A friend has been reading the book Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord by Michael Reeves. For some reason, I never connected with any of the insights he was sharing from the book. (I need to read it myself). I have heard a lot of teaching on the fear of the Lord over the years. Some have emphasized that it really means that we should be in awe of God. This teaching and none of the other teachings really rang completely true with me. Awe and respect are part of it. But there is more to the fear of the Lord than that. I thought that there is real fear that is being talked about when God says: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). Or when Luke describes the church as “walking in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31). Or Paul, when he says that “knowing the fear of the Lord, [he] persuades others.” Or the writer to the Hebrews “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
My understanding of the what it means to have a fear of the Lord is best described with a story and an analogy. Many years ago, I worked as a summer intern at a power plant in Michigan. One day one of my fellow co-workers and I walked into one of the substations outside the plant. This is where the power coming from the plant is transformed in order to be distributed over high voltage lines to the community. The substation was a place where you could literally feel the power of the electricity. It invoked a sense of awe at its immense power. We lacked wisdom as to how to act in the presence of this much power. Somehow, we managed to trip a safety mechanism that shut down the power coming from the substation – which in turn tripped the electric generators. We watched in awe as the knowledgeable workers restored the power at the substation. It took more than an hour for power to be restored. They worked carefully and with wisdom. They had a proper fear of the risks of working with such power but that fear caused them to learn how to properly and safely handle that power. I learned that to work with these substations, one must first fear their power. But then learn how to use that wisdom to work safely with the high voltages. Over time in working with electricity, I would say that we stil fear the power of the electricity but now know how to work with it safely.
Here is how I think this applies to fearing the Lord. Like the substation, the Lord has immense power – more than we can ever imagine. And to work with Him and to walk with Him in His power we should first fear His power (the beginning of wisdom). Truly fear. And then as we learn His ways and develop wisdom, we can move in the midst of His great power
Jesus demonstrated some of that power when he cursed the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22). And He told his disciples that they can have that power as well. Too often, we are like my fellow intern and me, and we do not fear that power and use it without wisdom. We have not learned to walk in the fear of the Lord’s power.
We fear God like one fears the power of the substation. That fear should lead us to seek wisdom about how to be with God, to work with Him and learn His ways. And over time, we work and walk with Him as those knowledgeable substation workers “in the fear of the Lord.” To learn to walk in the fear of the Lord is the antidote to becoming too flip with our relationship with God.
One last note. Hebrew parallelism is where a Hebrew author says something and then says the same basic idea in a different way. We see this throughout the Old Testament. In Psalm 147:11, the Psalmist says:
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Do you see what he is saying?
The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him and those who hope in Him.
To truly fear the Lord, you are hoping in Him. You are believing in Him. You are trusting Him.
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:
The traditional view – God is timeless – i.e. outside of time completely
God is temporal but everlasting – He exists at each moment of time and experiences temporal succession (one thing follows another in time)
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.”
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
Take every thought captive ((2 Corinthians 10:5) – How can we do this
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.”
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.
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:
An idol can be anything we use to meet the need that only God can meet.
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
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)
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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
Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
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
God created man in His image to become like himself, capable of having fellowship with Him. In the garden of Eden two ways were set before man for attaining to this likeness to God. These were typified by the two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God’s way was the former: Through life would come the knowledge and likeness of God; in abiding in God’s will and partaking of God’s life, man would be perfected. In recommending the other, Satan assured man that knowledge was the one thing to be desired to make us like God.
I am a knowledge junky. I am one who hungers and thirsts for knowledge. And I like it that way. There is certainly no room for boredom. Whether the knowledge is about cosmology or theology or theories of consciousness – there is no end to obtaining knowledge. But with Andrew Murray’s introduction to his chapter on “The Spirit of Truth” in his book, The Indwelling Spirit, I saw something for the first time. In the Garden, God set before man two paths – one was the path of life and the other the path of knowledge. “Through life would come … knowledge” Murray says. Not “Through knowledge would come life.”
So what does that mean for a knowledge junky? Do I miss “life lessons” because I am absorbed in “book lessons?” Do I retreat from the messiness of life to the safeness of knowledge acquisition? I think that tendency is real. Today, may I not be afraid to enter into the messiness of life. Today, may I choose to learn through walking with God in the life all around me. May I choose to treasure every person whose path I cross.
A number of years ago I read the classic from Brother Lawrence The Practice of the Presence of God. I found the concept winsome and alluring but did not see how I could adopt his practices into my life. He was a monk who spent time peeling potatoes and, well, being a monk. My life was filled with work, ministry and family that were all highly cognitive and highly relational. I tried many things to develop the habit of practicing the presence of God but failed miserably.
Then about 10 years ago I came across Frank Laubach’s Game with Minutes. Here was a man who led a worldwide organization that taught millions of people to read. Clearly Frank was not living the lifestyle of a monk. Yet he claimed that through the habit of the Game with Minutes, he was able to connect with God / to be aware of His presence 24/7. He journals about the difficulty at first but that he finally achieved a breakthrough where for the rest of his life he was able to connect with God every minute of every hour of every day. Again, the Game with Minutes was a failure for me. I was never even close to acknowledging God every minute of every day.
Recently I was preaching on the 24/7 presence of the Holy Spirit and developed a simple spiritual discipline that I call Points of Presence. The book, Present Perfect was the vehicle that God used to teach me this simple discipline. For the first time, I began seeing progress in learning to practice the presence of God. I have used this to provide points of intersection with God’s Spirit throughout the day.
In Jesus Calling, Sarah Young records the following words that she believes she received from Jesus:
The best defense [against anxious thoughts] is continual communication with Me, richly seasoned with thanksgiving. Awareness of My Presence fills your mind with Light and Peace, leaving no room for fear.
Dallas Willard, in his book The Great Omission says the following:
The first and most basic thing we can and must do is to keep God before our minds. David knew this secret and wrote, “I keep the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure” (Psalm 16:8-9).
This is the fundamental secret of caring for our souls. Our part in this practicing the presence of God is to direct and redirect our minds constantly to Him. In the early time of our practicing, we may well be challenged by our burdensome habits of dwelling on things less than God. But these are habits—not the law of gravity—and can be broken. A new, grace-filled habit will replace the former ones as we take intentional steps toward keeping God before us. Soon our minds will return to God as the needle of a compass constantly returns to the north, no matter how the compass is moved. If God is the great longing of our souls, He will become the polestar of our inward beings.
I offer this discipline to help you be in continual communication with God with the prayer that you would learn to walk with the Spirit / to keep in step with the Spirit throughout your busy and cluttered life.
Points of Presence
A Simple Spiritual Discipline
Objective:To learn to acknowledge God in everything you do and everywhere you are. Another way to describe this is to be awake to or aware of God’s presence 24/7.
Pick a Trinitarian name to acknowledge throughout the day as a breath prayer
Pick just one thing that you do many times every day to use the breath prayer throughout the day. Here are some that I use:
Send / receive email
Send / receive text
Make / receive a phone call
Drive past a speed limit sign
Move from room to room
Pick up your phone
Turn a page in a book
Take a bite to eat or take a drink.
Start a new phase of a project
I drive a lot, send a lot of emails and pick up my phone a lot throughout the day. The idea was to take these things I do many times every day and build a habit of acknowledging God when I do them. It was very important for me to do this one habit at a time. I started with driving. Every time I pass a speed limit sign, I take a deep breath and exhale: “Jesus” or “Father” or “Thank You.” After I ingrained this point of presence into the fabric of my life I added another point of presence. And so on. Now, every time I pick up my phone or send an email I take a deep breath and then exhale: “Lord” or “Abba.” In another month or two I will add yet another point of presence.
I strongly encourage you to build these up one at a time. Don’t add another until you have the one you are working on built in as a habit (for me about a month). Then add another. And so on. Keep going until, “In everything you do and everywhere you go” you acknowledge God (See Proverbs 3:5-6).
As this process of “acknowledging” has grown, I have begun to deepen the breath prayers from one-way monologues into times of listening or intercession. For example: “”Bless Jon as he receives this email.” OR “Speak Lord.” As you expand your points of contact with the presence of God throughout the day, you can begin to listen for His voice during these points of presence.
Yesterday, the text for the sermon was Psalm 100. I was reminded that these points of presence are times of entering into His presence. And the Psalmist’s injunction is instructive: Come into His presence with singing; Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise! As you make contact with the triune God during these points of presence, make it a moment of praise and thanksgiving.
Here are some other books that have helped me along this path: Present Perfect by Greg Boyd – This was a wonderfully helpful book. Greg wrote it even though he hasn’t perfected the discipline. And that helps. He provides several ways to practice the presence of God at the end of each chapter. Don’t miss them. Life in the Presence of God by Ken Boa – this book has over 100 every day ways to connect to God. This might help you more than it helped me. I need things that repeat day in and day out so that I can cultivate the habit. The Attentive Life by Leighton Ford – This book takes a little different turn – and although it didn’t move me down the field in terms of cultivating a 24/7 habit, it presses the same point with different helps along the way.
May the Lord use this simple discipline in your life to deepen your relationship with Him.