It is one thing to mentally know the wonderful benefits and taste of a freshly brewed cup of coffee created with freshly roasted beans combined with perfectly heated water that is allowed to sit for the right amount of time for maximum flavor and minimum bitterness and quite another to actually savor the experience personally. It is also one thing to have such a lovely cup of coffee every now and then and another thing to be experienced in crafted and savoring such a brew yourself on a regular basis.
The differences in experiences is vast. One is merely head knowledge and the other is actual experience; and one is occasional awareness and the other is experienced practiced awareness.
Too often Christians fall into the category of theological mental awareness or occasional awareness of the presence of God. Too often Christians find themselves in the gap of being aware of the presence of God in daily life is something quite biblical and a sign of spiritual health (take a look at Part 1 for more on that topic) and practically living in the presence of God on a regular and daily basis.
In his book Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Donald Whitney gives some helpful pointers for moving beyond mental knowledge to actual awareness of the presence of the Person of God on a regular basis:
What we are told to do is (1) seek Him through His Word, or (2) seek Him through experiences that are founded on His Word, or (3) seek Him through daily life in ways that are informed by His Word…When we seek the presence of God mediated – directly or indirectly – through Scripture, we are not imagining God as we would like Him to be. The basis of our experience with God is God-revealed truth, not our individual, idiosyncratic opinions about God. We are then much more likely to sense the presence of God as He really is rather than as a God comprised of our preferences. (And, incidentally, we are less likely to spout the motto of those who have made God into what they want Him to be: “My God isn’t like that!”) (pp 60-61).
But my experience of God must go beyond just knowing He is present, closer than my own breath, nearer than my own skin. The Bible also tells me of the character of the God who is present. So I know that I am to seek to experience a God who is not merely present, but holy. And I know that He is merciful and patient and enjoys having me talk with Him. I know there is One keeping company with me at this (and every) moment…and who loves me beyond my comprehension. I know that the One whose presence surrounds me as the universe surrounds the earth has all power and is bringing all the world to His appointed conclusion. I perceive the presence of the One who has been an earthbound man like me and understands me thoroughly, and before whom I will stand in judgment. I engage the One who gave His life – from His first breath in Bethlehem to His last heartbeat on Calvary – to atone for my sins and who rose again to bring me to His heavenly home.
This is very different from seeking the presence of a virtually unknown god, a god about whom nothing is clear, distinct, or known. That would lead me to seek an experience rather than a Person, or else not be able to distinguish a Person from a presence (pp 61-62).
What practical steps can we take to grow in our awareness of the continuous presence of God?
Go often to the place where God has revealed Himself most clearly – the Bible…Shouldn’t we expect to experience God’s presence primarily by means of that which He gave explicitly for the purpose of making Himself known to us: His Word? But don’t simply read from the Bible, close it, then walk away. Absorb the water of the Word of God through meditation. Otherwise, what you have read may be like rain that evaporates on a sidewalk. Linger over something from it so that it percolates into the soil of our soul. Listen long enough until you hear it for what it is – the voice of God.
Acknowledge His presence with you by talking with Him…When a person’s prayer life is decaying by silence, is it any wonder that he or she feels unaware of the nearness of God? God is a real Person who is very present. Ignore Him and He will seem distant. Talk with Him and you will almost always feel Him closer…Countless people have testified that praying from God’s Word brings them into the presence of God as never before. Praying this way makes prayer more what it ought to be, namely, a real conversation with a real Person.
Seek Him in the manifestations of His presence given only in congregational worship…While there are experiences with God that are given only in private worship, it is equally true that the Lord manifests His presence in ways unique to public worship.
Continually reaffirm the truth that He is omnipresent…We need to develop the sensitivity to see evidence of what we know to be true, namely, that God is with us. Look for God everywhere and in everything. Say to yourself often, “The Lord is here,” especially in the ordinary places of life (pp 65-67).