If we are to follow in our master’s footsteps, there is no greater spiritual practice to master than to live and move and work and play always in the presence of God. Jesus, by his own admission, never did anything at all without direction, wisdom, and power from his Father (John 5:19, 5:30, 8:28, 12:49, et al.). The Apostle Paul counseled everyone in his churches to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). These are elementary teachings, very simple in theory, but that require a lifetime to learn.
Those who invest the time and effort to grow in this simple, powerful discipline are blessed beyond any measure of effort she or he might invest. Everywhere I go, God is there with me Whatever else I am doing, I am turned toward God, aware of his presence with me, enjoying him and drawing wisdom and strength as he pours life into me, leading me moment by moment. I learn the secret of being content in every circumstance, because I already have the greatest treasure by my side. Learning to hear and heed God’s direction becomes a natural flow of my ordinary life. I see God move before my eyes, not only in my own actions as I obey him, but in response to my willingness to seek his in-breaking, glorious kingdom, calling upon his power and loving intervention for every person I meet. All the hailstones and barbs of this life’s difficulties still come, but I withstand them all, held firm by the sure, unshakable presence of God from whom I never depart. I come to know—deep in the core of who I am—the truth of Jesus’ promise: “Surely I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20).
This may sound difficult or even impossible. I can say from personal experience that it doesn’t need to be. And, because of the grace of God, it isn’t even difficult to begin. God will often meet us in this beautiful desire and pour out immeasurable riches on us even in the first few hours or days as we begin. This is typical of our lavish heavenly father, who longs for us to live in tune with the source of Life. But, as is also typical of our loving and wise father, the lessons soon begin. We meet with all kinds of difficulties as we seek to remain ever-connected to the vine. And this is where we can all use the established wisdom of God’s people to persist and grow in this central practice of spiritual formation.
Consider these three resources that I have found useful in learning to practice the presence of God.
- Soul Revolution, John Burke: this book is perfect for the beginner, one who has never tried such a practice before. Burke provides dozens of short, very real examples of what life looks like as we begin this practice. Burke provides concrete and practical ways of getting started, laying out exactly what to do to begin. Along the way, he covers a lot of the ups and downs many of us will experience as we try to stick with this journey. And he is gracious, knowing that we’ll stumble, lose interest, get confused or even angry with what we’ll encounter. He has clear instruction, encouragement, and humorous personal stories that will point the way. His “60-60 Experiment” that he explains in detail is an excellent introduction to what practicing the presence of God is like.
- Present Perfect, Gregory A. Boyd: this book is not necessarily more advanced than Burke’s, but it is written with a much different style. It is short, rich, and poetically written, every paragraph powerful insight into the beauty, power, and grace of a life lived always in God’s presence. Reading Boyd is perfect for anyone who is ready for more instruction after Burke, or someone who prefers more energy to Burke’s easy-going style. Boyd is also strong but gracious encouragement for anyone who has tried practicing the presence of God but has gotten frustrated or let the habit go. Each short chapter ends with little exercises that are wise and eminently useful for both beginners and advanced practitioners.
- Practicing the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence: this book is drawn from letters and conversations with a monk named Brother Lawrence who lived in 1600’s France. He is the source of much of Burke’s and Boyd’s wisdom. This is the shortest of the three books and remains useful, readable, and deeply wise for all Christians today. Each chapter is a page or two long, written in a devotional, conversational style, recounting Brother Lawrence’s journey to becoming someone who sought to develop this discipline. That his book has remained widely popular for centuries speaks to its utility and wisdom.
If you would live the good life of the kingdom, learn with Jesus how to remain always in the presence of God, full of his life and strength. Grab a copy of one or more of these resources and get started.