Prayer #2: Living in the Presence of God

What does it mean to incorporate prayer into everyday life—or our everyday life into our prayer? One of the simplest, shortest—and maybe more challenging—things we read about prayer in the Bible is in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. There Paul says pray constantly. Other translations say pray without ceasing. For anyone who struggles to pray for even a few minutes, this sounds daunting!

So it’s important to understand that when Paul says pray constantly he doesn’t mean do nothing but pray to the exclusion of doing anything else. He’s not saying that life should be a 24-7 quiet time. The question is: what does he mean?Barry Black is a Retired Navy Rear Adm. And was the 62nd chaplain of the U.S. Senate. In an article written for The Washington Times a few years ago, he writes that praying constantly means “we can punctuate our moments with intervals of recurring prayer . . . So, adoration for God can enable you to be continuously aware of His presence, creating a desire to punctuate your days, hours and minutes with the communion and fellowship of prayer. This adoration can transform sporadic and stammering prayers into a constant and characteristic attitude of reverence and dependence on a higher power.” This brings to mind Psalm 34:1: I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. Let’s think of it this way: Living in the presence of God means cultivating a prayerfulness in everyday life. In the simplest of terms, it’s not only knowing we can pray anytime, but actually doing it. To put it as simply: to pray constantly means to grow in our prayerfulness. It means becoming more aware of the presence of God in everyday life. It means paying attention to what God is up to in us and around us. Here’s the thing: having set times of prayer will help fuel our more spontaneous moments of prayer and prayerfulness. But it doesn’t work the other way around.

So: How often do you usually pray each day? Do you have a set time and place that you pray? Do you ever find yourself praying throughout the day? In what way might praying constantly change your experience of God?

At our first church, the only room in the building was the sanctuary, so the back pew had colouring books and other things for any kids who were there. One Sunday there was a little girl named Yvonne sitting at the back and during my message I said something about how God is everywhere all the time. Then I heard this little voice from the back ask: “How can God be everywhere all the time?” The takeaway? Kids are often listening even when we think they’re not!

In Psalm 139:7—10 it the psalmist writes:

Where can I go to escape your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I live at the eastern horizon
or settle at the western limits,
even there your hand will lead me;
your right hand will hold on to me.

Consider this: we usually think of prayer as something we take time out to do. And we can sometimes find ourselves thinking that we’re not in God’s presence until we do so. We talk about entering into God’s presence when we sit down to pray. Almost as if he’s not really present the rest of the time. I know we wouldn’t say that—but we can often live as though this were the case.

But look at what David says in the Psalm. Where can I go to escape your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? The implication of these words is that there is nowhere we can go where God is not present. Theologians call this God’s omnipresence. This means God is continuously and perfectly aware of all of our thoughts and actions. And while this might sound ominous on one level—because we know not everything we think, do, and feel is pretty—it can only remain ominous if we forget what God is actually like. Remember last week’s pocket prayer? Father, you are good. I’ll say it this way: It’s not about coming into the presence of a good God; it’s about becoming more aware that we are already in the presence of a good God.

So because of this: Living in the presence of God means we can bring all of who we are before God in prayer—the good, the bad, and the ugly. No wonder psalmists like David were so free to express anger, sadness, and joy in God’s presence. Living in the presence of God means being real before God.

Let me ask: Do you feel free or comfortable bringing your more difficult emotions (anger, sadness, fear) to God in prayer or do you feel like you should ignore those feelings for the sake of your prayers? How does it feel knowing that God is perfectly aware of all your thoughts and feelings all the time? How should knowing you are always in the presence of God affect your praying?

Psalm 73:28 says:

But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
I have made the Lord 
God my refuge,
so I can tell about all you do.

The psalmist claims here that to be in the presence of God is a good thing. That’s a wonderful phrase: God’s presence is my good. And because of this he goes on to say that I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all you do. There is a genuine sense of dependence here. He knows he needs God.

I think it can be easy for us sometimes to forget about our absolute dependence on God. We have so much. And we can think of ourselves as self-sufficient—or come to believe that not being self-sufficient is some kind of sin or violation of social expectations. No one likes to be vulnerable about their needs.

Living in the presence of God also means being aware of our dependence upon God. Part of what this means is recognizing that all we have comes from God.  Think of what it says in James 1:17: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. In other words, all we have comes from God. And he is reliable, trustworthy, dependable, steadfast. His love for us does not change.

But more than that, it’s about seeing our need for God in everyday life in all kinds of circumstances. And not because we can’t somehow muddle through or even by all appearances do well without prayer. Many seem to do so, even some Christians. It’s about depending on God to help us see our lives the right way, to allow him to direct us when otherwise we might use our own wisdom, to put what he wants for us ahead of what we want for ourselves.

And think again about these words: I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all you do. Sometimes as Christians we think being a witness always looking strong, like we have it all together. But here the psalmist tells us that it’s in acknowledging his dependence on God that he shares with others just how good God is. If we’re open about how much we need God, even if that means being vulnerable and honest about our struggles and weakness, people around us may also be more honest about their need for God.

So: Do you find it hard to depend on other people, to admit you need help? What about with God? Is living in the presence of God an obstacle to the life you want or the way to live the life you want? How does making the Lord your refuge also make you a witness to his goodness?

Each of us lives in the presence of God every day—the question is: how aware are we of his presence and what are we doing to become more aware? “The “Prayer of Examen” is a traditional way to encounter the Lord Jesus in the everyday circumstances of life. More than just a means to look for moral failures throughout our day, this prayer helps us to grow in awareness of God’s action. God came to us in the person of Jesus. And by going to the cross and dying for our sins, Jesus opens up the way for us to come before our heavenly Father in prayer. Because of Jesus we can live in the presence of God the way he always meant us to.

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