In The Risk of Discipleship Practices, the second post in this blog series on the difference Between “a Good Christian Life” and Abundant Life in Christ, I talked about Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, and how he practiced the presence of God, no matter where he went or what he was doing.
I decided to try it.
But it was okay. I wasn’t surprised. Brother Lawrence failed too. In trying to practice the presence of God, his pattern was:
practice the presence of God.
Repeat, Buzz Lightyear style (to infinity, and beyond).
I had read about Brother Lawrence’s failings before I even began, so failure wasn’t unexpected. I wasn’t discouraged. If he couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it. I’ve previously quoted what was said of him when he failed, but I’ll repeat it here for convenience:
[When Brother Lawrence] “had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God,
‘I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself;
’tis You must hinder my falling,and mend what is amiss.’
That after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”
Since “just remembering” wasn’t working for me, I decided to try something a little unorthodox. I decided to pretend Jesus was physically present with me everywhere I went. He sat next to me at the kitchen table, at my desk, and on my loveseat with me when I read my Bible and wrote in my prayer journal. He leaned on the counter while I cooked dinner and loaded the dishwasher (which reminded me to thank him for providing for us). He sat in the passenger seat of my van (which reminded me to thank him for his mercy and protection) and he stood next to me when I tucked my kids into bed and said prayers with them (which reminded me to thank Him for so.many.things.).
And yes. He even hung out with me in the bathroom.
Imagining Jesus physically present with me began to make me aware that God was listening when I talked. I knew He was listening, don’t get me wrong, but most of the time, I wasn’t conscious of it. When I practiced God’s presence, I was more mindful of my thoughts, words and actions. I imagined His hand on my shoulder, pressing slightly when I began to say something unedifying. I imagined his hand at the small of my back, gently guiding me where He wanted me to go. I found myself speaking less. I found myself listening more. To other people and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
In the beginning, this exercise was the equivalent of a spiritual string on my finger. Imagining Jesus physically next to me was a mechanism I used to remind me of God’s presence and movement in my life. I probably could have just as easily set reminder alarms on my phone to bring me back to an awareness of His presence at multiple time during the day.
But as the days passed, the spiritual string began to grow into a foundation of confidence in the promise of Joshua 1:9, that God was actually “with me wherever I go” As I became more and more aware of God’s presence, I found myself relying on Him more and on myself less. I started to see people and situations differently, through God’s greater perspective rather than through my own limited and skewed vantage point.
My chronic problem was the same one Brother Lawrence experienced. I continued to forget Jesus was with me.
I couldn’t do this on my own. I needed help.
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[I assigned this exercise as homework to the participants of a weekly Bible study I lead on discipleship. If you’ve never practiced the presence of God in this way this before, I encourage you to give it a try for one week. Expect to forget God. often. And check back to see what I assigned as the next week’s homework assignment. Here’s a hint: It has something to do with my realization that I couldn’t do it by myself and needed help.]