How Do We Live in the Presence of God?
There are as many answers to this question as there are people who practice the discipline. But, most suggest 4 things to prepare our hearts to live our lives mindful of the presence of God and the love of God for us. These include: daily devotions, solitude, prayer and community.
“Devotions” are a time each day, or each part of the day, for coming into the presence of God. It is a time alone with God spent reading and reflecting upon reading. Devotions can include Bible reading, readings from Christian writers, prayer, even simply being still and quiet for a time. A quiet spot where interruptions are unlikely is best. Time can range from 10 minutes to 1 hour. Consistency and faithfulness are key components of daily devotions.
“Solitude” is a time of silence, away from everyday happenings of our lives. But it is more than simple silence. Solitude includes time alone—alone with God. Solitude can be a time of reflection on the happenings of our lives and, depending upon the circumstances of our lives, can be experienced as peaceful or distressing. Solitude can be a quiet time of wonderment on the gift of life given to us. Solitude can be a time of reflection on God and the Kingdom of God. However experienced, solitude involves silence in the presence of God without any special purpose or reason except the desire to be with God.
The obvious question is: how are we able to find solitude in our busy lives filled with work, things to do, and people who need us? The answer to this question is to intentionally choose to make time and to create circumstances for solitude to occur. When traveling in the car, turn off the radio. When in the house, turn off the television, stereo, or other “background noises”. Be intentional about creating situations where quietude is possible and solitude may result. For many of us, that involves an intentional choice to limit or filter what we will see in terms of movies, life’s happenings, or even news of world events. The intentional choice involves discipline—one of the fruits of which can be found time to be alone with oneself and with God. It is the intentional choice to create space for God by not filling our senses and our minds with “things” that would otherwise occupy us!
For me, living a life filled with lists to help organize myself, the thought of solitude was scary—and seemed an unnecessary waste of life’s most precious commodity: time. In the beginning, it wasn’t easy! Solitude cut against a lifetime of routines and values—all aimed at endeavoring to accomplish the most that can be done and to be productive in the ways of the world. Over time, by practicing solitude more frequently, I came to recognize that “being” as opposed to “doing” has even greater fruits. The times of silence and solitude—or simply “being”—created opportunities to listen for God in my life and to see God in my life!
“Prayer” is the third essential that embodies the practice of living in the presence of God. Prayer is quite simply communion with God—speaking to God either by words or by inclining of one’s heart toward the heart of God. Prayer becomes the heart of “Living in the presence of God” because instead of carrying the burdens of life alone, we take them to God in prayer. Not only at times of devotions, or in fixed time of prayer, but as often as we are able! Richard Foster calls them “breathe prayers” and Paul says that we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). (Note: All Biblical references in this website are from The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Third Edition, New Revised Standard Version.) These prayers are regular and frequent visits to the presence of God to express a word, a thought, a request, a blessing or concern, and anything and everything in life that is worthy of sharing with our God who created us, loves us and wants our love first and foremost, and wants us to respond by going forth to give this love to others! Such times of prayer are for me an opportunity to express gratitude to God for the blessings of life, to pray for those in all parts of my life, and to reflect upon what I can and should be doing in life. Most importantly, these times provide an opportunity to listen quietly for God’s Will and Word to me and for me.
Finally, “Community” is essential to the discipline of living in the presence of God. It is ironic that this is so–but experience and tradition show that living in Christian community where the love of Christ is expressed and experienced is essential to this spiritual discipline. The truth is that we need to recognize that God loves us all with the same unconditional, unending love and we are called to share life in community to experience the presence of God and to experience the love of God! Stated another way, living in the presence of God is best experienced and most authentic when it is lived in community. For more on this, I recommend Henri Nouwen’s books “Making All Things New” and “Return of the Prodigal.” Both books paint a glorious picture of our loving God, who seeks us out, bids us to be in relationship, and calls upon us to share that love and joy with the rest of God’s children!!!