Practicing the presence of God

Published 8:22 pm Friday, February 12, 2016

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

This year I have been reading through the Bible book-by-book, and in working my way through Exodus I was struck by the theme of “the presence of God.”

This theme has been an area of interest ever since a professor recommended “The Practice of the Presence of God,” by Brother Lawrence, many years ago. Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century French monk, wrote this beautiful little book about how we can cultivate a mindfulness of God’s empowering presence in our daily lives.

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He wrote, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees.”

What would it be like to truly do life with God moment by moment? It does not come naturally to any of us, but it should be the goal of every Christian believer.

After God delivered the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery, He promised to be with them and guide them every step of the way: “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22).

For children of God today, our pillar of fire is the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit both guides and empowers the followers of Jesus. We don’t have to do life alone. Ever.

And it is crucial that we never even try to do life alone. Ever.

Just a few chapters later, in Exodus 17, Israel is in a battle with the Amalekites.

“So Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose for us men, and go and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’ So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands … so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek” (Exodus 17:9-13).

What was the key? Was it what was happening below, on the battlefield, or what was happening above, on the hill? Clearly, the victory was really won on top of the hill. As long as Moses’ hands were raised toward God, the Israelites prevailed.

Oh, that we would learn to keep our hands raised to God! No, I don’t mean walking around with arms raised, but keeping our focus on the Lord moment by moment.

As 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 puts it, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

What a life! Christ Jesus has made such communion with God possible, by dying for sinners and rising from the dead so that we might experience no separation from God.

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.