- Ada, Oklahoma

March 5, 2014

Practicing the presence of God

Dr. Jerry N. Duncan Guest Columnist

Ada — My brother, Mike, was a youth minister in Woodward, Oklahoma for over 20 years. Our opportunities to get together seemed to be few and far between. 

When I visited, I loved to rummage through the books in his office. I once came across a stack of copies of The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, written over 300 years ago.

When I asked Mike about the book, he said, “Take one. That’s the book that changed my life when I was in my first church in Oklahoma City.” Pretty good  recommendation for a book I thought.

I decided to read a little at a time at bedtime, and found myself unable to put it down until I had finished. I soon saw why it had been such a life- changer for him.

It consisted of a group of conversations and letters between Brother Lawrence and a friend he was trying to teach how he had learned to experience God in a moment-by-moment way. 

This moment-by-moment experience had resulted in a regular peace, joy, contentment, and absence of fear that was independent of his circumstances. Tough times would come, but it was hard to feel distressed when Brother Lawrence was talking with God about it in a conversational way, as if it was just another topic to discuss in that day’s ongoing dialogue.

Learning to practice this ongoing dialogue seemed to be the key. Brother Lawrence described it as a discipline, an act of the will, a process that developed over time until it became a natural response.

“If you want to keep the feeling, keep up the behavior that got you the feeling.”

How do we do this today, and teach it to others? I believe we must do it the same way Brother Lawrence described. We must first decide it is important enough. Then we begin the process of reminding ourselves to have that personal conversation with God throughout the day in all circumstances. When life is going well, we thank Him for it.

When life is painful or a struggle, we talk with Him about it- sometimes asking for His help,  sometimes just wanting someone to share it with.  

What should we anticipate as a result of this discipline? Philippians 4:6-7 says we should expect the peace that passes all understanding. Philippians 4:19 says we should expect all of our needs to be met. Romans 8:28 says we should expect any difficult time to be worked out to our good eventually. First Corinthians 10:13 says we should expect to be given everything we need to “bear” the difficult times.

Back to my brother, Mike. Before going to youth camp each year, he talks with his youth about their Friday night devotional and prayer time at camp. He helps them recall how someone is always praying that they won’t lose the spiritual high feeling that has been developed by the end of the week.

He helps them understand that they are having the strong feeling of connectedness to God for a reason. They have been practicing the presence of God all week- reading their Bible’s daily, spending time with Christians consistently, singing, praising God, etc. He says, “If you want to keep the feeling, keep up the behavior that got you the feeling.”