This is part 4 in an eight-part series. You can also watch the videos of the teaching series upon which these articles are based.
Lord of all pots and pans and things . . .
Make me a saint by getting meals
And washing up the plates!
Brother Lawrence was a poor dishwasher and cook in a 17th-century French monastery. During his 40 years as a monk, he came to a deep understanding of what it meant to practice the presence of God—the fourth essential in this article series. He wrote that he came to the point of always “keeping [his] mind in His holy presence, and recalling it as often as [he] found it wandered from Him.”2
You don’t have to be a monastic to follow Brother Lawrence’s example—but his example can be hard to translate into a non-monastic, modern context, which is a major reason why I wrote Life in the Presence of God in addition to a companion training guide (A Guide to Practicing God’s Presence): to help people (including myself) learn how to practice God’s presence on a day-to-day basis, even in today’s 24/7 society.
What Does “Practicing God’s Presence” Mean?
Practicing God’s presence is a deeply biblical idea, though the exact phrase is never used in Scripture. At heart, it means “discerning, and developing habits for discerning, an awareness of God’s presence.” The Bible uses language such as “abiding,” “remaining” in Christ, “walking with God,” or “keeping in step with the Spirit.” Other commands of Scripture indirectly refer to practicing God’s presence, because they’re ongoing practices that we can only do in the power of His Spirit, throughout our daily lives.
Images of Living in His Presence
These 13 images each present part of the biblical picture of what it means to practice God’s presence; they’re all ongoing practices—not once-and-done actions.
♦ Abide (John 15:4–5)
♦ Love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40)
♦ Set your mind (Romans 8:5–6)
♦ Walk by/keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25)
♦ Set your heart (Colossians 3:1–2)
♦ Rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
♦ Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
♦ Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
♦ Run with endurance/perseverance (Hebrews 12:1–2)
♦ Submit/offer yourself up (Romans 12:1–2)
♦ Press on (Philippians 3:12–14)
♦ Dwell on (Philippians 4:6–8)
♦ Remember God’s faithfulness and provision (Deuteronomy 8:2–3)
Whatever you want to call this “practicing,” God’s Word is clear that a constant awareness of Him is important, and it doesn’t happen automatically or by default. It requires both trust and training.
The key truth that Brother Lawrence (and others) latched onto is that all of life is lived in the presence of God; there’s no part of it, nothing too mundane or ordinary, that isn’t permeated by him.
Practicing God’s presence is not about emphasizing the spiritual over the material or the sacred over the secular. Instead, it’s about integrating the two realms and living as amphibious beings (to use C. S. Lewis’ terminology)—living in both eternity and time.
All of life is lived in the presence of God; there’s no part of it, nothing too mundane or ordinary, that isn’t permeated by him. —Ken Boa
In some mysterious way, God has ordered our minds such that, deep in our hearts, we can be in prayer and worship at the same time that we are going through our daily routine or doing our daily labors. We can layer practices into our normal, everyday business, to allow God’s presence to infuse any moment and every detail.
This is not the same as multitasking; it’s about greater intentionality and presence in what we’re already doing. It’s about going beyond the typical “morning quiet time,” taking an awareness of God with you into your day, all day long. And the result is a richly purposeful, invigorated life that is fueled by His power and joy, rather than a life in which we’re drained and strained as we sputter along on our own.
Christians are often taught that our main line of defense against this clamorous, invasive world is a daily quiet time. If we’re disciplined enough to practice this, we usually “complete” it before leaving our homes in the morning. Then we head out into the rest of our day, having compartmentalized our God life, leaving our Bible and our relationship with Jesus on our desk or bedside table.
“Sure, it’s good to give the first—or the last—moments of our day to God. But what about the rest of the day? It’s so easy for our hearts and heads to end up somewhere else. Is that how God really wants us to live? Is that what he really had in mind when he said he’d give us abundant life (John 10:10)? . . . We [should] take our life with God—and our awareness of his presence—with us everywhere, not just into our quiet times but into our noisy times too, incorporating practices into our lives that help us keep that awareness right in front of us, throughout the day, every day.”
Below are a few practices that I have found helpful in my own life for practicing God’s presence on a daily basis. For more practices, I encourage you to download (for free) or purchase A Guide to Practicing God’s Presence.
- Everything Matters: Brother Lawrence committed to doing “little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” That means you can glorify God when you’re taking out the garbage, washing the dishes, doing laundry, ironing, brushing your teeth, or doing any number of menial activities. Pick one ordinary task that you do with regularity, and each time you go to do it this week, seek to do it to the honor of God, thanking Him as you go.
- Two Eternal Things: There are only two things on earth that will go on into eternity: the Word of God and people. The most worthwhile activities are those in which we invest the former into the latter. Find one way to do so today (or sometime this week).
- Memento Mori (“Remember you’re going to die”): Age conspires with God to take away our temporal hope, so that our only hope will be in God. Remember that in this life you are being prepared for the next. With this exercise, pick an object to display near you, such as an hourglass or candle, or even a flower that will soon wither, to remind you of your mortality. Read Psalm 90, and reflect on what it means to “number your days.” (This is not morbid; it’s wise!)
- First Thing in the Morning: Before rising from bed, or as you prepare for the day (e.g., while taking a shower), run through a passage of Scripture in your head, even making it a prayer to God for the day ahead. I like to use Psalm 23 or Colossians 3:1–17, but you can pick a much shorter verse (even a few words from a verse). We usually get ready for the day quite mindlessly, so this is a good way to redeem the time and allow Scripture to sink into your heart and mind. Suggested passages: Psalm 27:1; 103:1; 143:8; or Philippians 4:6–7.
The next post in this series is about the fifth essential: Trust and Obedience.
- In The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims (Grand Rapids: Spire, 2007), 11. Quoted in Boa, Life in the Presence of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017), 4.
- In The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims (Grand Rapids: Spire, 2007), 32. Quoted in Boa, Life in the Presence of God, 4.
- Boa, Life in the Presence of God, 2.