God faithfully reveals Himself through nature, through His inspired Love-Letter, the Bible, and through the make-up of His image-bearers (outline of Psalm 19)…and to me! God so longs to connect with us that He’s always initiating. Since God wants this even more than we do, that’s why this Christian life can be simple, yet neither simplistic nor without our effort to partner.
In as simple terms as I can, I want to share a bit of my zigzag journey with the hope that you will discover some pointers that are helpful for you.
I sense progress in my life, yet I’m far from perfection!
I’m writing to those Christians in whom the Spirit is stirring a deepening desire to love God with their whole heart in everyday life, more next month than even now. Today, most spiritual formation material I have read begins with ourselves and often with our sin. We are a me-first generation. I understand this distorted focus. Our personal problems loom large to us, so we first focus outwardly.
Early in my Christian life, I came across Brother Lawrence’s little collection of letters, Practicing the Presence of God. It stirred my heart deeply with longing for Jesus. I tried every trick I could think of to remind me to focus more on Jesus. Although my passion was strong, these practices remained mostly external. Not wrong, just exterior, leaving me short. The following simple insight from Frank Laubach pointed me toward a much more organic approach to living such a life in the awareness of God’s presence. Again, begin with our Family-of-Three (Father, Son and Spirit), longing for them to become the companion of my inner conversations.
“All thought employs silent words and is really conversation with your inner self. Instead of talking to yourself, form the habit of talking to Jesus, making all thought a conversation with the Lord” (Frank Laubach).
At the moment, I’m focusing on intentionally acknowledging and welcoming Jesus into the other side of the inner conversations in my mind. If I don’t, my inner dialog can degenerate quickly, and I miss out on something precious in my life. I’m eagerly anticipating these choices becoming more my new norm…and learning patience in the process.
Inner thoughts are a powerful, God-given gift to His image-bearers (Genesis 1:26-28). Instead of dialoging alone with myself, as often as I remember, I dialog heart-to-heart with the Community-God, both in routine chores and also in complicated tasks. Either member is fine…Father, Son, Spirit…or all three since no jealousy exists within the Godhead. I yearn to awake to more of God’s ever-present love, surrendered to Him each moment in order to find opportunities to be helpful as His partner.
“Oh, this thing of keeping in constant touch with God, of making Him the object of my thought and the companion of my conversations, is the most amazing thing I ever ran across. It is working. I cannot do it even half of a day [yet now] I like the Lord’s presence so much that when…He slips out of mind—as He does many times a day—I feel as though I had…lost something very precious in my life”
(Frank Laubach, 5/14/30 journal, quoted in Practicing His Presence, along with quotes from Brother Lawrence).
Respond to this “loss,” not with guilt or shame (the enemy’s tools) but with increased longing (God’s way). The entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation invites us to begin all we think and do with the Father, Son and Spirit, not with ourselves. This distinct shift from self-focus to God-focus aligns with His design. Such a longing for awareness of His “always with you” presence is intended as the norm for every lover of Jesus.
I’m not aiming now at a profound, emotionally satisfying experience, though we thank God when these tingles occur as a byproduct. Remain awake to cultivate enjoyment of God’s presence. Well-meaning folks however try to complicate what is actually quite simple. Distinguish God’s part and our part.
“Jim, how can you say that God’s presence is simple?”
Simple, because God always takes the initiative. We love at all because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). God’s goodness, beauty and love chase after us every day of our life (Psalm 23:6 in The Message). God made us to connect with Him (Genesis 1:26-28) so He makes it simple for us, not complex, yet not without our effort. Listen to A.W. Tozer’s accurate description.
“Before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man. [We] pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. [The] impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him. (The Pursuit of God, pp. 11-12).”
…God initiates, loves us and provides all we need for every event in life at just the right instant. Our part is to actively trust Him entirely to do His part as we actively yield to partner with the Spirit with our eager obedience of faith in our God-Assignments. The children’s song captures our part. “Trust and obey for there’s no other way….”
These simple responses are within the realm of every Christian at any time. They hold promises beyond our imagination (Ephesians 3:20).
Continue here with God’s part and our part. The enemy attempts to confuse these. We attempt to do God’s part and initiate, ending in failure and discouragement as we imitate Eve and Adam. Or we passively surrender our part, “simply let go and let God,” goes the false argument. This passive approach also fails. God loves us too much to rob us of our personal responsibility, so He awaits our active partnership.
At first, we must turn to Him with some diligence with a gentle will-thought. In time, His love inwardly excites us to draw near. His love rouses us when spiritual laziness sets in, similar to an engaged couple with blossoming love. Steadily, persistently, patiently follow this simple pathway and deal quickly with whatever disturbs or distracts in the least. You will infallibly discover more of Him in both the highs and lows of life…in His perfect timing.
My trust is in His infinite, unending goodness and desire to communicate Himself,…
…not in my ability to hear or respond or prevent my mind from wandering. As we become more in touch with the mutual love of our Family-of-Three and how they draw us into this relationship, difficulties actually release more joy because we know our good Father is at work through this trial (James 1:2-4).
What about distractions, both my wandering mind and my sin?
Our heart (in the Bible including our affections with their feelings, our mind with its reasonings and our will with its choices) has a very strong tendency to stray away from the Lord. In the past, we may have given our mind or our feelings or our will too much free reign to wander over the world as it pleases. Belittling ourselves or directly corralling our mind is never effective long-term. Irritation or disappointment in ourselves simply stirs us up.
God calls us to be wholeheartedly His, so begin by trusting and embracing His eagerness to connect.
Until our heart is drawn close by the bond of love, it continues to wander. A wild stallion goes where it wills until it’s tamed by a gentle and caring master. Then the horse delights to be close to his master. Gently make use of key Scriptural phrases and sentences to sweetly and patiently quiet our mind to rest in the Lord’s presence. Especially familiarize yourself with the pictures of Jesus, like Shepherd, Vine, the Way, etc. Our senses that had turned outward will now become calmer and quieter, raising our awareness of His inner presence…in time.
“Now what shall I call it?—more than surrender. I had that before. More than listening to God. I tried that before. I cannot find the word that will mean to you or to me what I am now experiencing. It is a will act. I [gently] compel my mind to open straight out toward God. Then I wait and listen with determined sensitiveness. I fix my attention there…” (Frank Laubach, 3/1/30).
How do we move back into awareness of His presence?
First, don’t fret! Remember that His love still surrounds you. Just because the wonderful tingles of previous times are not experienced, He is still just as close as ever. He still reaches out His arms of love to embrace us. We must be pruned from chasing our emotions or our fleshly self-life will hype things, attempting to gain control to return to the good feelings. The presence of God is much deeper than surface pleasures.
Second, I ask my Father if this is discipline for something I did. Take our part seriously and completely trust Him. If it’s discipline, I trust Abba to show me quickly. When He doesn’t point out a specific, I respond: “Thanks, Spirit. If you had not arrested my attention again, I would still be wandering.” And without regret! If I sinned, I respond, “I’m sorry Jesus” (godly sorrow for sin from 2 Corinthians 7:9-10). Then, “Thanks, Jesus, for already forgiving that sin on the cross.” I’m now back home again!
“If you should forget Him for minutes or even days, do not groan [but] begin anew with a smile. Every minute can be a fresh beginning” (Frank Laubach).
Third, it’s a natural fallen response to try to prove our love to the Lord during these times. Resist the urge or we expose that our selfish enjoyment is what drives our time with Him. God knows our heart. Instead, when we notice we have forgotten God, try not to get frustrated. Frustration only releases more mental chatter, spiraling us away from His presence into lament, like Psalm 13:1-2.
“I resolve to accept each situation of this year as God’s layout for that hour, and never to lament that it is a very commonplace or disappointing task. One can pour something divine into every situation” ((Frank Laubach, 1/2/32 journal).
I know that “first, second, third” sounds like a formula or steps. No such fail-safe formula exists. Awareness and enjoyment of God’s presence is like a process like a blossoming flower.
OK, so why then can this get easier, if we persist?
We have a wonderful Triune God. He pours into our lives the “more grace” of our Lover longing for relationship with us more than we yearn for Him (James 4:5-6). God also designed our mind, so it grooves whatever we focus our affections on. “We become what we behold.” Stay patient and persistent to enjoy snatches of God’s presence with a calm trust.
“The moment the Spirit has quickened us to life in regeneration our whole being senses its kinship to God and leaps up in joyous recognition. [It’s] not an end but an inception, for now begins the glorious pursuit, the heart’s happy exploration of the infinite riches of the Godhead. That is where we begin, I say, but where we stop no man has yet discovered, for there is in [the] mysterious depths of the Triune God neither limit nor end” (A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God on page 14).
I know where this life begins, with faith in Christ. I’m certain where it leads me, His presence for all eternity. By persistently pursuing God’s part and my part, now I want to explore: “How much more of God’s “always with me” presence can I experience on my journey?”
“I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question” (Laubach, 3/23/30 journal).
I borrowed much of this from chapter fourteen in my devotional book, Cultivating Enjoyment of God’s Presence that reflectively explores these ideas in more depth and breath. For a free PDF of much of this page, click here.