Ep 101 Practice the Presence of God
I'm Jamie Bahr, and this is Unlocking Christian Spiritual Practices where we explore the Christian practices that are essential for growing responsibility and expanding leadership in our families, churches, and communities. On today's podcast, we're going to look at how to prepare for your spiritual journey starting with the presence of God.
Today, we going to talk a little bit about three areas that you'll find a lot of practices, and they're divided up into who is God, who am I, and what are we called to be? There are certain practices in different categories that can help you in these areas. Generally, we start out with who is God practices, and in order to apply some of these practices, we first have to enter into the presence of God.
Now, sometimes we get confused about that and we say, "What's really the presence of God, I don't understand that." In some ways, you probably have done this on your own, but maybe you weren't "aware". That's another word that we use often in spiritual formation is to become more "aware" of God. This can happen when you're looking for ... I was thinking, what came to my mind, really, was I'm sure most people had when they were young; a little place that they got away to. It was a place that made them more "aware" of what's going on. I recently had a workshop and I was asking some of them, what was their secret getaway place when they were a child, and it was really interesting. Everybody could name a place, but they had a different place for a different reason and why got away to this place. Often, they were all the same reasons. One of them said it gave them perspective. Another one said,
"It allowed me to listen to other voices that were around me".
"It made me aware".
"It was a place that I could pause."
Well these words, descriptive words, are really similar to what it's like to enter into the presence of God, but when it's more intentional and you're going to enter into the presence of God, there's two things that help us to move into that. The first one is gratitude. We often underestimate what gratitude does for us, how it slows us down and it allows us to refocus. It kind of opens up our awareness of the goodness of God and the beauty that's all around us.
When you go into ... let's say you're at the top of a mountain, you're about to go down and go skiing. There is this sense of, "Wow, look at this beauty. Look how fabulous it is." But oftentimes, at that point, your focus is on yourself. It's not on God, maybe. You're thinking, "I'm going to go down the slope this way, this is going to be a fun ride." But if you stood up on top of the mountain and you didn't have any skis and you had to stand there and you had to say what you're really grateful for, that gratefulness allows you to slow down and enter into the presence of God, into his beauty, into his deep, deep love for you. You can't help but be affected by this.
Entering into silence and solitude, which is another word we often hear but we don't know what is that and how do we get there. It really begins about entering into the presence of God with thanksgiving and with love. Understanding the deep, deep love that God has for you, and so that you're coming to know who God is in that space.
Now, we can kind of sit back and go through that process but let's say every day you're going to enter into this presence of God in a special place. Now I'm often asked, where is that special place? You know, it can be anywhere that you are. It's more about becoming aware of God in that place. I'm reminded of Elijah. He is fearful of his life, and he runs away to this cave and we gets in the cave, God's already there. He asked Elijah, "Why are you here?" I find that so interesting. Sometimes we think we're running away from something, and yet God meets us there. He's there ahead of us. Then God gives him some instructions and he says to go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by you.
Again, here is this "stand in the presence" of the Lord. It's kind of interesting. How do we enter into that and what happens in that moment? Well the next scripture following there says,
"Then a great and powerful wind tore them out and apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire came a gentle whisper."
Isn't that wonderful? God speaks to us in a gentle whisper. You don't have to be afraid when you go into the presence of God. You don't have to be afraid to go into the silence and solitude. Why? Because God loves you. He loves you more than you can ever possibly imagine. He wants to dwell with you, he wants to communicate with you. He wants a relationship with you. When we come into that time, that moment, we find in there rest.
There's several things that happen in that time, and I want to talk about it. It's a little bit more about receiving. It's not about striving. You're not going to work at this. You go in to just wait, to go in and just receive.
Another thing that it does during this time of being in the presence of God, it frees us from the bondage to people. We can just let go of all the needs that are on our shoulders of everyone who has ... asking you for something that's pressuring you, and it frees you from this to just focus on Him. You really can find rest there. Your shoulders relax, you can just feel a sense of peace. Also at this moment, it will let go of inner compulsions. Do you ever feel that you're driven by something and sometimes you don't even know what it is? Walking and finding this "sense of presence" with the Lord allows you to let go of these inner compulsions. Then it gives you power to really ignore the rat race. You can all of a sudden sense a lot of people rushing around but you're still. It reminds me of that one student who said that she's in a tree and when she's in a tree, she gets perspective and she can hear other voices. That's what that does, coming into that silence and solitude. But also during that time, it slows everything down and allows you to just develop patient endurance for whatever you're going to have to face.
So coming into the presence of God, that's the first step about spiritual formation and kind of finding that wherever that is ... it can be while you're driving in a car. You can start giving, "I'm thankful for this," with all the things that you're thankful for. Then you can sense the love of God as you spend just a moment in gratitude. These moments can happen while you're moving, it can happen in a corporate office, in a classroom, it can happen when there's a lot of people around you in an airport. It's not especially a place that is totally silent, but it's that you are finding silence with God. You are becoming "aware" of his presence and you're slowing down to listen, to discern his voice even in the middle of all the other things that we have going on in our lives.
In these places, this is where transformation takes place. It happens in these deep, quiet, and hidden places of the heart, where God's light of truth comes into our lives. Just think about Elijah in that. He probably thought ... he's running for his life, he's full of fear, and he all of a sudden, God says, "Go into this presence." He's probably expecting lightning, thunder, you know, God's going to speak to him, and it's this little quiet voice. It's a little quiet whisper. So yeah, we have to quiet ourselves. That means we have to quiet our thoughts. We can't be rolling into the future thinking about all kinds of stuff. It allows us to pause and then to listen as you enter into that.
We can also ... there are other practices that you can do. Now the first practice we talked about is this gratitude and entering into the presence of God and just taking in his deep love. When we're in there, there is also some scripture. Now, we have different scriptures that we focus on, and this is, we take a time to really meditate or reflect.
Now sometimes, people get confused. What's the difference between "meditate" or "contemplate"? Let's say meditate is to "reflect" on a passage of scripture. So you kind of ruminate on it. You roll it around in your head a couple of times, you might read it two or three times, and suddenly, something stands out to you. Something is raised maybe in your unconscious, some thought comes forward. We meditate or "reflect" on a passage and think about, "What question do I have?" How does this passage touch me, how does it make me feel?
As you go into that a little more deeply, as you look at the scripture, then we contemplate. What contemplation is is just "waiting silently" on God. It's all it is, it's "waiting silently" on God. And as you rest in the truth of that passage, you can fix your eye of the soul on God. That's what that does, it takes you a little deeper, it takes things from your mind to your heart to a little deeper, of soul care.
One of the scriptures that Dallas Willard and many other writers have described that is good for this is Colossians 3:1–17. It's central to Christian spiritual formation. It's better than any other scripture because it's divided up into three ... I, anyway, divide it up in three different ways. It's called ... it's Colossians 3, and it starts off, the first section is,
"Therefore, if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is seated, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on Earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory." These first couple of verses talk so much about who God is and who ... you're raised up with Christ. What are we called to do? We're called to seek the things above because this is where Christ is seated, at the right hand of God.
In the middle section here, well who am I? In verse 5, it starts out with,
"Consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also walked when you were living in them, but now you also put them aside." What are these? "Anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the one who created him, a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, in all."
Wow. After you look at that section and you look at the kind of person, wow, even some of those things allow me a little time to maybe do and examine what are some of the things that I might be greedy about. What are some of the things... have I ever slandered anyone this week? And here is this calling to set them aside. This spiritual practice in the presence of God just really allows you to slow down and remember who God is and that your life is hidden with Christ in God and that you're going to be in glory with him.
And yet, look at some of the things we have to put away. In the last section in verse 12, here's who we're called to be.
"So as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, forgiving each other. Whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all the wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father."
Do you notice how many times the word "thanks," "thankful," "thanksgiving" came up? That is a key word for spiritual formation. You know, why is spiritual formation so important? People will ask me that. You know, it isn't about doing the right thing or earning your way, and it's so important to realize that you're coming into the presence of God and these practices actually develop your character. We wonder today, what happens, how do we develop our character? Well it doesn't happen on a weekend workshop, it happens over a lifetime, and it happens from a culmination of meeting God in the presence of God and looking at scripture with meditation, "reflecting" on it, and contemplation, "waiting" to hear what God has to say to you. That's what develops your character.
But all that effort on our part comes out of really seeking him. In the beginning of this scripture, it says to seek him, to set your mind on things above. So there's ... part of it, we have to make an effort, and the other part of it is... God is there waiting for us. He's waiting to speak to us. We can go into that time on a regular basis and that's how our character is formed.
See what happens when we take on a lot of responsibility, our character is tested.
Now, there are certain points in our lives where our character formation isn't up to par with all the responsibilities that are being loaded on us. Generally in life, there's two stages in life that I see as ... I've been in leadership development for about, for over 20 years and it's always right around the age of 35 and 55. I just happened to notice that, because that's the age that they come into my class or they'll contact me, and it's because they're hitting a crisis point. They know something's wrong but they don't know what it is. Generally, at that age, they've taken on, a 35-year-old will have taken on, maybe it's a tough job plus a marriage plus a new home plus several small children. That responsibility tends to outweigh the development of character. Well that's what causes, can cause us to have a midlife crisis. God's talking to us and he says, "Hold up there."
We need to take that time in our lives to really go deep with God. Maybe we need to do a little more intensive time to remember who God is and who we are, and review or initiate our spiritual practices. That happens again at 55 because wow, all of a sudden we got to 55 and we're like, "Is this all there is? I'm getting scared. I've got retirement. I don't know if I'm going to make it. I don't know if my kids are going to be there for me." All kinds of ideas. "Am I going to be left alone?" Those worries and fears start to overwhelm us to a point where you want to run away to that cave that Elijah's in. But God says, "Come into my presence." You'll come into his presence, we start out with being thankful, and that's just a practice that's available to all of us. Then take a look at this scripture, Colossians 3:1–17. It just clearly covers who is God, who am I, and how am I to behave as an image bearer of God.
God has a purpose for you and for your life. You're not without direction. You can look at that and read those scripture and come to see that God wants the peace of Christ to rule in your heart. During that 35 point and 55, it's hard to find the peace of Christ at those points in your life. But if these practices are done on a regular basis, when those crisis points come, you'll be ready. You won't be running away; you'll be running to God. You'll be running to those moments of silence and solitude.
It reminds me a little bit of a story that I want to share with you. I want to give you a little vision of what the kingdom of heaven is like, a metaphor perhaps would be better. I think of, in the back of our home, there are these tall cedars. It's so dark back there because the cedars are so tall and so think that there's really, nothing grows underneath them. But when we would go down there, the kids would go down there and they would call that place their secret place. And the top of the trees would be waving in the wind but the trunks would be so secure in the ground.
This secret place, as my children called it, it was safe, it was a beautiful place, it was sheltered from storms. Although little sun could penetrate there during the day, everything changed at sunset, when a burst of golden color would just stream across the trunks of the trees and it would create this incredible display of golden light just filled with ... it looked like things were moving in this golden light. If you stood there long enough and you listen deeply, all of a sudden, you became aware of the call of the birds. Becomes apparent that you're noticing the smallest insect. Your hearing becomes more tuned in to the sounds of nature. The leaves are rustling, the smell of the cedars. If you wait long enough, a fox, a coyote, or a deer come quietly into view, or you hear a woodpecker in the distance.
This is a little bit like the kingdom of heaven. It's a place that's we can get away to, it's a place that we can tune in our hearing. We become aware. What I think about this secret place in the back of our home and this bright color at sunset, it always just amazes me how really beautiful that is as it comes in. In that moment, I can't help but be thankful. It just, God communicates to me through this beauty and this light that just shimmers as the sun sets.
I'm sure that each of you can think of points in nature where you've been ... they say that there's two things that stops us in our tracks — great pain and great beauty. That's a balance in our life. It's a balance in our lives. We need to care about our soul but we also need to care about the hurting. When we are not attuned to God, we can move into points of our life where we no longer care about others. Coming into the presence of God isn't just for your well-being, but that it gives you the desire, the hunger to care. This is the Holy Spirit in you, this is Christ in you that's saying care for the hungry, care for the poor, become caregivers, when we find time with God. We can't help it. We actually, we love to care and help others. It's fulfilling, it brings us out of our sorrows. It brings us out of depression or times of loneliness when we go and help others.
You can see how there's this movement of going into the presence of God, being thankful. That thankfulness brings in the love of God into our hearts. We start letting go of our compulsions, letting go of the rat race, and we receive from God just a special blessing, really is what happens. You receive a special blessing. This is why, in the long run, if you really need to be doing spiritual practice and really seeking out that quiet place ... now again, it's not always a quiet place in an airport but I'm talking about a quiet within your soul because you're seeking God. You can even memorize this one scripture that I read you, Colossians 3 is a wonderful scripture to memorize. Just keep rolling it over and over in your mind, write it, pray it, talk it, recite it out loud, and see how much of it you can get it memorized. Just use that verse for a while.
The kingdom of heaven is really available to all of us. Isn't that a wonderful thought? It's hidden, just like a secret place in the woods. It's hidden but it's available. The kingdom of heaven. There's a little poem here that I want to read to you that talk a little bit, describes our kingdom of heaven.
The Kingdom of Heaven In No Strange Land.
"O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
Or our benumbed conceiving soars
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places
Turn but a stone and start a wing
'Tis ye, 'tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.
But, when so sad thou cast not sadder cry
Upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder
Pitched betwixt heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my soul, my daughter,
Cry, clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not in Genesareth, but in Thames."
It's a story of how the kingdom of heaven comes down even in the midst of our sorrows, of everything that's going on. Don't be a stranger to the kingdom of heaven. It's available to you right now. It's available but hidden. All we have to do is take the time and take the presence.
Walk into that.
There are many more practices that help us grow in our intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Next time, we'll take a look at some practices that help us with the second question, who am I? If you have any questions or want to view some of the show notes, feel free to go to my website at unlockingchristianspiritualpracticespodcast.com. Thank you so much and blessings on the journey.