with them.
- The creation. I love the sky, clouds, the sun, moon and stars. I want to get into the habit of praising God for anything that is in my mind or that I see or smell or feel or hear. They are all works and gifts of God.
- Worries, plans, regrets. If I don’t fill my mind with intentional thoughts, it fills itself with worries, plans, and regrets. I deal with these by turning them into prayers, entrusting these matters to God.
- Driving. I am naturally a competitive driver. To counter this godless tendency, I try to remember to love my neighbours on the road, and one great way to do this is to pray for each one! [I do not shut my eyes when praying.]
- I reflect on verses from the Bible. These are from parts of the Bible I have read recently, or from the sermon I heard last Sunday. The Bible invites us not only to read, but to meditate on God’s words (Deut 6:4-9; Psalm 1:2; Psalm 119, etc.).
- I ponder them, meditate on them, and then turn them into praise, prayer, lament, confession, or trust.
- The daily news. So much news is bad news, and we are humanly powerless to do much about much bad news. Whenever I think of an item of news, I turn it into a prayer that God would act, and that if he wants me to act, that he would prod me to do so.
- I reflect on God’s global gospel plan for people from every nation to become believers in Christ. So if I think about a nation, I pray for gospel ministry there. If I think about a church or a minister, I pray. And then I often pray my default ‘God’s global gospel plan prayers’, that God would raise up workers for his great harvest, that God would convert ‘unconvertible’ people, that Jesus would build his church, that he would bring his church to maturity, and that God would sustain gospel workers, care for those being martyred today, and help all believers to grow in grace, godliness, and usefulness to God.
- On a walk. Here I spend half my time praising God for the beauty of all he has made, and half my time praying for people I am thinking about, the people I see, or, if there is no one around, for the people who live in the houses I am passing.
- Distractions. I am easily distracted. I try to turn my distractions into prayers. For my distractions are usually my worries or fears. The best thing to do is to pray them.
- God. I praise him that he is the God I can call on ‘anytime, anywhere, about anything’, because God is everywhere, all the time! I thank him I don’t have to make appointments to pray, that nothing is too small or too big to bring to him in prayer. I praise him for his power, holiness, majesty, wisdom and steadfast love. I praise him for his gospel plan for this world to save sinners and make saints. I praise him for creation and salvation. I praise him for the Lord Jesus, and for the Holy Spirit. I rejoice, lament, grieve, trust, give thanks, entrust, submit, and offer myself to him, to live for his glory. I pray for people I love and serve.
- My activities today and in the next few days. I ponder these, ask God to direct me, and pray for the people I will serve. I also ask God to prepare me for the unexpected events and activities, and that I will accept them graciously rather than grumpily! I tell God that I trust that he has the details of my daily life in his hands.
- My activities over the past week. I ponder these, thank God for them, ask God to forgive and over-rule the mistakes and sins I have committed, and pray for the people I have met, served or helped.
- The big issues in my life. These often come into my mind, so I commit them to God, ask for his wisdom, and pray that he would work out his good purposes in my life.
I am trying to live my life and do my ministry coram Deo, in the presence of God
In all of this, I am trying to live my life and do my ministry coram Deo, in the presence of God. I am aiming to be aware that I am in God’s presence, and to be fully present in God’s presence as I can.
I am trying to make a habit of being present in the presence of God.
Of course, I live alone, so have more opportunity to do this.
What I have described I my aim, not my achievement! And I am not obsessive about it: I am just trying to develop healthy habits of remembering God’s omni presence.
I hope you find this helpful.
 John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.5.1, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1960, p. 52,53.
 Calvin’s Lecture on Jeremiah 5:25, as cited in Marijn de Kroon, The Honour of God and Human Salvation: Calvin’s Theology according to his Institutes, T&T Clark, Edinburgh and New York, 2001, p.208.
 These prayers complement my daily planned prayers, when I pray for myself and for others in a more organised way!