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A lifetime spent with your Father: How to practice the presence of God

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Psalm 23

Two friends, Bill and Tom, were drinking coffee at an all-night café. They got into a discussion about the difference between irritation, aggravation, and frustration. About 1:00 AM, Bill said, “Look, Tom, I’ll show you an example of irritation.” He went to the pay phone, put in some coins and dialed a number at random. The phone rang and rang. Finally a sleepy voice answered, and Bill said, “I’d like to speak to Jones.” “There’s no one here named Jones,” the man replied as he hung up. “That,” Bill said to Tom, “is a man who is irritated.”

An hour later, at 2:00 AM, Bill said, “Now I’ll show you a man who is aggravated.” Again he went to the phone and dialed the same number. The sleepy man answered and Bill said, “May I please speak with Jones?” “There’s no one here named Jones!” came the angry reply as the man slammed down the phone.

An hour later, at 3:00 AM, Bill said, “Now, Tom, I’ll show you an example of frustration.” He went to the phone, dialed the same number, and when the sleepy man finally answered he said, “Hi, this is Jones. Have there been any calls for me?”

We all tend to be irritated, aggravated, and even frustrated. I’ve discovered a simple remedy for such stress and anxiety: practicing the presence of God. On those days when I have sought to walk with God, all across the day, I am far less irritated, aggravated, or frustrated. On the days when I don’t, I’m not.

How do we practice his presence each day, all day?

Admit that you need communion with God

David recorded his prayer life thus: “Evening, morning and noon I call to God, and he hears me” (Psalm 55:17). These were the three watches of the Jewish day: sunrise, noon, and sunset. During each of these hours, every day, he called out to God in prayer and worship. As he fed his body breakfast, lunch, and supper, so he fed his soul.

So should we.

The medieval Christians went even further in their daily discipline of prayer. Taking their cue from Psalm 119:164, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances,” they divided the day into seven “offices” of prayer. Called “lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, and compline,” the hours themselves varied according to the monastery and the day, but the intent was always the same. Seven times every day the monks would stop whatever they were doing to spend fifteen or twenty minutes in prayer, communion and worship.

Nor are Christians the only faith to do this. In Malaysia I saw Muslims leaving their mosques with their foreheads bleeding because they had rubbed them with such fervency on their prayer rugs. Five times each day, the typical Muslim will turn toward Mecca and bow in prayer.

Adoniram Judson, the great missionary, took seven times a day to be alone with God. At dawn, nine in the morning, noon, three, six, nine, and midnight he would withdraw for secret prayer. George Muller, John Hyde, and other famous men and women of prayer had regular times all across the day to be alone with God.

Jesus himself made time to be alone with his Father all across the day. We see him praying early (Mark 1.35) and late (Matthew 14.23). He prayed in performing miracles, teaching, and ministering. He prayed constantly to his Father, and took time regularly to be alone with him.

If his soul needed such times, doesn’t ours?

Start early

I met God in the morning

when my day was at its best,

and his presence came like sunrise

like a glory to my breast.

All day long his presence lingered.

All day long he stayed with me,

and we sailed in perfect calmness

o’er sometimes troubled sea.

Other ships were torn and battered.

Other ships were sore distressed,

but the winds that seemed to drive them

brought to us a peace and rest.

So I think I’ve learned the secret,

learned from many a troubled way,

you must seek God in the morning

if you want him through the day.

Jesus started his day early with his Father—read Mark 1:35. And then he knew his direction for that day, and for his ministry. He was not alone in Scripture:

•Jacob: “Early the next morning he took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it” (Genesis 28:18).

•Hannah and Elkanah: “Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah” (1 Samuel 1:19).

•Hezekiah: “Early the next morning he gathered the city officials together and went up to the temple of the Lord.”

•Job: “When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them” (Job 1:5).

•David: “Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn” (Psalm 57:8).

•The psalmist: “I arise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word” (Psalm 119:147).

•To sum up: “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3).

Nor was Jesus alone in Christian history:

•Bishop Asbury: “I propose to rise at four o’clock as often as I can and spend two hours in prayer and meditation.”

•Joseph Alleine rose at four o’clock for his business of praying until eight. If he heard other tradesmen at work before he was up, he would exclaim, “Oh, how this shames me! Does not my Master deserve more than theirs?”

•Charles Simeon devoted the hours from four to eight in the morning to God.

•Tens of thousands of Korean Christians rise every morning at 4:30 to pray for an hour.

Why is this practice important? Why must we begin practicing the presence of God early? First, it ensures that we spend time with God.

If I wait, more often than not I miss a conscious experience with God across the day.

For instance, it’s hard for me to do my personal Bible study on Thursday mornings early because of the prayer meeting we’ve begun then. So if I wait until I get to the office I’m surrounded by work; if I wait until that night I’m tired and ready for bed. I must carve out a time first thing, or I will likely make no time at all for God.

Second, it prepares us for the day to come.

•Runners stretch before the race, some for as much as an hour.

•Golfers hit the driving range before the course if they can.

•Baseball players swing the weighted bat before they get in the batters’ box.

•Basketball players shoot warm-ups before the game begins.

It just makes sense spiritually for us to do the same.

Third, it sets our spirits right with God before anything else intervenes.

When we start the day with God, the Holy Spirit becomes the “lens” through whom the rest of the day is seen and filtered.

Do you have a place and time with God every morning? An appointment with him? If you eat breakfast for your body and read the newspaper for your mind, do you make a time to prepare your soul for the day?

A. W. Tozer made the point well: “It is not mere words that nourish the soul but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.”

Make hours during the day for God

First, we admit that we need such a time. If we don’t, we’ll likely not make time like this. Time is too precious a commodity for us to spend on anything unless we must.

In recent weeks I have learned that this is something I must do. Not only do I need time in the morning, but also after lunch and at night. Working from David’s prayer, I have begun to make time after lunch to be alone with the Father, if even for just a few minutes. And each night before I go to bed, I have begun to spend a few minutes alone with him as well. Not to go over a prayer list, or to do my daily Bible study, but just to be alone with God. This is becoming a pattern I want never to stop.

Second, we make a place. Do you have a place set aside for the Father? A desk, a chair, a closet, some place where you can be alone with God? A place used only for that purpose?

I found upon moving here that there is no place in the building I can be sure of being alone. And so Roger Garza made me a prayer bench, and it sits in my office right next to my desk. I can kneel on it whenever I want to, and need to.

We all need such a place.

And third, we make a time. We make appointments for our souls with the Holy Spirit of God. Would you make such an appointment tonight, for tomorrow? At least three times across the day? As you will feed your body breakfast, lunch, and dinner, why not your soul?

Conclusion

Wesley was convinced that God does nothing except in answer to prayer. Archbishop William Temple said, “Coincidences occur much more frequently when I pray.”

Richard Foster says, “We are working with God to determine the future! Certain things will happen in history if we pray rightly. We are to change the world by prayer. What more motivation do we need to learn this loftiest human exercise?”

Do you need God to change things all through the day?

It really can be done. Thomas Kelly says, “There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.”

May it be so for my soul, and for yours.

Oswald Chambers’ classic devotional guide, My Utmost For His Highest, is the best I’ve ever found, and so I read from it every morning. I highly recommend its use to you. Here are two statements he makes on prayer which capture the essence of our subject:

“We think rightly or wrongly about prayer according to the conception we have in our minds of prayer. If we think of prayer as the breath in our lungs and the blood from our hearts, we think rightly. The blood flows ceaselessly, and breathing continues ceaselessly; we are not conscious of it, but it is always going on. We are not always conscious of Jesus keeping us in perfect joint with God, but if we are obeying Him, He always is. prayer is not an exercise, it is the life” (p. 147).

“When a man is born from above, the life of the Son of God is born in him, and he can either starve that life or nourish it. Prayer is the way the life of God is nourished. Our ordinary views of prayer are not found in the New Testament. We look upon prayer as a means of getting things for ourselves; the Bible idea of prayer is that we may get to know God Himself” (p. 241).

Do you want to know him better? Then you must practice his presence. What will you do to practice his presence more fully today?