The presence of God is the concentration of the soul’s attention on God, remembering that He is always present.
I know a person who for forty years has practiced the presence of God, to which he gives several other names. Sometimes he calls it a simple act–a clear and distinct knowledge of God–and sometimes he calls it a vague view or a general, loving look at God–a remembrance of Him. He also refers to it as attention to God, silent communion with God, confidence in God, or the life and peace of the soul. To sum up, this person has told me that all these descriptions of the presence of God are merely synonyms that signify the same thing, a reality that has become natural to him.
My friend says that by dwelling in the presence of God he has established such a sweet communion with the Lord that His spirit abides, without much effort, in the restful peace of God. In this center of rest, he is filled with a faith that equips him to handle anything that comes into his life.Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, p. 67
Brother Lawrence stresses this kind of communion with God is by God’s grace, that it is the result of sustained attention and discipline, and that it occurs in the depths of a person at the level of soul as a result of cultivated heart to heart interaction between the individual and God. This kind of interaction may seem natural once it has become established in life, but only in the sense that it is the kind of interaction with God that we were made for, having experienced a supernatural restoration through the workings of God’s grace that is what Christians mean when they speak of salvation’s fullness. Salvation is not only rescue, but healing.
Many Christian people I know desire this kind of interactive, steady, ongoing interaction with God. But others do not believe it is possible–at least not for them. Brother Lawrence states that this is possible. Indeed, believing that it is possible opens the door to the realization of dwelling more fully in God’s presence.
Brother Lawrence then describes the means. First “is a new life, received by salvation through the blood of Christ.” This Carmelite lay brother, recording his wisdom in the seventeenth century, understood that entry into God’s presence involved the receiving of new life, or regeneration.
The second means is “faithfully practicing God’s presence.” Simple. Or so it sounds. Doing this requires that “the soul’s eyes must be kept on God, particularly when something is being done in the outside world.” Maybe it isn’t so simple. But be patient. The key is stick-to-itiveness. Brother Lawrence writes, “Since much time and effort are needed to perfect this practice, one should not be discouraged by failure.”
Knowing this is a challenging but indispensable practice for the spiritual life, since all that we speak and feel and think and do is a reflection of the condition of our hearts before God, Brother Lawrence counsels that, as you begin seeking to practice God’s presence, “it would not be wrong to offer short phrases that are inspired by love, such as ‘Lord, I am all Yours,’ ‘God of love, I love you with all my heart,’ or ‘Lord, use me according to Your will.’ However, remember to keep the mind from wandering or returning to the world. Hold you attention on God alone by exercising your will to remain in His presence.” When you attention wanes, you speak reminders over your life. This is prayer.
The foremost challenge I experience in practicing this spiritual discipline is remembering, and attention. Brother Lawrence writes that we practice God’s presence by first remembering God is present. Turning the focus of the full self toward God, we make operative what we already confess and, by experience, confirm to be true. God is with us. We then learn to remain with God, not only in moments of quiet time or devotion (though these are immense helpful when kept and observed), but in all of life’s moments.
The Christian hope includes the belief that we will spend eternity in the presence of God. What we now experience in part, we will then receive in full. Why not begin experiencing a greater glimpse of what that means now? “As now, so then,” as one of my old teachers would say. We may not only benefit by living more completing in the love and joy and power that is found in Christ. We will then also magnify Christ as we become increasingly conformed to him.