Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis


Book Summary

From this book I want to focus on a question that was asked at our Bible study recently:

How do demons manifest themselves today?

I replied:

The book, Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis provides the best description of the strategies used by the demons in a Western world setting.

The apostle Paul has told us that we are not unaware of the enemy’s schemes and tactics. This book certainly exposes a lot of them and it would do us well to become thoroughly familiar with them. Lewis expounds on these in each chapter,  and it would do you well to get the book if this summary is helpful.

The tactics described here are written towards men because the person being tempted is a man. But all tactics apply to men and women. Always remember as you read these quotes that these are the words of a senior demon (Screwtape) instructing a junior demon how to tempt a man.

A suggested use of this summary is to do what I am doing, Take each tactic and spend some time with God asking:

Is this a true tactic of the devil?

AND if so

In what way?

Am I tempted by this strategic tactic?

For example, from chapter 12

Convince him that all of the decisions that are taking him away from God are trivial and revocable.

Father I believe that anything that takes me away from You is non-trivial and will cause serious harm. Are there any decisions I am making this week that are taking me away from You?

Here is my summary of the tactics that Lewis believed are used by demons today against God’s people:

Chapter 1

The client is not yet a Christian.  Only this chapter deals with the ways demons interact with non-Christians. Demons are to get us to:

    • Avoid argument
    • Focus on the immediate senses
    • Be distracted by the ordinary when important things come up
    • Emphasize the ordinariness of things
    • Avoid the hard sciences

Let’s look at what Lewis says about each of these:

Avoid argument:

But are you not being a trifle naïf? [remember – this is the senior demon speaking] It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s [God’s] clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head.

[God – the Enemy of the demon]  can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?

Clearly Lewis thinks that reason is a dangerous thing for the demons.  It’s hard to believe that Lewis was writing this in the 40’s. I love that he recognized that there is a demonic movement today in our culture to take us away from thinking that things are true and false and away from the importance of universal ideas. What insight!

Focus on the immediate senses: For the demons the “stream of immediate sense experience” is good and “attending to universal issues” is bad.   The demon’s advice to his understudy was that:

Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real”.

Be distracted by the ordinary when important things come up

you don’t realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear What He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said “Quite. In fact much too important to tackle it the end of a morning”, the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind”, he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of “real life” (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all “that sort of thing” just couldn’t be true. He knew he’d had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about “that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberrations of mere logic”. He is now safe in Our Father’s house.

Have him focus on the familiar and avoid the unfamiliar: 

Thanks to processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes.

Emphasize the ordinariness of things: “Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things.

Avoid the hard sciences:

Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don’t let him get away from that invaluable “real life”. But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is “the results of modem investigation”. Do remember you are there to fuddle him.

Chapter 2

In this chapter, client has become a Christian. Lewis clearly believes that one can fall back into the “enemy’s” camp once they have become a Christian. In this chapter, Lewis highlights two tools that the demons use to draw the Christian away from the faith:

    • The Church
    • Emotions

The Church: Lewis says that people in the church are one of the best weapons for drawing one away from the faith.

Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour.

One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.

Make him dependent upon emotion:  Lewis tells us that when the initial dryness that inevitably comes to all new Christians, if they over come it, “they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.

Chapter 3

The demon instructs the younger demon to work on the relationship between the client (the new Christian) and his mother.  Build up in the house “a good settled habit of mutual annoyance; daily pinpricks.” Remember, the Enemy [God] works from the inside out. “The Enemy will be working from the centre outwards, gradually bringing more and more of the patient’s conduct under the new standard. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious.”

The demon recommends the following tactics for building tension between his mom and himself:

Keep his mind on the inner life: “Don’t let him think that outer changes are necessary.”

At first blush, this may seem contrary to all that I teach and encourage. But I believe strongly in developing the inner life in order to work well in our outer life. Can one keep one’s focus 24/7 on the Holy Spirit and do useful work? Absolutely!

The problem comes when we retreat into our inner life to escape from the problems of this world. This is well exemplified in the Simon and Garfunkel song “I am a Rock”

Paul Simon’s Lyrics

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I believe this is what Lewis is getting at. The demons will encourage us to become rocks and islands while we retreat into our books, poetry, music and ideas.

Prevent him from praying for his mom: “Or if that is not possible, make sure that the prayers are real ‘spiritual.’ He is concerned about the state of her soul; not her rheumatism.”

Accentuate the irritable features of the mother: “When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that.”

Work on the ‘way’ things are said: “In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face.”

Chapter 4

This chapter delves into the way the demons hinder our prayer life.

Keep him from praying altogether

Have him despise rote prayer: “encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part.” One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray ‘with moving lips and bended knees’ but merely ‘composed his spirit to love’ and indulged ‘a sense of supplication.’ That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time.

Convince the man that bodily position doesn’t matter: Lewis obviously believed that body position matters in prayer.  For Screwtape says:

At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers;

The best tactic to prevent real prayer is to keep real prayer thoughts out of his mind:

It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.

Distractions

keep the focus away from God and focus on themselves.  For example instead of praying for courage, let them imagine themselves as brave.

Chapter 5

In this chapter, World War II has begun. In this we learn that one of the objectives of demons today is to keep Christians in “anguish and bewilderment.” This is achieved by:

    • Providing pictures of terror for his future
    • Providing self-pitying glances to his happy past
    • Undermining faith
    • Preventing the formation of virtues
    • Working so that all humans die in costly nursing homes where no-one cares and doctors lie

Chapter 6

Create maximum uncertainty about all affairs of life.

Keep him focused on what will happen to him – not what he does

Keep him in suspense and anxiety about the future

Chapter 7

In this age, keep him from knowing demons exist. Screwtape answers the question: Do we let the believer know we exist? Screwtape says that it depends on the current climate of the culture. For now he says, it is best that believers are ignorant of demonic presence. “If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”

Encourage him to commit to extreme views and causes (except extreme devotion towards God).

Encourage the followers of Jesus to “acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-rightousness of a secret society or a clique.”

Encourage sectarian beliefs like Patriotism or Pacifism to be part of his religion

Prevent him from seeing that temporal affairs are primarily material for obedience

Chapter 8

Use periods of dryness or dullness towards the opposite end of what God wants – In other words, God uses the law of undulation (where we have highs and lows – motivated and demotivated ) in different ways at different times. The demons are to move the man in the exact opposite direction that God is moving him. Lewis also reveals his view of time in this chapter. Humans were created as both spirit (outside of time) and animal (inside of time). “while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change”

Have the man focus on God as irresistible and the truth about Him indisputable Lewis does not believe in “irresistible grace.” “Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use.” In other words, God would never reveal Himself in ways that are irresistible or indisputable. Therefore demons are to convince men that God should reveal himself in those ways.

Chapter 9

Trough periods are the best time to exploit all sensual temptations – especially sex – This certainly is reflected in the hit musical “Hamilton” as well in the lives of many I know.

Keep the man away from the knowledge of the law of undulation – This is Lewis’ concept that God places us in a world where everything ebbs and flows – there are ups and downs.  Both are used by God for different but equally useful purposes.

Keep his mind off the antithesis between true and false – use “Nice shadowy expressions—’It was a phase’—’I’ve been through all that'”

Direct his thoughts towards thinking his faith was just a phase

Chapter 10

Have him become friends with rich, smart, intellectually superficial, and brightly skeptical people

Postpone as long as possible the realization that his friends don’t hold his same core beliefs

Chapter 11

In this chapter, Lewis helps us understand the proper role of humor and laughter.

Encourage Flippancy The tactic emphasized in this chapter is “Flippancy.” Flippancy builds up an armor against the truths of God

Chapter 12

Convince him that all of the decisions that are taking him away from God are trivial and revocable.

The end goal of all of the strategies is to separate the man from God

Chapter 13

Don’t allow him to enjoy a book just for the sake of reading it

Don’t allow him to indulge in simple pleasures (like a walk) just for the simple pleasure of it. Encourage everything to have a purpose.

 Don’t allow the man to convert his repentance to true action

 Chapter 14

Keep him making “lavish promises” concerning his behavior. Not “hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation!

If the patient is humble, make sure he notices it

At all costs, exclude from the conscious, God’s idea that man should have no opinion of his own talents.

Chapter 15

Encourage either of these states of mind: tortured fear or stupid confidence in the state of the world

Since God wants His people attentive to eternity AND the present moment, encourage all of his thoughts to be about the past and the future (and preferably the future).

Chapter 16

Send the believer all over looking for the church that “suits” him.

Attach the patient to a church that sees itself as set apart and different from all of the other churches

Chapter 17

Encourage the sin of gluttony – not of excess but of delicacy. Endless food shows certainly bear witness to the success of this tactic today.

Chapter 18

Make love the object of all marriage “persuading the humans that a curious, and usually short-lived, experience which they call “being in love” is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding.”

Chapter 19

Keep working the patient into a state of mind that moves him closer to us and further from God – no matter what it takes.

Chapter 20

Convince him that there is no way of getting rid of us except by giving in to us.

Steer his choice of a mate away from one who would be good for him.

The aim [of working with a small group of designers and artists] is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely

Chapter 21

Work hard to convince him that his time is his own and anything that takes away from time he feels is rightfully his, will create a peevishness in him.

“The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell and we must keep them doing so. … And all the time the joke is that the word “Mine” in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say “Mine” of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong— certainly not to them, whatever happens. At present the Enemy says “Mine” of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to say “Mine” of all things on the more realistic and dynamic”

Chapter 22

Twist every pleasure God has created and make it useful to our purposes – “He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us.”

Try to eliminate music and silence from his life

Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express—no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise—Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end.

Chapter 23

If you cannot eliminate spirituality from his life -corrupt it. Encourage pursuit of “the historical Jesus”

Destroy his devotional life. “For the real presence of the Enemy, otherwise experienced by men in prayer and sacrament, we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. Such an object cannot in fact be worshipped”

Have him treat the gospels as biographies of Jesus.

No nation, and few individuals, are really brought into the Enemy’s camp by the historical study of the biography of Jesus, simply as biography. The “Gospels” come later and were written not to make Christians but to edify Christians already made.

Have him make God’s directives about how to walk with Him into a “Thing.” “The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice.”

Chapter 24

Get him to imitate a defect in a Christian they admire  “Can you get him to imitate this defect in his mistress and to exaggerate it until what was venial in her becomes in him the strongest and most beautiful of the vices—Spiritual Pride?”

Get him to think how grand and right it is to be a Christian

so much better than those other people “you must make him feel that he is finding his own level—that these people are “his sort” and that, coming among them, he has come home. When he turns from them to other society he will find it dull; partly because almost any society within his reach is, in fact, much less entertaining, but still more because he will miss the enchantment of the young woman. You must teach him to mistake his contrast between the circle that delights and the circle that bores him for the contrast between Christians and unbelievers. He must be made to feel (he’d better not put it into words) “how different we Christians are”; and by “we Christians” he must really, but unknowingly, mean “my set”; and by “my set” he must mean not “The people who, in their charity and humility, have accepted me”, but “The people with whom I associate by right”.”

Chapter 25

Get him to see his beliefs, not as mere Christianity, but Christianity plus something else. The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And”. You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference.

Twist man’s natural enjoyment of change into a demand for ever changing novelty

Get him to ask the unanswerable questions rather than the relevant questions. 

The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking “Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?” they will neglect the relevant questions

Chapter 26

Sow seeds of discontent during courtship “that will grow into domestic hatred. … let them think they have solved by Love problems they have in fact only waived or postponed under the influence of the enchantment”

Cultivate unselfishness rather than charity – “teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them.” “If people knew how much ill-feeling unselfishness occasions, it would not be so often recommended from the pulpit

Chapter 27

Encourage him to fight distractions in prayer through sheer will power.

When distractions come in prayer, “you ought to encourage him to thrust it away by sheer will power and to try to continue the normal prayer as if nothing had happened;”

Steer him away from petitionary prayer 

On the seemingly pious ground that “praise and communion with God is the true prayer”, humans can often be lured into direct disobedience to the Enemy who (in His usual flat, commonplace, uninteresting way) has definitely told them to pray for their daily bread and the recovery of their sick. You will, of course, conceal from him the fact that the prayer for daily bread, interpreted in a “spiritual sense”, is really just as crudely petitionary as it is in any other sense.

Encourage the thought that petitionary prayer is a waste of time

worry him with the haunting suspicion that the practice is absurd and can have no objective result. Don’t forget to use the “heads I win, tails you lose” argument. If the thing he prays for doesn’t happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and “therefore it would have happened anyway”, and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective.

Keep him away from old books

Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating The Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the “present state of the question”. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded.

Chapter 28

Teach him to “regard death as the prime evil and survival as the greatest good.”

Encourage a focus on prosperity – “Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it”, while really it is finding its place in him.”

Chapter 29

Defeat his courage, cultivate hatred combined with fear  – “The more he fears, the more he will hate. And Hatred is also a great anodyne for shame. To make a deep wound in his charity, you should therefore first defeat his courage.

Chapter 30

Use fatigue to lead them “into anger, malice and impatience.” “Fatigue makes women talk more and men talk less. Much secret resentment, even between lovers, can be raised from this.”

Present Perfect – Finding God in the Now by Gregory Boyd

Book Summary

This is actually going to be a little more than a book summary. As I have slowed down my reading and attempted to increase the depth of what I take in, I am going back to books I read previously and writing out my notes, thoughts and quotes. Present Perfect is one such book. I wrote about the spiritual discipline that developed out of reading that book in Points of Presence. But I have found that I am learning so much more this second time through. At the end of every chapter Greg Boyd has exercises to help us cultivate the habit of being awake to God’s presence. I am finding that I skimmed over these previously. Now I am finding a treasure in these exercises. You will find them summarized at the end of this blog.

One thing Greg does in the book is to populate the pages with little “Are You Awake” text boxes – like post-it notes. This time through, I have found that these are great reminders to be aware that I am in God’s presence when I am reading. I would turn the page and there was the little post-it. “Are you awake.” I decided to create something using the Windows task scheduler. I will be creating a link to this for anyone interested.  You can program it to any increment. 10 minutes is a reasonable place to start.

I would strongly recommend this book. Although I am not an open theist and even though Greg is a big proponent of this theological perspective, I don’t find any instances of open theism in this book . Don’t avoid this book because you differ with him on open theism.

Introduction: “Now” is Where God Lives

This is a major theme of the book – hence the name – Present Perfect – Finding God in the Now. Greg develops the argument that although God was in the past and will be in the future, He is in the Now (with respect to us). Generally theologians and Christians have the following views concerning God’s relationship to time:

    1. The traditional view – God is timeless – i.e. outside of time completely
    2. God is temporal but everlasting – He exists at each moment of time and experiences temporal succession (one thing follows another in time)
    3. God is not within our time but is within His own time. Some have argued against this by saying that God is then somehow limited by His own time.
    4. God is omni-temporal – God is not in our time but he experiences temporal succession in His being. But He does not have His own time.
    5. Although you can argue that God is timeless many philosophers argue that God is temporal (in time) only with respect to his creation. This is my view. When God steps into our time, as in the incarnation, He is in time. When He speaks to us, He speaks in time.
    6. William Lane Craig has argued that God was timeless in eternity before He created time and became temporal thereafter.[i]

All of this does not impact our experience of God in time. I agree with Boyd that we can only experience God in the present moment – the Now. Even when we work with individuals in the healing of memories and God takes the person back to a past moment in their history, they are still experiencing God and healing their memories in the now. And I think that can be true no matter what the relationship is between God and time. What matters is our relationship to God and time. Any comments to this would be appreciated by me because I completely agree with Boyd’s central premise – We only experience God in our present moment because we only live and have our being in the present moment.

C.S. Lewis talks about this in the Screwtape Letters. These are letters from a senior demon to an understudy. According to Lewis, the demons want to keep us away from thinking about either eternity or the present. They will continuously be tempting us to live in the past or the future. Listen to the words of the senior demon:

[The demon Screwtape writes:] The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them. He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present—either meditating on their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience [and I would add – the Holy Spirit] , bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.

Our business [the demons] is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present.

Something to be aware of, is that evil is at work anytime you are dwelling on the past or the future. Lord, help me to live in this present moment with You!

Are you Awake?

This is another major question that he poses for us each and every moment

Are you awake or asleep to God’s presence?

As I mentioned, he scatters this phrase like post-it notes throughout the book. He posts them on his sermon notes. All to remind us – are we paying attention to God’s presence at this moment. When working on my laptop up pops a window every 10 minutes asking: “Are you awake?” At that moment, I turn my focus away from what I am doing to the One who (hopefully) I am doing the writing or reading with! Boyd gives us some instructions as to what we should do at these moments:

Don’t try to feel his presence. In fact, don’t try to do anything at all. Simply be mindful of the fact that you are, in this present moment, submerged in the ocean of God’s perfect love.

Waking up to a Cricket

In this section, Boyd describes the moment in history – the Now – when he was jogging and experienced his surroundings as if for the first time. It awakened in him the desire to be more aware of God every moment.  Hear his words about this experience:

Never before had I realized the extent to which our focus determines what we experience—and do not experience—in any given moment.  Never before had I seen how being absorbed in the past or future causes us to miss the wonder of the present.

The present moment is all that is real. The past is gone. The future is not yet. We remember the past and anticipate the future, but we always do so in the present. Reality is always now. And the single most important aspect of reality is that God is present in it every moment. To forget that God is present in any given moment is to forget the most important aspect of that moment.

Over the past twenty-plus years since my waking-up experience in the woods, I’ve become absolutely convinced that remaining aware of God’s presence is the single most important task in the life of every follower of Jesus.

It is my prayer that God will use this book to help you wake up to his ever-present love and to passionately embrace the challenge of remaining awake to this love

Practicing the Presence of God

At this point, Boyd introduces the three authors who helped him become awake to God’s presence 24/7:

    • Brother Lawrence “Among the many things I learned from this man [a seventeenth-century monk] was the need to stop thinking of prayer as something we do at certain times but not others.”
    • Jean-Pierre de Caussade
    • Frank Laubach

While these three authors differ widely in both their theology and their emphasis, they all emphatically agree that remaining awake to God’s presence in the present moment is the single most important task of the Christian life and that no spiritual discipline is more foundational or transforming than this one.

[Practicing the Presence of God] is, I’m convinced, the bedrock of a vibrant relationship with God and the key to transformation into the likeness of Christ. … I believe this practice is foundational to Christianity and how this practice can transform our lives.

The Simplicity and Challenge of Practicing the Presence

The challenge is not in doing the discipline: it’s in remembering the discipline.

When you notice that you’ve forgotten God, don’t get frustrated or angry. This only produces more mental chatter,

Lawrence, de Caussade, and Laubach each testify that whatever task occupies you at any given moment, you’ll tend to do it better if you include God. Remaining aware of God’s presence doesn’t compete with our attention to other things; it augments it.

Chapter 1 – Mere Christianity

For the Supersaints Only?

Boyd opens this chapter making the case that this practice is not just for monks, missionaries and pastors.

For us ordinary Christians, trying to remain aware of God’s presence moment-by-moment seems like a hyperspiritual pipe dream.

But he claims it is not.

Living Out the Pledge of Life

In this section, Boyd takes a bit of tangent – and builds the case that surrendering our life to Jesus cannot be a one time occurrence.

For the only life we have to surrender to Christ is the one we live moment-by-moment.

He uses the example of his pledge to his wife when they got married. The pledge made at the moment of their marriage was life changing and monumental but the pledge needed to be lived out every moment from then on.

Rather, the actual life I pledged to my wife was the life I have lived each and every moment since I made that pledge. The only life I have to give to my wife is the life I live moment-by-moment.

The important question is not, Did I once surrender my life to Christ? The important question is, Am I surrendered to Christ right now? For the only life we have to surrender to Christ is the life we’re living this moment.

We make a vow to submit our life to Christ but then spend 99 percent of our time excluding him from our awareness. We make him Lord over our life in theory, but we do not make him Lord over most of the moments that make up our life.

The Heart of New Testament Discipleship

In this section, Boyd builds the case that being aware of God’s presence 24/7 is biblically based in the following scriptures:

    1. Seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) – How can we seek God’s kingdom first when we hardly pay any attention to him throughout the day? “remembering that God exists and that yielding to his will is our supreme objective, even as we strive for other, less important, goals.”
    2. Living in the Spirit / Keeping in Step with Spirit – (Galatians 5:16-18) – How can we keep in step with the indwelling Holy Spirit when we ignore Him most of our day
    3. Take every thought captive ((2 Corinthians 10:5) – How can we do this
      Nelson Mandela

      apart from being aware of every thought and submitting it to the Spirit. “I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed it, but your brain never stops thinking. It’s constantly chattering! If you doubt me, go into a quiet room, shut off the lights, and try not to think. Listen carefully for the voice in your head and see how long you can keep it completely silent. If you’re attentive, you’ll probably discover that within five to ten seconds you’ll be chattering to yourself. You’ll hear things like: ‘So far so good’ or ‘This is stupid’ or ‘Don’t forget to take out the garbage.’  … Our brain never shuts up. To submit every thought to Christ, therefore, we’re going to need to have Christ on our mind all the time. …This doesn’t mean we should try to analyze every thought to make sure it’s submitted to Christ. This would turn our mental focus completely onto ourselves and would pull us out of the present moment. It would also likely drive us crazy.”

    4. Be transformed by the renewal of your minds (Romans 12:2) – Can our minds really be renewed through a few quiet times a week and a church service or two? No! The transformation is taking place moment by moment.
    5. We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) – If He truly is the head of the body, doesn’t the body analogy require 24/7 connectivity with the head?

I would add to this list:

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7 (see also 11:9)

…praying at all times in the Spirit – Ephesians 6:18

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18:1

Chapter 2 – Finding Home  

This chapter takes a few tangents as he attempts to build his case.

Our Insatiable Hunger

In this section, Greg talks about how animals are just fine when they have food and shelter [Don’t tell our grand-dogs that]. But as humans we have an insatiable hunger for life. Yes, we hunger for love and happiness [as do our grand-dogs], but we also hunger for meaning, worth and significance. [Nope – no grand-dogs I know have that hunger]. He goes on:

Our insatiable hunger for a depth of Life that only he can give is a sort of built-in “homing device” intended to lead us to him. The Trinity is our home, and we are never fully satisfied or at peace until we rest in him.

Sounds very Augustinian! (“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”) And he says that when we don’t follow that lead, we replace it with:

False Gods

Greg says:

An idol can be anything we use to meet the need that only God can meet.

and

Whatever we try to derive our core sense of worth and meaning from is our god.

Beliefs and Reality

Boyd hits head on the difference between our beliefs and what we actually do.

many assume that believing Jesus is Lord of their life magically makes him Lord.  …merely believing Jesus is Lord no more makes him Lord of my life than believing Kim Jong-il is the leader of North Korea makes me his follower. For Kim Jong-il to be my leader, I would need to submit my life to him and become a citizen of North Korea. So too, for Jesus to be my Lord, I need to submit my life to him and become a citizen of his Kingdom.

The important question, therefore, is not what you believe. The important question is what you decide to do, moment-by-moment, on the basis of what you believe.

The Futility of Idols

In this section, Boyd develops what should be obvious – but isn’t. False gods and idols will never give us what we need.

Living “As Though”

While the true God lives in the now, false gods always live in the past or future. Chasing them to find our worth and significance always takes us out of the present moment.

How much of your thought-life is spent in the past or future, and what is the purpose for this nonpresent thinking? You may be so accustomed to living in the past and future that you find it difficult to notice how much of your thought-life is spent there, let alone why you spend so much of your thought-life there.

if you are completely honest with yourself, you’ll probably find that most of your past and future orientated thoughts revolve around you and are centered on your attempts to feel worthwhile and significant.

This was a revolutionary thought for me. I never realized that my thought life / my self-talk was mostly about the past or the future. But it is! This idea has helped me immensely to turn my self-talk / my idle thoughts to the sacred present moment.

The very process of trying to acquire Life on our own forces us to miss most of life, for real life is always in the present moment. When we live as though we can acquire Life from things other than God, we inevitably live as though reality wasn’t always in the present moment.

Reorienting the Homing Device

Coming home is simply a matter of waking up from the illusion that you aren’t already there. Yet, while the belief that the love of God is our home can be embraced at one moment and then forgotten about, the actual decision to release the illusion and embrace the truth cannot.

Greg mentions one of the side benefits of learning to become aware of God’s

Andromeda Galaxy

presence 24/7. Agreeing with Laubach he says:

I feel much more “at home” in my skin—and in the universe—than I used to.

Chapter 3 – Chasing the Sun

Boyd opens this chapter quoting from what is, in his opinion, one of the greatest rock songs ever written. You are going to have to buy the book if you want to know what it is. But the song addresses the human condition that we all face: death. And the fear that grows out of that. He says:

The fear is not just that we’re going to die. The fear is that we’ll never really live.

Boyd makes the claim that learning how to practice the presence of God will free us from fear and dread. Both fear and dread cause us to live in either the past or the future. But we were meant to live in the present.

If you are truly present, [fear and dread] cannot help but disappear—just as it cannot help but reappear if you once again begin to cling to idols and get pulled out of the present moment. For as we’ve seen, our fear and dread are directly associated with our pursuit of idols and, therefore, being pulled out of the present into the past or future. To relinquish the idols and remain in the present, surrender to God’s ever-present love. In this way the practice of the presence of God completely frees us from the fear of death.

The bottom line is that we were meant to live life as a celebration of a fullness of Life we get from God rather than as a desperate attempt to get fullness of Life on our own.

At the end of this chapter, Gregory addresses the question: “Won’t focusing our full attention on God every minute of the day, lead us to inactivity.”

Pointing especially to Laubach (the non-monk in the trifecta of authors) as one who accomplished an immense amount of work all the while practicing the presence of God every moment, Boyd emphatically says: NO!

Chapter 4 Single-Mindedness

Greg now addresses one of the reasons nobody practices the presence of God 24/7:

We’ve been conditioned to have a “flesh-mind-set” that habitually pushes God out of our awareness moment-by-moment.

He then encourages us:

Whatever else is going on—whether we’re taking a shower, engaging in a discussion, watching television, or reading a book—we must try to remain consciously anchored in the present.

He defines what it means to be single-minded:

We are single-minded not because every thought is about Christ but because every thought is taken captive to Christ.

Chapter 5 Living in Love

He begins this chapter by addressing our hunger for information. We have bowed to the idol: “knowledge is power”

This is one of the reasons why many contemporary Western Christians place so much stress on hearing sermons, engaging in Bible studies, reading books, and attending seminars and conferences. We believe that acquiring information is the key to helping us grow spiritually and solving our personal and social problems.… Think about it. Western Christians today are massively more informed than Christians at any time in the past. Yet no one would dare to claim that we’re generally more spiritually mature than Christians in the past.

Why do so many Christians today spend more time listening to sermons or reading books than they do feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, welcoming outcasts, visiting prisoners, or engaging in other activities Jesus said should characterize Kingdom people? I suspect it’s at least partly because many believe they’re already living in the Kingdom by virtue of the fact that they’re learning about the Kingdom. The truth is that there is no necessary connection between these two things.

Boyd goes on to say that none of the three authors put much store in books transforming lives!  Okay – I know – he is writing a book hoping to transform. Not that they didn’t see the worth of books, they just saw their limitations.

It’s just that all the information in the world is worthless if it distracts from the simplest thing in the world, which is practicing the presence of God in the present moment.

He then gets to the main point of this chapter: To live in love is to practice the presence of God. He looks at the challenge to love as Jesus loves us. But he says:

The challenge, then, is not first and foremost to love like Christ. The challenge is to live in Christ’s love, for only then can we love as Christ loved.

Chapter 6 Being Present

Greg opens this chapter with a quote from the play Our Town. In it, a woman, Emily, comes back from the dead as a spirit and sees what is really going on and exclaims: “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”

This beautifully expresses the goal of practicing the presence of God. It’s to “realize life while [we] live it…every, every minute,” and it includes looking hard at things and really seeing others.

This reminds me of a great quote by Anne Morrow Lindbergh:

Hurry is an unpleasant thing in itself, but also very unpleasant for whoever is around it. Some people came into my room and rushed in and rushed out and even when they were there they were not there – they were in the moment ahead or the moment behind. Some people who came in just for a moment were all there, completely in that moment.

Live from day to day, just from day to day. If you do so, you worry less and live more richly. If you let yourself be absorbed completely, if you surrender completely to the moments as they pass, you live more richly those moments.

Boyd wants us to understand that the incarnation isn’t just something that happened a long time ago and now has accomplished its purpose:

… the earliest Christians understood that the incarnation wasn’t just about what God did once upon a time in Jesus. Because Jesus reveals who God really is, the incarnation tells us something about what God is always doing.

He then says that to live “incarnationally” means to practice the presence of God 24/7. We are to always embody Jesus wherever we go.

This captures the heart of Chapter 6.

Chapter 7 – The Father is Always Working

Boyd opens with a warning:

If we’re not careful, our own religion can blind us to the ever-present God.

And then an encouragement:

The Father is always working, and if we are looking for it and willing to participate, some amazing things can happen.

Quotes from the Three Mentors (Laubach, Lawrence and de Caussade)

Frank Laubach

Can I bring the Lord back into my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.

Some people have compared [remaining aware of God’s presence] to getting out of a dark prison and beginning to live. We still see the same world, yet it is not the same, for it has a new, glorious color and a far deeper meaning.

Can we have that contact with God all the time? All the time awake, fall asleep in His arms, and awaken in His presence? Can we attain that? Can we do His will all the time? Can we think His thoughts all the time?

If you should forget Him for minutes or even days, do not groan or repent, but begin anew with a smile. Every minute can be a fresh beginning.

This practicing the presence of Christ takes all our time, yet does not take from our work. It takes Christ into our enterprises and makes them more successful.

One may never get to the point where they continually are in God’s presence. You may not win all your minutes to Christ, or even half, but you do win a richer life. There are no losers excepting those who quit.

This concentration upon God is so strenuous, but everything else has ceased to be so. I think more clearly, I forget less frequently. Things which I did with a strain before, I now do easily and with no effort whatever. I worry about nothing, and lose no sleep.

Students can keep Christ in mind even when taking an exam by saying things like, “Father, keep my mind clear… How shall we answer this next questions?” He will not tell you what you have never studied, but He does sharpen your memory and take away your stage fright when you ask Him.

You do not need to forget other things nor stop your work, but invite Him to share everything you do or say or think…

My part is to live this hour in continuous inner conversation with God and in perfect responsiveness to his will, to make this hour gloriously rich. This seems to be all I need think about.

One can pour something divine into every situation.

[Practicing the presence of God] is the secret of the great saints of all ages. “Pray without ceasing,” said Paul, “in everything make your wants known unto God. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.”

If you should forget Him for minutes or even days, do not groan or repent, but begin anew with a smile. Every minute can be a fresh beginning.

Jean-Pierre de Caussade

The present moment is all that matters.

Each moment is a revelation of God.

I will devote myself exclusively to the duty of the present moment to love you, to fulfill my obligations and to let your will be done.

The practice [of God’s presence] is so simple, so easy and so accessible that it need only be wished for it to be had.

God is only asking for your hearts. If you truly seek this treasure, this kingdom where God alone reigns, you will find it. Your heart, if it is totally surrendered to God, is itself that treasure, that very kingdom you long for and are seeking.

All that matters is…to belong totally to God, to please him, making our sole happiness to look on the present moment as though nothing else in the world mattered.

What is the secret of how to find this treasure [of God’s presence] – this minute grain of mustard seed? There is none. It is available to us always, everywhere.

I wish to make all see that everyone can aspire…to the same love, the same surrender, the same God and his work, and thereby effortlessly achieve the most perfect saintliness.

Brother Lawrence

It is not pleasure we seek. Let this exercise [of practicing God’s presence] be done from one motive alone: because we love him.

My set times for prayer are exactly like the rest of the day to me. They are but a continuation of the same exercise of being in God’s presence.

I kept my mind in His holy presence. I recalled His presence as often as I found my mind wandering from Him. I found this to be a very difficult exercise! Yet I continued despite the difficulties I encountered. I did not allow myself to become upset when my mind wandered.

If a Christian is to truly practice the presence of his Lord…then the heart of that Christian must be empty of all else. All Why? Because God wills…to be the only possessor of that heart.

I am in a calm so great that I fear nothing. What could I fear? I am with Him.

While I am with Him I fear nothing.

If your mind sometimes wanders or withdraws from the Lord, do not be upset or disquieted. Trouble and disquiet serve more to distract the mind further from God than to recollect it. The will must bring the mind back in tranquility.

So begin… make that resolution. Now!…Be daring. None of us have a long time to live… what years we have, let us live them with God.

Oswald Chambers (not from this book but related)

The characteristic of a disciple is not that he does good things, but that he is good in his motives, having been made good by the supernatural grace of God. The only thing that exceeds right-doing is right-being…. Jesus is saying, “If you are My disciple, you must be right not only in your actions, but also in your motives, your aspirations, and in the deep recesses of the thoughts of your mind.”

When you are insulted, you must not only not resent it, but you must make it an opportunity to exhibit the Son of God in your life. … A personal insult becomes an opportunity for a saint to reveal the incredible sweetness of the Lord Jesus.

if we are His disciples, we will always do these things [turn the other cheek]. We will not say, “Oh well, I just can’t do any more, and I’ve been so misrepresented and misunderstood.”

Every time I insist on having my own rights, I hurt the Son of God, while in fact I can prevent Jesus from being hurt if I will take the blow myself. That is the real meaning of filling “up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ…” (Colossians 1:24). A disciple realizes that it is his Lord’s honor that is at stake in his life, not his own honor.

the essence of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is— Never look for justice, but never cease to give it.

The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else. “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord”;…  The Highest Good—The Pilgrim’s Song Book

We are apt to think that everything that happens to us is to be turned into useful teaching; it is to be turned into something better than teaching, viz. into character. We shall find that the spheres God brings us into are not meant to teach us something but to make us something. The Love of God—The Ministry of the Unnoticed,

If I will take an honest look at myself, becoming fully aware of my so-called innocence and putting it to the test, I am very likely to have a rude awakening that what Jesus Christ said is true [Matthew 15:18-20], and I will be appalled at the possibilities of the evil and the wrong within me. But as long as I remain under the false security of my own “innocence,” I am living in a fool’s paradise.

Purity is something far too deep for me to arrive at naturally.

Until we can come face to face with the deepest, darkest fact of life without damaging our view of God’s character, we do not yet know Him.

Every God-given vision will become real if we will only have patience. Just think of the enormous amount of free time God has! He is never in a hurry. Yet we are always in such a frantic hurry.

Prayer is not only asking, but is an attitude of the mind which produces the atmosphere in which asking is perfectly natural.

Have you been propping up that foolish soul of yours with the idea that your circumstances are too much for God to handle? Set all your opinions and speculations aside and “abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). Deliberately tell God that you will not fret about whatever concerns you. All our fretting and worrying is caused by planning without God.

We are in danger of being stern where God is tender, and of being tender where God is stern.  The Love of God—The Message of Invincible Consolation,

Look at God’s incredible waste of His saints, according to the world’s judgment. God seems to plant His saints in the most useless places. And then we say, “God intends for me to be here because I am so useful to Him.” Yet Jesus never measured His life by how or where He was of the greatest use. God places His saints where they will bring the most glory to Him, and we are totally incapable of judging where that may be.

is not true to say that God wants to teach us something in our trials. Through every cloud He brings our way, He wants us to unlearn something.

Exercises

Game with Minutes

Boyd describes this Frank Laubach exercise as follows:

This game challenges us to bring Christ to mind at least one second of each and every minute within a designated hour. He called it a “game” both because he wanted it to be “lighthearted” and because he found it to be “a delightful experience and an exhilarating spiritual exercise.”

The how to was a little lacking in Frank’s booklet and Boyd doesn’t  help a whole lot:

Laubach recommends that we begin by designating a particular “uncomplicated hour” to “see how many minutes of the hour you can remember…Christ at least once each minute.” The basic idea is that we need to become accustomed to remembering Christ when our mind has little to do before we can learn how to remember Christ with any consistency in situations that require more attention.

To begin this “game,” think about the times when you tend to be most bored. Designate one or more of these periods as a time in which you’re going to challenge yourself to remember Christ at least once every minute.

This game remains elusive to me.

Waking Up to God

Here Boyd encourages us to spend 10 minutes just after you wake up in God’s presence. Invite Him to keep you aware as you get going in your day. I have tried this and forget most of the time – but overall, I like it.

Inviting Fellow Travelers

Simply, bring others along. Anyone care to join me on this journey? So far I have invited my wife and two directees.

Strategically Placed Reminders

This was the most helpful of all the exercises to me. You can read about it in the “Points of Presence” blog.  Here we place reminders in strategic places to be awake to God’s presence.

Being at Home in your skin

This exercise does not seem to be related to the title of Chapter 2, but I have found it useful for brief moments. I have not integrated this into my Points of Presence. Basically, the idea is that the world supports us through gravity. And the exercise is to become aware of all of the points where our body is sensing the tug of gravity. When we are laying down, it is the length of our body. When sitting, it is our seat and feet. The idea is that God has made this place as home and you can actually experience his holding you through the law of gravity. Feel it. Experience it. I am doing it right now sitting in this chair on my deck. Unusually (actually never in my 70 years), a nuthatch landed on my bare foot as I was doing it. He pecked away and didn’t find anything worth eating, and flew away. But for that moment, the pressure of his little feet were felt.

Boyd says this about this discipline:

Engaging in this discipline, I have found that I feel much more at home in the world because my continual contact with the world has become a sacrament communicating to me I’m always at home in God’s loving presence.

Experiencing God’s Fullness of Life

Greg offers two exercises to help us experience more of God’s fullness of life:

    1. Become mindful of God’s care for me by whispering truths such as ““I could not possibly be more loved than I am this moment.”
    2. I set aside regular times when I darken a room, play some nice background music, and imaginatively see, hear, and sense Jesus pouring his perfect love on me. As vividly as possible, I see, hear, and sense Jesus expressing to me all the things Scripture says about me, but now these truths are intimate, personal, and, therefore, much more impacting. This is called “cataphatic [or imaginative] prayer” in the church tradition and multitudes have found it to be a powerful way of experiencing and being transformed by the fullness of Life that come from Christ alone.

Letting Go

All three authors tell us that to experience God moment by moment – to live constantly in His presence, we need to let go:

“All things hinge upon your hearty renunciation of everything which you are aware does not lead to God,” Brother Lawrence

“The reason I didn’t have it [a sense of God’s ‘hereness’] before was because I failed to let go,” Frank Laubach

Boyd recommends using the old “palms up and palms down” exercise to help us let go.

Whenever you find you’ve begun to focus on things that are taking you away from an awareness of God’s presence in the present moment or are feeling weighed down by the concerns of life, you can simply put your palms down and let it go. Whenever you find you’ve begun to resist God’s movement in your life or are trying to acquire some element of your worth, significance, or security by idolatrous means, you can simply hold your palms up so that your body is in agreement with your intention to receive God’s Life.

I have revised this slightly and reversed the order in what I call the catch and release discipline. You can read more about this in the “Catch and Release” blog here.

Standing in the Middle of Infinity

[Knowing that there is an almost infinite universe above us with distances that stagger the imagination, and a universe below us with particles so small they could travel through light years of steel without colliding with anything] we can think of ourselves as situated in the middle of a virtual infinity extending beneath us into incomprehensible smallness and above us into incomprehensible vastness. To remain aware of the awesomeness of the God whose presence engulfs me, I find it helpful to sometimes remember this fact as I experience events around me. I encourage you to try this exercise. Sit in a comfortable public place and simply observe events around you. As you do so, try to remain aware of the virtual infinity extending above and beneath you and everything you observe. Let your awareness of being situated in the middle, between the infinitely large and infinitely small, form the background against which you observe everything.

As you engage in the discipline of situating yourself in the middle of infinity, therefore, be sure to remain aware that you are surrounded every nanosecond by the infinite intensity of God’s burning, perfect, Calvary-like love.

I am reminded of the phrases from the Canticle of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick

Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
overshadow me.
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.

Observing Your Mind and Heart

Boyd tells us that an important skill in practicing the presence of God is to gain the ability to observe your own experience.

Most people go through life so completely identified with their thoughts, feelings, and urges that they are essentially slaves to them. We don’t make the distinction between “this particular thought” and “me,” so we just ride the waves of whatever happens to be affecting us in the moment. We think we are what we think and feel, moment-by-moment.

Try a little experiment to see if you can experience what I’m talking about. Recall a harsh or judgmental thought that you’ve had recently. It might be something like “I’m so stupid” or “That person is such a jerk.” Remember how it felt or how you responded when you were having that thought.

Now imagine that instead of just thinking that thought, you observed yourself thinking that thought. It might even be helpful to say something to yourself like, “I notice the thought that I’m stupid.” And now, as you observe yourself thinking the thought that you’re stupid, become aware that you’re immersed in God’s ever-present love. Notice what changes as you observe yourself thinking “I am stupid” while engulfed by God’s perfect love. You’ll find the power of the indicting thought dissipates, for you’re now experiencing the truth that you are more than your thought. The real “you” is the “you” that is defined by God’s love, not the indicting thought.

Another thing he encourages us to do, in addition to turning our self-talk into God-talk, is:

I encourage you to cultivate the habit of stepping outside your thought life to simply observe what is there—without judging it—while remaining mindful of God’s loving presence.

Do Everything for the Lord

Lawrence, de Caussade, and Laubach each stress the importance of transforming everything we do as an act of service and worship to God. This is one of the surest ways to stay awake to God’s presence.

Thinking in Terms of “We”

I have taught this as: Turn all of your self-talk into God-talk.

Laubach says that the single most important thing that helped him become habitually aware of God’s presence was when he learned to transform his thinking into a conversation with Christ. “All thought employs silent words and is really conversation with your inner self,” he observes. “Instead of talking to yourself,” he recommends we “form the habit of talking to Christ… Make all thought a conversation with the Lord.”

Cultivating the habit of thinking as a conversation with God rather than merely talking to ourselves is thus challenging, to say the least. Ask God to help you think of creative reminders.

The Space Between Us

This exercise could be summarized as:

Find a way to represent God’s redemptive love filling the interpersonal space between you and others.

In other words, any time you are with another person, try to see God’s love for that person filling the space between you and the other person.

The Primary Goal of Every Social Activity

Boyd describes this exercise as follows:

Whatever other goals you may have as you engage in any social activity—attending church, a party, a sports event, and so on—consciously choose to make your primary goal to love every person you encounter or think about as profoundly as possible. Challenge yourself to remain awake to the truth that each person you encounter has unsurpassable worth, not because of anything worthwhile you happen to see in them, but because their Creator thought them worth dying for.

Silencing the Accuser

Whenever you find yourself judging another, thank yourself for reminding you that you need to live in love.

Volunteering for the Worst Sinner Award

…, when you catch yourself looking down on another person, I encourage you to remind yourself that whatever sin or imperfection you think you see in another person, it is a mere speck of dust compared to the tree trunk of sin and imperfection in your own life.

Seeing through Jesus’ “Unattractive Disguises”

Drawing on the great prayer that Mother Theresa prayed every day:

Dearest Lord, may I see you today and every day in the person of your sick, and, whilst nursing them, minister unto you. Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say: “Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.”

Boyd encourages us to look for Jesus every day / every minute in the unattractive.

Imagine the Child

In this exercise, we are to look at every person (especially those we have problems with) as a little child. What did they experience? How were You working in them as a child, Jesus?

Imagine the Prequel

Recognizing that there is a story behind the present state of everyone we meet and that it might be hard for us to see them as a child, Greg encourages us, in the moment, to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what went before this behavior

[i] For further reading, check out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.