How I’m Learning to Be Present with God

I remember when I first heard the advice to “be present.” It seemed a bit irrelative and I recall wondering how we, as humans, could be anything but present. What other choice do we have?

photo: Kari Shea, Unsplash

Decades ago, I sat in the office of a therapist, struggling in a relationship with an extended family member to the point that the conflict consumed my heart and mind.  As I described the “evidence” I had for this person’s disdain for me, the therapist counseled, “I want you to practice being present.”

What it means to “Be Present”

My thoughts spun as they tried to interpret what I heard. The confusion on my face was obvious, so the therapist explained. “When you’re together with family, you begin to focus on the feelings you perceive that this person has for you. You concentrate on what might happen or what you believe the person is thinking about you rather than allowing yourself to enjoy the company of others in the room. Instead of remaining present, in the here and now, you allow your mind to dwell on your own imaginations of the future, fueled by hurts and conflicts of the past.”

I got it. And she was right.

I allowed my imagination to run away with me to a degree where I was forfeiting the blessing of engaging with those I love. I had no way to know what anyone was sincerely thinking of me, and by assuming I knew, hurt and anger consumed me.

Light

photo: Zain Bhatti, Unsplash

My therapist shone a great light on breaking free from my obsessive thought patterns.

The concept was simple yet simultaneously profound. It made tremendous sense but was difficult to grasp at the same time. It took years to perfect the new habit of “being present.”

Pursuing Perfection

Who am I kidding?

I still haven’t perfected it!  In fact, I felt the Lord’s whisper in my prayer time this week saying, “Be present with Me.”

Oh, my heavens. Yes. The heavenly lightbulb of truth illuminated some terrible habits practiced in my time with Him:

  • I allow past hurts and frustrations toward others consume our time together
  • In prayer, I pelt Him with worries and concerns for the future
  • I seek Him for guidance and counsel, even when I’d already received His direction
  • When I’m with God, I fix my mind on my needs, my concerns, my desires, myself

Please hear me well: None of these practices are bad. In fact, I believe the Lord enjoys hearing our heart’s cries and trusting Him enough to share life with Him. These are valuable steps toward building relationship with Him.

But I’d allowed them to become all-consuming.

The conviction came with the realization that my habits hijacked my focus on God. By incessantly dwelling on self, worries, on the future, and on the past, I forfeited the blessing of just being with God. I missed the precious moments when I could connect—fully connect—with His nearness.

Several weeks ago, out of the clear blue, the Lord showed me what it was like to be present with Him. I wrote about that beautiful experience here. But I still didn’t attribute that time of blissful meditation to “being present.”

I haven’t encountered the Lord in the same way since. Not even close. I’ve repeatedly asked the Lord for more of what He gave me that day. As I seek Him, I feel drawn to the concept of being present. Even so, I didn’t see the correlation <<duh>> until just this week. (I’m so glad the Lord doesn’t condemn us, especially when we’re slow to understand.)

For whatever reason, I allowed myself to be truly present with the Lord that day. I felt it happened completely by accident, but now that I reconsider, I see the Lord had a hand in it. (Imagine that!) He was painting a picture for me—allowing me to see beyond my own habits and expectations, into a new depth of knowing Him.

Learning to Be Present with God

I have little explanation for “how” I plan to be present with God, but l offer all that I have:

My heart stirs to the recollection of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God” (NIV).

photo: The Faithful Merchant (affiliate link)

In the stillness of quieting my mind (not “emptying my mind for the universe to fill” as New Age teaches, but rather quieting my thoughts and considering the Lord, His ways, His character, and His might), I find that I cease striving as the NASB translates the verse (Ps 46:10).

(Just for fun, I ordered this necklace to help me remember to practice.)

Through less “striving” and more “being still,” I catch a glimpse of “being present” with God. There, I embrace the blessing of simple nearness to Him. In those moments, He can impart wisdom, direction, peace, or anything else He desires. Or, He can invite me to a time of fun. It’s His choice. And whatever He has for me, I do not want to miss it!

When I reach out to God, even first thing in the morning, finding a quiet and reflective mindset can feel difficult. Here are some steps I’m trying to take more regularly in my time of prayer and meditation:

  • Focus on the character and nature of God. A great worship song or two prove valuable to this process. I like to leave the music on, but lyrics are sometimes distracting so after I worship, I switch to an instrumental playlist. See some of my favorites here.
  • Eliminate distractions. Once I change playlists, I put my phone and computer far out of reach.
  • Quiet confession. Here I simply agree with God on recent things I’ve done that fail to bring honor to Him. This can be actions, attitudes, thoughts, or words. I ask that He cleanse my heart and help me walk in righteousness before Him.
  • Intentionally receive His gifts. Through the Word of God, I know that He loves, forgives, redeems, draws me closer to Him, and so much more. I intentionally receive each gift that He brings to mind, naming each one and accepting (almost like unwrapping) it. It helps to recall the manifestation of these gifts that I’ve experienced in my life so far. I recall times when I felt His love or His nearness—which brings eager expectation for what He has next.
  • Move toward stillness. Often I ask for the Lord’s help in this. I set aside each interrupting thought—sometimes by acknowledging or even writing it down and committing to return to it after I’m present with God. I don’t deny my worries and desires, but try to delay my thoughts of them while I practice being present with the Lord. For me, this can take some time but I’ve learned it’s worth finding the discipline to sweep the unwanted thoughts aside and lean into the Lord.

These steps don’t represent any special formula or ritualistic way of drawing near to God. I’m simply learning that they’re personally helpful as I press into Him.

I encourage you to give them a try if you’d like, or to practice whatever steps you deem necessary to be present with the Lord and embrace the blessing of His presence.

I’d love to hear about your journey as you grow in the practice of being present. What works for you? What doesn’t work? How have you grown in the process of being present throughout your walk with God?

Blessings,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Rachel

    Wonderful advice!
    In my moments of stillness, and practicing “presence” with the Lord, I find that He never fails to meet me.
    Spending time with Him refreshes me in a way that nothing else can.
    One thing I’ve began to regularly do as I purpose to be present with God, is stop and recite Samuels words, “here I am Lord. Speak for your servant is listening.”
    Wouldn’t you know that He always has something to say! Sometimes, it’s as simple as “here child, just rest. Let me sing over you.”

    Loved this post! ????

    Reply
    • Cathy McIntosh

      Hi Rachel! What a lovely comment! ???? I use those words of Samuel’s many times too! God is soooo good!

      Thank you for stopping by the blog today! ❤️

      Reply

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