Ever conversed with a person who just really makes you feel heard and received? Who’s undistracted, and all there?
You might be whirling into a coffee shop or dinner with friends with your to-do list clattering in your mind. Or talking on the phone while your kids fight in the other room (#methisweek) and you’re trying to remember whether you’ve added salt to the recipe you’re cooking. . .
But somehow, the person looking you in the eyes, or on the other end of that phone call has the ability to just . . .
Here’s my aha moment of late: Real presence with other people actually begins with the way we’re present with God. That’s when we’re able to set aside image-management (our desires to look good and well put-together in front of someone else—more consuming than being on my phone, if you ask me) to be focused and with someone. It’s hard to create soul-hospitality for the people I love if I still have holes in my own soul that leave me hungry—and scrabbling to get what I want from them.
Even more, as I’ve thought about presence, I’ve been curious as to how present I am in my most central, overarching relationship—with God. More often than not, my attention is sucked away by schedules and material stuff and worry: the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful (Mark 4:19).
The noise in my life . . . chokes God’s presence in my life; my ability to listen.
As I’ve reflected on ways that I’m constantly drifting from Him, I’ve come up with some tips for how we can be “all there” with God.
1. Don’t fake it
This one can seem almost laughable—who would try to fake it with God?–but I find it to be really challenging. Jesus accused the Pharisees of being two faced: They spackled up the outside, “but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
Sometimes I’m pulling out my Bible and spending time in prayer, but am totally preoccupied by what I need to do for work, or my anxiety about one of my kids, or wondering about a social situation. Rather than bringing those things to God and allowing Him to interact with me, I’m putting on an act–pretending to be there while my heart and mind is really somewhere else.
Even when I’m alone, the “outside” of my mind can be participating in a spiritual discipline, but the inside isn’t engaged.I’m not meeting God with my whole self.
The Psalmist prays, Unite my heart to fear your name (Psalm 86:11). I wonder if I was on God’s mind when he penned this one . . . because my heart can be going in about 167,856 directions at once.
I’m just not all there.
I’ve got conflicting desires (check out James 1:5-8 on this one). Scattered attention. My heart isn’t “pure” in the sense of being undivided. But it’s the pure in heart who see God (Matthew 5:8): those whose hearts are all there with him.
I need him to bring myself all together—scattered heart, distracted mind, and all—under the leadership and worship of One.
2. Don’t cover up
It’s interesting to me how many of God’s questions to humans seem to beckon them toward engagement (“What do you want me to do for you?”), and sometimes—like Adam and Eve in the Garden—out of hiding (“Where are you?”).
This fascinates me, because God knew exactly where they were (Genesis 3:9). He knows what we want before we ask (Matthew 6:8). So He’s actually asking not for information, but to relate to us.
I tend to hide from God what I’m uncomfortable with: Anger. Fear. Sadness.
But being fully present means surpassing my first inclination of shame, of hiding when I’m with God.
To me, the beauty of the Psalms is that the psalmist can be both totally with God and totally himself.He both listens to his soul—being authentic about what he’s truly experiencing and feeling, even if it’s not “righteous”–and preaches to it in light of who God is.
Jesus is our shame-lifter. We don’t have to hide anymore.
3. Don’t just exchange information
Date nights are one of my favorite things.
But what would be a really bad date night? To spend the entire time just exchanging information, checking off the list of things we need to cover as parents and people who administrate the same household.
If my husband and I don’t enjoy each other, receive from each other and connect, it would be like we’ve just had a business meeting with good food. Or we sat beside each other to experience a movie.
All of us have had times like that with God too, where we’re just going through the motions, yet not really emerging having interacted with the most high God. We’re just checking off a box, but not allowing ourselves to know and be known.
I want more than this with my man. And I want it with God, too. If I’m coming to God’s Word just for knowledge, I’m missing the one who wrote it. It’s become more important than Him. (Again, the Pharisees were legendary with this.)
But when I’m spending time with God, I want to be exchanging affection, reveling in Him with genuine gratitude, and reflecting on who He’s been in my day. I want to go beyond loving my God “on paper” to truly loving and engaging with Him as the God of my life.
To allow myself to be known by Him, I find it helpful to think about what it looks like to “host” God—to make room for Him. If I were trying to know someone else, I’d invite them over, create some time on the calendar. I’d ask good questions and dialogue with them. That’s how I approach Scripture and time with God—creating sacred space and inviting Him to know me, too.
4. Practice an awareness of God’s presence everywhere
Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
. . . Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.
– Psalm 139, The Message
So part of my task is simply to see him. John Piper observes “The fight for joy is first and always a fight to see.” It’s why Paul prays that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened (Ephesians 1:16-19). Our eyes are the lamp of our bodies, reminding us “in pain” doesn’t equal “alone.”
Think about trying out the ancient prayer of Examen, which helps me comb through my day for how I’ve seen God’s presence—and turns my chin upward (away from my own navel), toward gratitude. Here’s my modern wording of it (you can find a free printable version here):
- Enter God’s presence. Quiet your heart down. Be with God, thinking about who He is.
- Comb through what happened today. Look for places to be thankful.
- Ask the Holy Spirit, “Show me truth while I pray.”
- Pray while thinking, “How was God with me today?”
- Pray while thinking, “How did I respond to God’s presence in my day?”
- Pray about your day, bringing it all to God.
5. Come to Him with open hands
Philippians 2 mentions Jesus didn’t count equality with God something to be grasped—a distinct contrast to the narrative of Lucifer, who wanted to make himself like the Most High (Isaiah 14).
I’m reminded that in the Lord’s Prayer, before we ask for anything, we acknowledge God’s presence and identity: Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done . . .
We come to God like Jesus in Gethsemane: completely transparent about what we want, but holding it with open hands. Not my will, but yours be done. Jesus’ prayer tears me away from judging God’s goodness . . . on whether or not I get what I want.
But when I come to Him with open hands, I acknowledge the limits of my perspective and wisdom. I make space for Him to extend His truth, His wisdom, His vision over my life.
The forces pulling us from God are subtle, yet addictive. Truth: We can only be present with God—saying “yes” to His own presence—by saying the right “no”s to the constant tugs at our attention.
Let’s be all there.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on the author’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.