A few months back, my husband and I drove past the hospital I gave birth in. We just got a glimpse of the building, and, immediately, my reaction was, “Aww… that’s where our babies were born!”
And to that, my husband gave me the most bewildered look. “Did you forget that all you did was cry in there? How do you feel so warmly about a place that caused you so much pain?”
That took me back quite a bit, because my husband was right.
That hospital was the place where I spent 20 plus hours in labor, only to find out I needed an emergency C-section for my firstborn. It was the place where two of my children were rushed into the NICU and I wept by their breathing machines for days. It was the place where I almost fainted in the middle of the hallway because I lost so much blood after surgery. It was the place where I had to complete my seminary finals in a medicated daze because my son came a month earlier than expected.
And, yet, when I drove past that building, all I felt was pleasure.
It’s not that I forgot about the pain. A woman usually won’t forget those sorts of things.
But more than the pain, I recalled the peace of His Presence. He was so close to me in that hospital, so very close.
“Practicing the presence of God” is a phrase that’s frequently thrown around. It’s something Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite friar in the 17th century, is known for through his world renowned book Practicing the Presence.
The heart of his teachings is simple. As Christians, we must learn how to access His Presence at all times, in the mundane, in the stressful, and, yes, even in the painful.
Apostle Paul was an expert at practicing God’s Presence, for he had the ability to tap into the peace and joy of God even in the bleakest of hours. He says it in his own words in Philippians 4:12-13, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
That secret to being content was in Apostle Paul’s ability to access Jesus through all of life’s circumstances.
In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus told the disciples it was time to go to the other side of the lake. As a furious squall arose, the disciples watched in horror as the water swept over the boat. It wasn’t until they intentionally went to Jesus that a shift occurred in the narrative. They called out to the Teacher, and the Teacher calmed the storm.
Some of you need that same sort of shift in your narrative as well.
The waters are sweeping into your boat, and you don’t know if you can make it to the other side.
But the key to calming the storm within you is to first acknowledging the Jesus that’s in your boat, a.k.a. practicing the presence.
It’s not a gift. Rather, it’s a skill.
Although every Christian is given the gift of the Holy Spirit, not every Christian truly knows how to abide in Him. Believers are oftentimes being reminded in the New Testament to keep in step with His Presence (John 15:5, Galatians 5:25, Romans 8:4)…
To remain connected with Him… To recognize that He’s there… To know what He has to say…
So, let’s get practical.
The following are four applications that can help you begin your journey in practicing the Presence of God, namely in times of pain. It is not an all-inclusive list, but it’s a start.
1. Make Space
Like for any relationship, there needs to be room for the important people in your life.
I have found that it makes all the difference when you make a conscious choice to slow things down at certain times or create a pause within the day to allow a moment to reconnect with Him.
Don’t live your day by impulse — the impulse to check your phone, to watch TV, to listen to mindless music, to think about work, to consider other people’s opinions.
Instead, live your day with empowered choices. The choice to meditate on Scripture first thing in the morning, to consider His truth. The choice to take a moment of silence on your commute, so as to hear His voice. The choice to thank Him at the end of the day, to marvel at all that He’s done.
I’m a mom of four and I am fully aware that my children want more than just sustenance to survive. In fact, it’s not enough for children that you’re in the kitchen making them a hot meal. They want eye contact. They want you to see their art projects. They want to hear their name being called out in delight. They want to be acknowledged.
Acknowledgement empowers relationship.
Sometimes, it just takes a simple moment of acknowledgement to really invite the Presence into whatever situation you are in. It’s one thing for Him to be present, and it’s a whole other thing to be aware of it.
In hardships, it’s easy to be saturated with the sting of loss and the weight of burden. To practice His Presence in those moments means to also be able to acknowledge another sort of reality, the kind that says that He is still good and He still loves you.
Remember Him. Praise Him. Marvel at His character traits. Recall the good things He’s done.
3. Pour Out
The Bible never said that you needed to keep things politically correct with God. It never said that you must keep your thoughts to yourself.
Psalm 62:8 says, “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Lamentations 2:19 says, “Arise, cry aloud in the night At the beginning of the night watches; Pour out your heart like water Before the presence of the Lord…”
To pray it to Him means to also grant Him the responsibility to help you. Pour it out, every ounce of painful weight you may bear.
Listen for what He has to say. Turn on your senses and allow yourself to feel the peace of His Presence. Receive the supernatural guidance and new strength.
Sometimes we forget this part. We spend so much talking and singing in our times with God that we walk away without taking in His response.
Every morning, after my time of prayer, I expect Him to help me. I expect Him to bless me. I keep my hope on all day, and as I do, I find myself with far more strength than a day buried in my troubles, unexpectant of His goodness.