“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
There are moments when God breezes into our life. I call these “Godness moments.” Quite often, we don’t notice anything special during the moment. The realization comes later, sometimes years later. At other times, we know in the moment that something remarkable is happening. We’re just not clear about why it’s remarkable.
Such a moment happened during the first week of my freshman year at college. I was walking through the main commons, frantically looking at my schedule and campus map, trying to find my way to the next class. When I looked up, I noticed a man walking toward me. He was older, in his late twenties (older being a relative term; I was eighteen at the time).
“Walking toward me” is putting it mildly. He was making a beeline straight at me, walking with intention and purpose. As he came near, I stopped. He approached me and extended his hand. I shook it as he said, “Good morning!” I returned the greeting.
He pulled a book out of his bag and handed it to me. He looked at me more as a friend than a stranger and said, “You need to read this book.” He smiled at me then turned and left as quickly as he had arrived. I stuffed the book into my backpack and hurried to class.
After dinner, I opened my backpack to get my textbooks and do homework. And there was the book. I had totally forgotten about it in the rush and confusion of the day. I read the title of the book, The Practice of the Presence of God.
I opened the book and began to read the story of Brother Lawrence. It starts with his Godness moment. In midwinter, while looking at a barren tree, he realized it would soon spring to life again. He had seen this renewal of life every year but this time he was caught by the wonder of it and, for the first time, became aware of the presence of God.
What fascinated me most was the title of the book. What did Brother Lawrence mean by “The Practice of the Presence of God?” At first, I thought he was referring to prayer. Prayer was part of it but Brother Lawrence’s practice was much more. In one of his letters, Brother Lawrence wrote:
“When we are faithful to keep ourselves in His holy presence, and set Him always before us, this keeps us from willfully offending and displeasing Him. It also produces within us a holy freedom, and (if I may speak so boldly) an intimacy with God, so that we are able to ask and successfully receive by his grace, anything we need. By often repeating these acts, they become habitual, and the presence of God rendered, as it were, natural to us.”
I think of prayer as creating a “thin place” where the physical and spiritual worlds come closer together. The veil between the two becomes thinner. In this prayerful thin place, we get closer to God and hear God’s “still small voice” more clearly.
Praying continuously, both in thought and deed, Brother Lawrence had become, in effect, a “walking, talking thin place.” By his practice, Brother Lawrence was continuously in the presence of God and those around him felt the divine reality.
I saw the strange man who had given me the book one more time. It was two months later when August’s warmth had given way to October’s chill. I was walking to class and for some reason looked up. There he was across the street waving to me.
After hearing my story, a friend asked me who I thought the man was. I really hadn’t wondered until then. After thinking about it, I have no doubt that the man was a messenger from God.
You can’t plan for God’s breeze but, through prayer and spiritual practice, you can throw your doors and windows wide open.
Eternal God, help me to be in your presence at every moment, and, when I stray, speed my return.
In Jesus’ name I pray,