Practicing God’s Presence
To his followers Jesus said ‘Come with me, walk with me, talk and listen to me, work and rest with me, eat and sleep with me, twenty-four hours a day for three years.’ That was their college major. ‘He chose them,’ the Bible says, ‘that they might be with him,’ 168 hours a week! All who have tried this kind of abiding for a month know the power of it—it is like being born again from the inside out. It absolutely changes every person who does it.Today, how can a person take this course on living with Christ? The answer is so simple a child can understand it. Indeed unless we ‘turn and become like children’ we shall not succeed.
We dedicate a time to learn from Jesus. We read and reread the life of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, thoughtfully and prayerfully, at least an hour each day. Finding fresh ways and new translations, reading will never be dull, but always stimulating and inspiring. We walk with Jesus through Galilee by walking with Him through the pages of His earthly history.
We make Jesus our reliable friend. Try to call Him to mind at least once every hour. We do not need to forget other things or stop what we are doing, but we invite Him to share in everything we do, say or think. In fact, it is no harder to learn this new habit than to learn keyboarding on the computer, and in time one may use a high percentage of his time with as little effort as anyone who writes a letter. While these two practices take our attention, they do not take us away from any important project. They take Christ into that effort and make the result meaningful.
Practicing the presence of God has already been proven by thousands of people. Indeed, spiritual giants of all ages have known it. Christians who practice it today become more fervent and satisfied and are diligent witnesses. Men and women who had been slaves to thoughts and behaviors have been set free.
You may be thinking, ‘All this is very orthodox and ancient.’ It is in fact the secret of great saints of all ages. ‘Pray without ceasing,’ said Paul, ‘in everything make your desires known unto God.’ ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God these are the sons of God.’
MAKE GOD YOUR FOCUS EACH HOUR OF THE DAY
No one is totally satisfied with his own self. Our lives are made up of light and shadows, of some good days and many unsatisfactory days. We have learned that the good days and hours come as we are close to Christ, and that the poor days come when we push Him out of our thoughts. Clearly the way to growing in our spiritual life is to take Him into everything we do, say or think.
Experience has told us that good intentions are not enough. Thinking on Jesus each hour is a novel approach to life in the realm of the Spirit.. Some will recognize it as a fresh approach to Brother Lawrence’s ‘Practicing the Presence of God.’ This spiritual exercise leads us into what seems like a beautiful garden; then the garden widens into a country; and at last we realize that we are exploring a new world. Some people have compared it to getting out of a dark prison and beginning to live. We still see the same world, yet it is not the same, for it has a new glorious color and a far deeper meaning. Thank God, this adventure is free for everybody, rich or poor, wise or ignorant, famous or unknown, with a good or difficult past—This greatest experience in the world is for everyone!
You will find this as easy or as hard as forming any other habit. Up till now you may have thought of God for only a few seconds or minutes a week, and He was out of your mind the rest of the time. Now you are attempting, like Brother Lawrence, to have God in mind each hour you are awake. Such drastic change in habit requires a real effort at the beginning.
BEGIN WITH AN INITIAL HOUR
Select a favorable day, then try to see how many hours you remember God that day. You will remember less frequently at first, but keep trying, for it constantly becomes easier, and after a while it becomes part of your way of life. It follows the well-known laws of forming habits. For instance, when you first try a new video game, you are very awkward. This is true when you are learning to play a piano, or to ride a bicycle, or to use any new muscles. When you try ‘meeting Jesus hourly’ you discover that spiritually you are still a very weak infant. A baby trying to walk seizes upon everything at hand to pull himself to his feet, wobbles for a few seconds and falls exhausted. When he tries again, each time he stands a little longer than before. We are like this baby when we begin to try to keep God in mind. We need something to which we can cling. Our minds wobble and fall, then rise for a new effort. Each time we try we shall do better until at last we may be able to remember God a great portion of the day.
START THE EXPERIMENT AT CHURCH
You have a good chance of starting well if you begin at Sunday church—provided the sermon is about God. You may look at the cross, or you may leaf through your Bible, remembering verses that remind you of God. As a new delight you are learning it should not be turned into a task!
WHILE COMING HOME FROM CHURCH
You may keep God in mind while passing people on the street. Past experiments have revealed a sure way to succeed: offer a quick prayer for the people at whom you glance. It is easy to think an instantaneous prayer while looking people straight in the eye, and the way people return a smile shows that they appreciate it! This practice gives a surprising exhilaration, as you will see for yourself. A half-hour spent walking and praying for everyone you meet, instead of making one fatigued, gives a sense of energy like a recharged battery.
Some of us walk on the right side of the pavement, leaving room for our unseen Friend, whom we envisage walking by our side, and we engage in silent conversation with Him about the people we meet. For example, we may say: ‘Lord, what can we do together for this man whom we are passing?’ Then we listen for what Christ may answer.
WHERE TO LOOK FOR JESUS
We have a right to use any aid that proves helpful. One such aid is to think of Jesus as in a definite location. To be sure, He is Spirit, everywhere at once—and therefore anywhere we recognize Him to be. Many of us picture His unseen presence sitting a chair or walking beside us. Some of us have remembered our favorite picture of Him when we think of His unseen presence, In fact, many of us see Him in our dreams. Others, like St. Paul, feel Him within them; many, like St. Patrick, feel Him all around us, above, below, before, & behind. We may have our secret ways to help us realize that He is very near and dear.
You may whisper ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’ regularly as you glance at people who are near you. Try to see double, as Christ does—see the person as he is and the person Christ longs to make him. Remarkable things may happen as those in tune with us look around as though you have spoken— this is especially true of children.
WHILE IN CONVERSATION
Suppose at home you are with a group of friends engaged in ordinary conversation. How can you remember God at least once each hour? This is difficult, but we have found that we may be successful when we employ some reminders. Here are aids that have proven helpful:
- Have a picture of Christ near that you can glance at regularly.
- Have an empty chair beside you and imagine that your unseen Master is sitting in it.
- Silently pray for each person in the circle.
- Keep whispering internally: ‘Lord, what are your thoughts? What would you have me say?’
- Best of all, tell your companions about your quest to remember God every hour.
- You cannot keep God unless you give Him to others.
While reading a computer screen or book, read it to Him and continue a running conversation with Him inwardly about the pages you are reading. Have you ever opened a letter and read it with Jesus, realizing that He smiles with us in our pleasure, rejoices with us in the successes, and weeps with us in life’s tragedies? If you haven’t, you have missed one of life’s richest experiences.
When thinking deeply about a difficulty, how can you remember God? It can happen by forming a new habit. All thought employs silent words and is really conversation with your inner self. Instead of talking to yourself, you will begin to form the pattern of talking to Jesus. Many who have tried this find that we think so much clearer that we never want to try to think without Him again. We may be helped by perceiving Him sitting in a chair beside us, talking with us. We say out loud what we think Christ might say in reply to our questions. Thus we consult Christ about everything.
WHEN WALKING ALONE
When you are alone outside, you can recall God at least once every hour with no effort, if you remember that ‘beauty is the voice of God.’ Every flower and tree, river and lake, mountain and sunset, is God speaking—‘This is our Father’s world.’ So as you look at each lovely thing, you may continue to ask,‘Dear Father, What are you telling me through this and this and this?
If you have wandered to a place where you can talk aloud without being overheard, you may speak to the Invisible Companion inside you or beside you. Ask Him what is most on His heart and then respond with your voice what you believe God may reply to you.
Of course we are not always sure what God may say, but it is surprising how often we become certain. It really is not necessary to be sure that our answer is right, for the answer is not the great thing—He is! God is infinitely more important than His advice or His gifts. Indeed, He Himself is the great Gift. The young person in love does not so much prize what his companion may say or may give him, as the certainty that she is his and that she is here. The most precious privilege in talking with God is the intimacy we can have with Him.
MAKE HIM YOUR LAST THOUGHT
In the evening you may plan for a picture of Christ, a Bible, a Cross, where it will greet your closing eyes as you fall asleep. We continue to whisper any words our hearts suggest. If we have been walking with Him during the day, we will find Him the dear companion of our dreams. Sometimes we will sense His tender touch. Usually we will feel no deep emotion, but will sense a ‘peace beyond understanding.’
The most wonderful discovery of all is, in the words of St. Paul, ‘Christ lives in me.’ He dwells in us, walks in our minds, reaches out through our hands, and speaks through our voices, IF we seek and respond to His whisperings.
Adapted from The Game With Minutes, Frank C. Laubach, 1953
Note: Frank Laubach was a remarkable man who was a missionary to the Philippines, and the premier developer of teaching methods to address illiteracy in the world, which are still used today. He also wrote of his devotion to Christ. This chapter originally made a practical application of Brother Lawrence’s ‘Practicing the Presence of God’ by teaching how to remember God every minute. It has been adapted here to think on Jesus every hour.