Practising God's Presence

Written by Greta
Wednesday, 01 October 2008

John 14:27—Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.

Jesus gave his disciples this promise as he was preparing them for his departure. It is a promise that carries on to us and is meant for all of us. No matter what our circumstances, whether we are in war-torn Sudan struggling to survive or in a middle-class suburb working a 9-5 job; divorced, married or single; rich or poor;  male or female, Jesus promised us peace. Peace that in Philippians 4:7 is called the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding [and will] guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As a full-time mom of three young children, I wouldn’t say that peace is one of the first adjectives that spring to mind when describing my life or me. Frantic, rushed, worried, stretched, busy, tired--those all fit the bill quite well, but I don’t know that peace reigns in my house very often. However, God has been teaching me over the last few months that peace is not only possible, but quite easily accessible, even for those of us who feel stretched to our capacity.

About four months ago I had an experience that really highlighted my longing for this peace. It was a rainy day, and I had decided to spend the morning tidying up the girls’ bedrooms. After an hour of sorting clothes, picking up toys, refereeing arguments, and trying to keep the 9-month old baby from eating anything sharp or toxic I looked around to find that the room was actually in a worse state than when I had started. I called my husband in tears, and he kindly suggested that I pack up the girls and get out of the house for the day. And so we ended up in Hobbycraft, one of my favourite places because it reminds me of America, and you can buy lots of fun things for the kids to do without breaking the bank. As we strolled through the store the kids found it difficult to keep their hands off all the gorgeous fabrics, beads, paints, paintbrushes and stickers, and we loaded the basket with lots of fun craft supplies. As we were nearing the back of the store I heard my name called out over the loud speaker. A little worried, I rushed to the front of the store with my baby on my hip and two toddlers in tow to find that they had found my purse, which I hadn’t yet realized I’d lost. As I approached the desk the lady behind the counter commented, “Now here’s a frazzled mother.”

Hurt by her insensitivity, I fought back tears and told her off in a hundred different ways in my head. “You don’t know what my life is like. I’m doing the best I can. My kids are really well behaved considering how young they are. What’s wrong with you?” Appearing unshaken on the outside I smiled and signed for my purse and went off to pay for my goods, and on the car ride home and for the rest of the day, I fumed at this woman who had insulted my image as a cool, calm, collected mother. In reality, I hadn’t been feeling particularly frazzled at that moment, and I have a long-standing habit of losing my purse which dates back to well before I had children, but her comment had seared me like a hot poker and had me reeling for the rest of that day and the next.

On reflection I realized that the hurt was because I want to be a calm mother, but in reality I often feel frazzled, and out-of-control, and because of that I often feel like a failure. As I have prayed about this situation, and through various divine or chance encounters, I have come to see that though life is busy and can feel overwhelming, Jesus has promised us peace, and if we can access it and live with it at the core of our beings, we can live a much richer, fuller life that becomes progressively less frantic and more enjoyable. And while this will be great for us as individuals, the really exciting thing is that it will be noticeable to the people around us who expect to see frazzled mothers, impatient commuters, high-strung executives, etc., but who, instead, find people who are enjoying their lives and thriving.

I am not talking about becoming a robot who is unaffected by difficult circumstances. Rather, I am talking about someone who can live in the reality of modern life with honesty about the toughness but with a tangible peace that only comes from our Father God. Think about the ocean on a day of rough surf. The appearance is of crashing waves, which will knock inexperienced swimmers and surfers off their feet and send them tumbling, bruised and even broken, to shore. But the experienced surfer knows how to either catch the wave at its break and ride it smoothly to shore, or if he misses it, to dive under the crashing wave to where the water is peaceful and calm, and where he can wait a moment until the tumult passes. Such is a life with Jesus. If we let him, he can bring us safely to shore or sit with us until the storm passes. The alternative is to try to do it on our own and let life beat us down.

One of my biggest concerns as I have been on this journey is that I don’t have enough time. I don’t have time to sit with Jesus; there is just too much to do! And when I have talked to my friends about this topic they have often had the same concern. We have meals to prepare, dishes to do, nappies to change, the school run, swimming lessons, ballet lessons, ad nauseam. My husband has client meetings, e-mails, phone calls, deadlines. But consider Martin Luther who said, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” What was he talking about? I believe he had come to understand that our supernatural God offers supernatural assistance when we take the time to honour him, seek him, and invite him into our day.

God demonstrated that fact for me a few weeks ago. Tim, my husband, came home from work on Friday, and as we sat down to chat after the kids were in bed, I asked if he’d noticed how tidy the house was. He bit his lip and said, “It’s not just tidy, it’s incredibly peaceful.” That week I had made the decision to spend the first 20 minutes of my afternoon when the kids are in bed or at school meditating on scripture. Before I touched the laundry or the dishes, I sat down and read a verse of scripture and meditated on it until I felt satisfied that I had communed with God. And somehow my house was tidier at the end of the week than it had been in eons. That is not to say that by spending time with God we can guarantee our house will be tidier, our work will be easier, and we’ll be rich and healthy. But it is to testify that God is faithful to give back to us more than what we give to him and that he longs to come into our lives and help us where we will let him. This is not about striving to “do better” or be a better Christian, or to make God happy. It is about coming into our inheritance of the abundant life that Christ has promised us, and into the peace which he said he has given us.

One of the biggest helps I have found since this journey started is the book Practicing His Presence, a compilation of letters from Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach. These men practiced fixing their thoughts on Jesus throughout their days and found that they were able to meet with Jesus just as well in the kitchen as in the prayer room. I have been practicing this for the last six weeks or so and have found it to be a challenging and exciting exercise. The following are some of the things I’ve tried and have found helpful. Remember, these are not things to strive for in order to earn any favour with God. They are just ways to open yourself up to God’s presence, which will aid you and make your life better! Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t or don’t want to do them. Striving is fruitless. Just listen and wait for your desire for God to come bubbling up and then try again.

1. Take time to sit with Jesus.

I have found that I can meet with God much better throughout the day while going about my daily tasks if I take a designated amount of time to spend with God. This can be reading the Bible, praying, meditating, painting, journaling, etc.--anything that equates to a face-to-face between you and God.

2. Pray.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Eph. 6:18

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thess. 5:16-18

Had you asked me a year ago, I would have told you that Paul was exaggerating when he said we should pray continually and on all occasions. Surely that’s not possible! But I have come to understand that as we train our minds to focus on Jesus, it becomes habit to pray and to invite Jesus into every circumstance. When I see a pretty flower I thank God for designing it. When my kids hurt themselves, I pray for healing. When I don’t know what to say, I pray for wisdom. I am nowhere near the point of being able to say that I pray continually. I couldn’t even say I pray once an hour. But I can say that I pray more today than I did last month, and that I will pray more next month than I did today because I am practicing turning to God in every circumstance.

When my mind is wandering, I try to pray in tongues, which is an exercise for the soul. This is particularly helpful when I find myself singing nursery rhymes when the kids aren’t even around, or when we’re driving in the car and listening to the Tweenies theme tune for the tenth time. Praying in tongues directs our hearts to God without us having to engage our intellect.

3. Lectio Divina and other meditations

Lectio Divina is a meditation technique which translates to “divine reading.” It is a way to study, ponder, listen and pray from God’s words. More information can be found on here. Set aside a time to meditate on scripture in this way or in another way that suits you. Painting, chanting, walking, playing an instrument--all with the mindset of contemplating a specific scripture--can open you up to understanding and hearing from God through his written word.

4. Memorise scripture

The word of God is a sword for battle (Eph. 6:17), and faith comes from hearing the word (Rom 10:17). Memorising scripture will build your faith and enable you to declare it to others. I keep a passage of scripture hanging next to my sink so that I can read it and say it out loud while I do my dishes and have found it a very effective and easy way to memorize large chunks of scripture.

5. Sing to God

When you find yourself humming a tune, try singing a hymn or praise song instead. Or you could make up your own song to God. One of my friends has worship music playing in the background whenever I’m at her house, and I think it sets such a great mood in her home. That’s not to say that we can never listen to anything other than “Christian” music, but feeding our minds and souls with music that directs us to God opens us up to God.

6. Practice being present in each moment

When I was on a retreat at Turvey Abbey earlier this year we did a walking meditation where we practiced being aware of our surroundings: the birds singing, the feel of grass and rocks under our feet, the wind blowing, the sun shining, etc. During this time I realized that I spend a great deal of my day not in the present, but dwelling on the past or future—what I have to do that day, what I would have liked to say to the rude person at the supermarket, where I want to go on holiday, etc. In an age where multi-tasking is a sign of greatness, it is difficult to purposely stop and be engaged in a sole task or conversation. But, being present in the moment keeps us from stressing, from going over and over a confrontation in our minds, from worrying about the test results we’re waiting for; it helps us to engage more fully with those around us; and it opens us up to hearing from God by kicking out all the clutter that clouds our thoughts. It also opens us up to joy. My husband was with my kids at a public toilet, and he was amazed when they started jumping up and down, laughing, when the hand dryer came on. They stood under the warm air, squealing with delight over this simple piece of technology. We were both challenged to appreciate the simple gifts that God gives us in nature and in our interactions by practicing being present both in the mundane and the extraordinary.

7. Turn your mind to Jesus

Practice being aware of your thoughts, and when you realize your consciousness has wandered to something unimportant, gently bring it back to Jesus. In doing so, you will become more aware of God and will be more able to hear him and will naturally become more like him.

8. Take care of yourself

I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest weaknesses is food. I love food. I love chocolate, crisps, toast laden with butter, caffe mochas, cakes. Heaven. But one of the greatest things we can do to step into an abundant life is to take care of ourselves. Eat well and get your rest. If I were reading this and not writing it, my first thought would probably be something like, “Oh great, just one more thing to do—diet.” It’s not like that. If that’s your thought, then lay this one down until God talks to you about it. But if you hear God whispering to you when you grab a chocolate bar, “Don’t eat that—it will just make you sleepy,” or when you feel disappointed that you’re too tired in the middle of the afternoon to sit with God, then maybe it’s time to re-think what we’re putting into our bodies. These bodies were the highlight of creation, and it’s our job to care for them. Try an experiment: lay off sugar, alcohol, and processed foods for two weeks, and make sure you’re getting at least five fruits and vegetables a day during that time. You will be surprised at the end at how much more energy you have. Grab a friend and ask him/her to do it with you to help keep you motivated.

Please remember that all of these suggestions are just suggestions. There is no 12-step program for becoming more Christ-like. And I cannot stress enough that striving is futile. The deep mystery of our faith is the balance of grace and works, and only a prayerful relationship with God and other believers will keep you in the right balance. I have found such a wonderful release over the past few months as I’ve come to understand that my job is merely to position myself. I do not need to work at becoming perfect; I simply need to allow God to make me so. But these disciplines can get us in the right position to allow God to get to work.

My weekend at Turvey Abbey brought many insights, and one of the biggest was a picture I got of a mother weaning her young baby. As she gave him the first spoonful of real food, the whole family crowded around to watch, and they broke into applause as he sucked down his first bite.  So it is with God as he weans us away from the things that entangle us. He shows us the things we’re going to work on next, and then slowly, tenderly, lovingly, he weans us, applauding every small effort and taking us onto the next step.

As we grow in practicing these disciplines, God will begin to shine through us more brightly. We will become a generation who are thriving, regardless of our personal circumstances. God will give us wisdom and patience for our kids, deeper love and respect for our husbands, wives, and friends, concern for our neighbors, and most of all, peace--an abiding sense of peace, knowing that God is with us, and that we are with him. The world will see it, and they will want it. And that is exciting! If you think so, too, grab a friend, or me, and let’s work on this together. Let’s go for it, casting down everything that hinders us and taking on what God is speaking to us about, aligning ourselves with him and his plan to bring peace to the world he created and loves.

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