Written over twenty years ago, this poem was a commitment I was making to learn to really “practice the presence” of God. Whether a day was filled with routines or with unexpected delights or sorrow, walking in constant awareness of him is life-changing. It is ongoing, the deep desire of my heart, yet so often interrupted by the pressures of work, distractions of interactions, forgetfulness. It is a practice that takes commitment—not just a set of rituals, but a constant background rhythm that becomes as normal as breathing. There are moments when the percussion picks up speed or volume or becomes like the crash of a cymbal; then attention links the daily to the eternal. As C.S. Lewis said, ‘For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.’
But those are not indications that “God just showed up.” He is always there. Always here. Always everywhere, and he is paying attention to his dear ones. We just forget that reality.
Ever since a prayer partner pointed out to me the depth of that truth in Psalm 139, back when I was at Wheaton Graduate School (1977), I have clung to it:
You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Ps. 139:1-10 NIV)
I did leave the United States and “settle on the far side of the sea.” Missions often requires that. This has been my comfort: that Yahweh not only knows me, he knows every second of every day and every single thought or word or action I take. Of course if I make bad choices and choose not to follow his orders that puts me in a bad position: I can hide nothing from him. But since I have made the decision to be all his, always, it also draws me back to him in confession and yearning for ongoing intimacy. What a radical change that makes!
A number of books have been mentors on this journey—there are lots out there, since this is so crucial to spiritual formation. Brother Lawrence wrote the first one that is always pointed out, describing how implementing this practice into daily life, beyond just the fixed times of prayer in the monastery, transformed life for him. Even doing the dishes was no longer only a menial task. That is underlined in a book I mentioned last week, Every Moment Holy, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey. For me, his “liturgies” are examples of ways to interact with God in every moment. It is not that we are constantly repeating rote words or even maintaining the conversation incessantly. That kind of multi-tasking is beyond me! But it is a reminder to pay attention to the Lord’s presence and live every moment for him and with him.
There is a beloved person in my life who is no longer walking with the Lord. Conversation about spiritual things meets a steep wall. But when we spend time together, I have been learning to remember that God is present there, since he is always with me, and to occasionally ask for guidance in the conversation or even just silently pray for that person to become aware of his love and goodness.
On the way to church, I am learning to ask Abba to remind me to worship “in spirit and in truth,” to not let the moments just pass by. When picking up the phone to talk to a friend, I am practicing that awareness of my Counselor’s presence, giving the conversation to him. I have not yet learned to remember his presence while doing dishes or sorting the laundry—but reviewing the principles recommended for this practice has been alerting me to new opportunities!
Tom Schwanda shares this: “I find it valuable to ask: What helps me pay attention to God? What hinders me from paying attention to God?” The whole purpose of practicing his presence is to strengthen your union with God/Christ/the Spirit, to develop increased awareness of him as we become more intimately connected to him. It keeps us more open to his working in and through us. If we can sweep away whatever obstacles are blocking us from that awareness, and practice whatever helps maintain it, it promotes growth. I also find that it incorporates many of the other spiritual formation practices that I want in place: various forms of prayer, time in the Word, service, compassion, gratitude etc. It cultivates alertness to the Spirit’s promptings that can open up unexpected opportunities to reach out to people, too.
So how should one approach implementing this practice? Here are suggestions from Calhoun, who reminds us that it “is simply a way to love him and stay connected to him throughout the day”:
- intentionally recollect yourself before God as you engage in the activities and duties of life
- seek to see others through the eyes of God
- stop throughout the day to listen to God
- carry or place symbols in your workplace and home that remind you of Christ’s presence
Ken Boa has written a book and accompanying guide for the practice, both of them worth digging into. Here are a few of the cues included in his online blog about it:
- Pick one ordinary task that you do with regularity, and each time you go to do it this week, seek to do it to the honor of God, thanking Him as you go.
- Be on alert for an opportunity to share something from the Word of God with someone
- start the day by praying a passage of Scripture that puts your heart in readiness for walking with the Lord consciously through the day
My own awareness of God’s presence has increased my reliance on him as well as my enjoyment of him. I so grateful that he is able to pay that same attention to every single one of his people! Here are some Bible verses suggested by Boa that may increase our understanding of how this practice is based on Scriptural principles, and encourage us to continue “making every effort”:
♦ Abide (John 15:4–5)
♦ Love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40)
♦ Set your mind (Romans 8:5–6)
♦ Walk by/keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25)
♦ Set your heart (Colossians 3:1–2)
♦ Rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
♦ Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
♦ Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
♦ Run with endurance/perseverance (Hebrews 12:1–2)
♦ Submit/offer yourself up (Romans 12:1–2)
♦ Press on (Philippians 3:12–14)
♦ Dwell on (Philippians 4:6–8)
♦ Remember God’s faithfulness and provision (Deuteronomy 8:2–3)
So when I feel him looking over my shoulder as I write or as I research the difficult Hebrew in some verse in Isaiah that we are translating, or when I know he is watching over me when I face an emotional challenge, it is all a part of my spiritual formation to becoming increasingly “one” with him. It is learning to know him in ways I’ve missed before. And just as that happens in a true love relationship between humans who spend lots of time together, it will happen for each of us who pay attention to this precious relationship with the One who loves us far more than anyone else can.
 Tom Schwanda, https://www.cslewisinstitute.org/resources/cultivating-attentiveness-to-gods-presence/.
 Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books), 59.
 Boa, Ken. https://kenboa.org/living-out-your-faith/the-eight-spiritual-essentials-part-4-practice-gods-presence/