You might think in these days of extreme busyness, denominational upheaval, middle east
conflicts and regular life difficulties that it's a bit extraneous to underline the
practice of God's presence. But I think it is more crucial than ever.
What got me started practicing
the Lord's presence some 30 years ago was a disagreement I had with the Lord over His
statement in John 15:5, "without Me you can do nothing." I've told the whole story in
Holy Vulnerability, so let me just remark here that losing that argument was life-
changing for me. The Lord proved to my satisfaction that I could do nothing worthy
on my own, so I began to realize that He'd have to be close at hand.
Suddenly I felt needy. Whenever
I'm personally needy I always look for something to read--that's one way the Lord speaks
to me. I found a little thing called Open Windows, Swinging Doors by Frank Laubach in
which he testified that trying to practice the Lord's presence was difficult but that
the attempt made every other task easy. To exchange many difficult things for one
difficult thing looked like a good deal to me, so I began to experiment with the mental
discipline of recollecting the Lord as frequently as possible.
I soon found out what a mental
flake I was. I was lucky if I could remember to check in once an hour. And when I did
manage to remember, I didn't get much sense that it did any good: "Oh, hello, Lord. Uh...
thank You for, uh, for your love for me." And then my mind would go back to the task at
hand. But I determined to try practicing the presence for a good while before I evaluated
it once and for all. It was a near thing. I almost gave up several times.
Finally I decided I needed help.
So I bought a watch that had a countdown timer. You could set it for any length of time
and it would count down, go beep-beep-beep, and start over again automatically. I tried
various lengths of time before settling on 24 minutes. I made a game of trying to recollect
the Lord before the timer went off and each time it went off too.
Next, I had to figure out a way to
practice His presence that made sense to me. I realized that I'm a visual thinker. Others
think conceptually or are more auditory or even emotional, but I think visually. And wanting
Jesus to be King in my life, I began visually putting Him on a throne when I thought of Him
or when my watch beeped. I'd just look at Him, there on His throne, and acknowledge His kingship.
Often when I checked in with Him, He'd
just smile and we'd exchange affection. But a series of unexpected things happened which made me
realize that He was waiting to give me input as soon as He had my attention. One day on an airplane
I checked in and He immediately said, "Confess the sins of Bishop Spong." When I obeyed--which took
a couple of minutes to agree with--my attitude towards the bishop was changed. The result is that I
like me better being his intercessor rather than his enemy.
Another time I was taking my morning walk when
I noticed a lot of trash on the walkway. As I checked in, the Lord said, "Why don't you pick it up?"
So I began a pattern of picking up trash, but I was rather judgmental towards those who had scattered
it. Still, a couple of times a week, I picked it up. Then I began asking the Lord to forgive those
who were polluting the environment with their trash. A couple of years later, as I was picking up
trash one morning, I checked in and the Lord reminded me that He picked up my trash, my sins, on the
cross. That made me grateful to pick up trash!
In meetings when I need answers, in ministry
times when I need guidance, on prayer days when I need long-term guidance, in crises when I need
solutions I've learned to position Jesus on His throne and trust that He has the situation/need/opportunity
well in hand. He's just waiting for the opportunity to speak/act/guide/save. If you get my new book,
look for my story in O'Hare airport where I was #26 on standby for a flight I had to make. WhattaGod!
After hundreds--rather thousands--of occasions of
checking in with Him, I can now concur with Laubach that practicing His presence is indeed exchanging many
difficult things for one difficult thing. It remains difficult, but there is so much benefit that I don't
much notice the difficulty anymore.
Sometimes the watch is "that blasted watch!" I have to confess that there are times when I don't want God's
presence. One time years ago, when I was occasionally in the grip of pornography, I was just walking into
a store to buy a men's magazine when my watch went off. Sometimes in long meetings it was irritating to
others, so I'd turn it off. I mentioned this once in a teaching in a Hong Kong church. A man named Patrick
went out, bought, and gave me a watch with a vibrator alarm so I could continue to practice the presence in
meetings. I wear it every day. And it just went off as I typed the last sentence.
C. S. Lewis said, "God can't give us happiness and
peace apart from Himself because there is no such thing." I can testify to much happiness and peace because
of practicing His presence. He is, indeed, wonderful. He's always what I need. He's always Who I need to
connect with. He's always eager to fellowship with me.
By the way, I picked the number 24 because of the 24
elders mentioned 5 times in the Book of Revelation who are in His presence and praise Him for creation,
redemption, and reign. If you're willing to experiment with practicing His presence, you might praise Him
for those 3 things and see how it goes.