I recently read a small book titled The Practice of the Presence of God. It’s a curious little book, and one quite out place in this modern time. It describes a monk known as Brother Lawrence, who:
“had found such an advantage in walking in the presence of God… His very countenance was edifying, such a sweet and calm devotion appearing in it as could not but affect the beholders. And it was observed that in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen he still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquility of spirit. “The time of business,” said he, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”
I don’t know exactly what Brother Lawrence’s kitchen was like, but when I’m in “the greatest hurry of business” while “several persons are at the same time calling for different things,” I completely lose it.
I long to “possess God in as great tranquility” in my moments of chaos, as I do in my quiet time. To think that I might rely on God in such a way that my “very countenance was edifying” sounds like spiritual growth indeed!
So how do I cultivate the kind of Godward affection that transforms my day to day living like Brother Lawrence? How do I get to a place of being often with God?
Greater Affection Is Possible!
“Pray continually.“1 Thessalonians 5:17
Two words have never been so straightforward and yet so difficult to measure up to. But the fact that Paul gives us this command fills me with hope!
Since Scripture is true and infinitely more trustworthy than my feelings or experiences, the discipline of praying continually must be possible.
Communing with God in the big and small moments of my day, in the quiet and the chaos, sounds too good to be true. I’m not a football girl, but to borrow an analogy:
My day is chock full of interceptions, fumbles and tackles. It’s exhausting, discouraging, and sometimes downright defeating.
But Scripture is full of objective truth that tells me I can seek God steadfastly—that I can hear his voice above the commotion and follow it. I can pray continually.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy. One cannot coast up Everest. It is a hard, committed, strategic climb. Leaning in spiritually to our Father’s heart, from one moment to the next, requires new habits, genuine affections, and spirit-empowered transformation.
Affection Requires Dependence
I listened to an excellent sermon from John Piper, on the text in 1 Thessalonians 5. I highly recommend it. In it, he connects the passion of prayer and relationship with God, to the discipline of prayer and relationship with God. Passion does not exist without regular dependence on God. Piper advises,
If you want to have a vital hour-by-hour spontaneous walk with God, you must also have a disciplined regular meeting with God.
The Word is where we see God’s glory afresh, and find new affections stirred for Him. We must pray and ask the Spirit to give us a love for God’s word, and to make our reading and meditation fruitful.
Nobody is inclined to the Word, or sees spiritual wonders in the Word, or is satisfied with the Word, who does not pray and pray and pray the way the psalmists did. (Piper)
Prayer is vital to understanding God’s Word and bearing fruit by it. One manifestation of fruit is a more passionate prayer life. Relating to God through His word and prayer are co-dependent practices.
Affection Requires Discipline
There is a beautiful tension in the Bible, between our role in treasuring Christ, and the Spirit’s role in transforming us to desire to treasure Christ. Scripture never really let’s either one stand alone. Jude says:
“But you, dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting expectantly for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life.”Jude 1:20-21
How do we build ourselves up in our faith, and keep ourselves in the love of God?
- Fervent prayer
- Bible reading
- Studying to better understand the Bible
- Actively participating in your church
- Worshiping God through song and poetry
- Meditating on the character of God and the gift of salvation
- Reading the testimonies/biographies of the saints who have gone before us
How does the Holy Spirit fit into this? Jude’s opening greeting says it well:
“To those who are the called, loved by God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ. May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.”Jude 1:1-2
We can be confident in God’s sovereign grace to carry us and uphold us in our weakness. Thanks be to God! As we strive with all our heart and might to fight for the joy of seeing the beauty and surpassing worth of Jesus, we can say with Paul:
“I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me”1 Corinthians 15:10
A Practical Beginning
I have found it incredibly helpful to have a handful of Scriptures to pray as I open my Bible (usually reluctantly, and under-caffeinated). I am weak, and everyday my flesh is warring against my Spirit as I approach God’s word for strength.
Sometimes I’m just not in the mindset to think of a prayer from scratch. I am tired, distracted, and quite possibly feeling cold and distant.
The Psalms posture my heart to receive God’s instruction, and acknowledge my need for His divine illumination.
Verses from Psalm 119 in particular, which I made into a printable for you, are simple, honest prayers. The theme of these scriptures remind me to set my affections on God and his Word, and to eagerly desire His transformation in my life.
Print this sheet out and tuck it in your bible or journal.
I pray that together we would press into the True Vine, Jesus, and that He would possess all our affections. I pray that in knowing Him more fully, we would be transformed into His likeness.