Practicing the Presence

1 Kings 19:11-13

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

I often search and long to know the presence of God, but the truth is that God’s presence is always with me, but it may be unveiled in different ways. Elijah was told to go to Mount Horeb for the LORD would appear to him there. Three events happened before the LORD spoke: a wind, an earthquake, and a fire. But when the gentle whisper came, Elijah immediately knew it was the LORD.

We live in a fast-paced world. Our day planners fill up with back to back meetings or appointments after work we rush to and from activities. It is a struggle to be still with the presence of God.

Sometimes it takes a loud, chaotic event to get our attention to the gentle whisper.

St. Francis De Sales writes: “Several times during the day, … ask yourself for a moment if you have your soul in your hands or if some passion or fit of anxiety has robbed you of it. … Quietly bring your soul back to the presence of God, subjecting all your affections and desires to the obedience and direction of his divine will.”

Something that keeps coming up through this study of practicing the presence is “rest” slowing down and obedience. In the book, Benedict’s Way, there was an observation of the word obedience in chapter 26. The word comes from the Latin root – to listen. Rest, listening, quiet, gentle, this leads us to a place of love and yielding to God’s way, and through that, God meets us and appears to us.

Adele Calhoun writes, in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, “We all live our lives in the presence of God. In fact, we cannot not live our lives in the presence of God.” … “Practicing the presence is a way of living into a deeper awareness of God’s activity in our lives. Through many small pauses we begin a habit of turning our heart toward God. Through these acts of attention, we express our intention to live in union with Christ. Before we pick up the phone we might say, “Lord I am here. Help me listen.”



In the age of consumerism, we have become adapted to getting things quickly. Anything from Amazon’s two-day delivery to text messages even results from a test. Everything is streamlined and precise. I get frustrated if my Amazon package is delayed by a day or two. It seems unfair, and as silly as this may sound, I feel like I deserve to get it in the fastest amount of time.

But there is something spiritual that happens in the waiting. When we allow ourselves space to breathe, we experience the presence of God. The author of the poem found in Psalm 130 writes about this:

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

When we wait for God, we are met by God, and we become shaped to be more Christ-like. John Ortberg wrote, “Biblically, waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be.”

In a culture of now, God tells us wait, prepare, and ready ourselves for the work of Christ. If we are busy rushing around, it is hard to fully and clearly hear the voice of God in our lives. And the truth is that God is found in the waiting.

What if the lack of waiting in our spiritual lives reveals privilege in our lives? The homeless are forced wait for homes, and refugees can do nothing but wait to return home. But when we have the ability to keep busy, what does that say about us?

What if the lack of waiting in our spiritual lives keep us from being present with each other and with the word of God? I know it can be difficult to find time in the busy-ness of the day to have a personal time of prayer and devotion. Adele Calhoun writes, “The past with its regrets is irretrievably gone. The future with its what-ifs is out of our control. But now, right now, it is possible to be with God. It is possible to wait and say yes to God in what is.” We cannot change the past, and the future is out of our control. But when we practice waiting, we can have a clearer picture of what God desires of us for now in the moment.

But it is important to couple waiting with God and spiritual practice. As Calhoun points out, “Waiting can turn us into demanding, angry or depressed people. But if we will embrace waiting with God, the great gift of developing a mellow, forgiving heart is ours for the taking.” It is dangerous for our health and those around us to practice waiting without God. The spiritual practice of waiting requires us and God to be side-by-side.

“Waiting doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong. It doesn’t mean God hasn’t heard you.” Hosea 12:6 says, “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” May we know this assurance of faith, our God is with us, but it is through the spiritual discipline of waiting God reveals Godself more and we can know The Divine in a deeper way. “[Waiting] doesn’t mean you are wasting time. Waiting is an invitation to wait with God for the God who comes ‘to us like the spring rain’ when it is time.” As Hosea 6:3 says, “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” May we wait with this assurance of faith, and as we consider this spiritual practice of waiting.


Source: Calhoun, A. A. (2015). Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press.


Face-to-Face Connection

The spiritual discipline of face-to-face connections may not always be identified as a spiritual practice. It may seem weird, but through this discussion, I pray you will realize the importance of face-to-face connections in spiritual formation. It because of the lack of presence in our spiritual lives I believe this is important to discuss.
Victor Hugo, a French poet, once said, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
What a beautiful concept! We are beings whose souls desperately long to see the face of God, and often times in scripture, we see this longing deeply connected to lament for forgiveness and penitential scriptures. In Psalm 102, the writer cries out to God from distress, and in verse 2, we read:
Do not hide your face from me
    in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call!
The desire to see God’s face is often linked to forgiveness and wanting to see God’s reconciliation and restorative work in one’s life. This is demonstrated through lament. But the quote from Hugo reminds us that we see the face of God through loving others. It may not be God’s literal face, but God’s essence is revealed through the love for another.
I believe these concepts just mentioned echo what the author of 1 John says very well.

1 John 4:7-8 says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

We are told to love one another because love comes from God. God is revealed through that love. This is manifested through face-to-face connections with others. Since God is love, loving another person reveals God not only to ourselves, but it is revealed to all.

But today, we are surrounded by millions of distractions. It can be hard to take time to interact with people. We often opt to send instant messages rather than talk in person. I know that I have replaced face-to-face connections with the convenience and ease of technology a lot in my life, and this has really challenged me to evaluate the use of technology in my own life.

But the bottom line is that our souls long to be face to face. It is a fundamental part of our creation. God created us in relation. We desire to have real interactions with other people, but more and more, we choose to substitute physical interactions for other forms of communication. This can impact our relationships with others negatively and is realized in our ability to resolve conflict. Calhoun writes, “Our faces – arguably the most vulnerable part of us – go naked into relationships every day.” Not that technology is bad or evil, but there is truth behind these words. We can more easily put up an impenetrable wall around our lives when we hide our faces. This causes resolving things to be more difficult because we become a creation of defense. It enables hate, anger, and fear to take the reins of our lives. Without loving people, we quickly categorize into “us & them”. Dualism overtakes our thoughts and polarizes our opinions.

From there, our lives so quickly fill with a “us vs. them” mentality. We construct these divides between those we deem as different. Hate so quickly overtake our own worlds, but Love crosses those divides. Through choosing to love instead of hate, we see the love in others, and this reveals God in our world. And intentional face-to-face connections allow us to see the other fully human and loved by God.
Real face-to-face connections matter because when substituted with virtual connections we lose the ideas we express through non-verbal expressions and communications which is a huge part of our communication. Calhoun writes, “It is not just words that connect us. It is the face of another that tutors us in empathy, holding our tongue, not interrupting, listening and loving. In a world with so much digital communication, let’s celebrate the good things that happen when we are face to face.”
May we choose to see those around us in love rather than hate; in partnership rather than dissolution. And may we see the face of God revealed through our face-to-face connections.


Source: Calhoun, A. A. (2015). Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press.


Mercy & Worship

Why do we worship? What is the point of gathering as a family of God to sing and hear from the Word every week? We are beings formed from the dust and created to worship, and I know that I often have the tendency of becoming distracted and forget the why behind worship. Too often, it becomes such a routine and the meaning behind worship gets forgotten.

There are numerous passages that discuss worship and why we worship, but I believe 1 Peter 2:9-10 articulates the part of the why I want to discuss today. It reads:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We worship because at one point we had a false identify, but through God’s infinite mercy, we are brought to fullness. We receive mercy, and we become found people. No longer wanders. No longer slaves. We are now a people identified as those reconciled by God. That is something to get excited about! Through our response to this realization, it is only natural for us to worship. It is only natural for us to shout and sing praises to the God who has loved us from the beginning and will continue for eternity. This is why we worship! We worship because we have a reason to. We worship as a reaction and response to the boundless love of God.


Palm Sunday

Mark 11:7-11, NIV

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,


“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Today is Palm Sunday. The day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem not on a warhorse but a donkey. The day when Jesus came riding into the city without bloodshed but with peace. This is Jesus. This is our God. In the gospel of John, the author quotes Jesus saying, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9, NIV).” God is continually revealing God’s self throughout the entire Bible, but we do not fully see God revealed until we see Jesus, the Son of God.

Through Jesus, in Mark 11, God is shown as One who comes to restore and reconcile creation not through violence but through love. Through Jesus, we see God as One who would rather sacrifice and die than to enact violence. The Bible is a story of reconciliation. Those who sang, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Many may not have fully understood this, for many of them resorted back to violence in the crucifixion of Jesus. But on Palm Sunday, we have the create privilege of joining the cries of praise to Christ that day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and we have the advantage of knowing the full story and meaning of Christ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.


1 Peter 5:7

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7, NIV)

In the first pastoral letter of Peter, Peter addresses several issues. The letter’s primary goal is to address group of Christians who once participated in the social and cultural life of the communities around them. After following Christ, they became scrutinized and oppressed. They became strangers in a land they once knew. Peter encourages them and directs them in the way they ought to live.

Near the end, Peter writes an address to the leaders of the church, and he offers them instructions and encouragement. We know 1 Peter 5:7 fairly well. “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because [God] cares for you.” It has become a catchy phrase. If someone is feeling overwhelmed, we often tell them to simply look to God. We tell them to give their anxiety over to God, the Creator, because of the care for His people. Other translations use words like worries and cares instead of anxiety.

The interesting thing is the first word of verse 7. We understand the word cast today as heavily associated to fishing, and when a fisher casts their fishing rod into the water, they have a specific location in mind that they wish to plop their bait. But this takes time and this takes practice. We can apply this same principle to verse 7. When we cast our anxiety or concerns to God, God is always there ready. This is because, as the verse says, God cares for you. This type of casting might take time to perfect. We tend to get caught in a tree or the high grass when we cast our anxiety. We learn and practice when we build our relationship with God. Over time as we participate in community, worship, and pray, casting our anxiety, cares, and worries becomes easier. We have more accuracy, but through it all, we know that God cares for us. This is a blessed assurance!


Abide with Me

The Christmas season is, to borrow the cliché, the most wonderful time of the year. It is filled with opportunities for families to reunite. It is a chance to break out of the drudgery of our everyday routine. The Advent season is a time when we are reminded of hope, joy, peace, and love, and that Christ is Emmanuel—God with us.

Christmas can also be difficult. It can be hard to feel welcome to express anything other than joy and happiness. Whether due to financial troubles, the death of a loved one (recent or long past), or something else entirely, the holidays can be discouraging and challenging. It can be hard to feel like Christ is with us.

I write this in the midst of the death of my grandmother. During this time, it is hard to find language for grief. It’s Christmas time, and Christ’s birth is on everyone’s mind, but the pain is real. However, the hymn “Abide with Me,” written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847, provides helpful words. I love this sobering hymn with deep passages. It is a beautiful poem and has a wonderful tune. It was actually written and revised at the threshold of Lyte’s death. While this hymn is most often used in the church calendar around Lent or Pentecost, I believe it also has a place during Advent and Christmas time. It invites the worshiper to express hurt.

(The Brigham Young University’s men choir performance of Abide with Me is a beautiful arrangement which allows for meditating on the lyrics and allows the listener to freely contemplate.)

“Abide with Me”

Verse 1
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Verse 2
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Verse 3
I need your presence every passing hour
What but your grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like yourself my guide and strength can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

Verse 4
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting?
Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Verse 5
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Haven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me.

Lyte writes for an occasion like a family’s first gathering after hardship. It has given language for grief as my family works through the death of my grandmother, and speaks to anyone who has painful memories or difficult situations arise during the holidays. No matter what is happening for you this Christmas, Lyte’s words can speak to you.

Take, for example, “Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou, who changest not, abide with me!” It is a line that is entirely destitute. There have been many times in my life when I realized that everything was different. The passing of my grandmother has certainly been one of them. It has affected everyone in the family, it has changed family dynamics, and it can be a hard reality to grasp, but a reality we have to come to terms with eventually.

The words, “The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide!” is a cry for help amongst grief and pain. It is a cry to feel the presence of God. Even if you aren’t dealing with having financial struggles, hurt among family, or a family member’s death, the holidays and Christmas is a busy time, and it can be hard to know and feel the presence of God. The hymn is a constant prayer for the Divine to be near and stand beside us.

What seems most important is how the hymn centers the singer with the Divine, and gives an assurance of faith. At the end of verse 3, Lyte writes, “Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.” Even though we are surrounded by death, heartbreak, and sorrow, we have assurance through Christ, our Lord. Through darkness, tears, and hardship, Christ stays the same. Through light, joy, and good times, Christ abides with us.


Slowing Down

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6:25-34, NIV


When Jesus was talking to his disciples, he told them not to worry, and he uses the birds of the air as an illustration. This passage is not often thought of as a passage about worship, but it actually is. One of the key points in this passage is the first word of verse 26. Jesus said, “Look.” To look or consider something requires us to take time, and when we take time to slow down, we become centered.


Taking time to look, consider, or observe is crucial in a person’s worship and spiritual life. Without that, it is like looking at the world through a pinhole. It is hard to see the beauty because of all the things happening, but when a person slows down, they can see all the things they can be grateful for. It is a good step in developing a healthy spiritual life.


Life can easily become overwhelming. This is no mystery. Without realizing it, our days can be filled up with commitments and appointments. This is especially the case with the holidays. Thanksgiving just flew passed us, and now Christmas and New Years are fast approaching. It can be hard to take time to consider the birds and the lilies, but taking time each day to simply be, can change an overwhelming life into an encouraging one. This can look different from person to person. For me, I spend time each day praying around a prayer rope. This helps me to slow down and focus on God. Slowing down is unique to each individual, but it only takes a little time to just look around.


The Psalms & Lament

The book of Psalms is not merely a deeply theological collection; it is an example – a handbook – of how we can worship. Filled with myriad examples of sorrow and joy that are all lent toward God.
Psalm 95 is an expressive example of how vibrantly full of worship the book is. It is a Psalm with great refrains of doxology. It calls us into worship, and it tells the story of God.
6 O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!                                               7 For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,                                                                                                                 and the sheep of his hand. (Psalm 95:6-7, NRSV)
There are many kinds of psalms; you can break them into ‘genres’ or ‘categories.’ It helps to understand each Psalm in a new way when you separate them. Just as music is labeled in order to give the listener an initial awareness. There are Psalms of Thanksgiving and Covenant Psalms. Along with Wisdom Psalms and Torah Psalms. These are common and helpful identifiers when reading the book of Psalms.

The Psalms listed above we are quite familiar with, but there are also Psalms of Lament. Lament Psalms take up quite a large portion of the book. It is important to consider all the different genres as we develop our understanding of scripture and worship, but often the laments are overlooked. They have a tendency to make us uncomfortable, but as the Psalmist cries, “How long, O God?” We too can cry out to God in our anguish. A perfect example of a lament Psalm is Psalm 13:


1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. 5 But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:1-6, NRSV)


In Psalm 13, we see despair, fear, and pain—among other things. The genre of lament can be complicated, and it is more complex than this short blog could hope to cover. If you examine the passage above, you’ll find there is a praise at the end. Even though the Psalmist is in deep sorrow, there is a shift to praise in verses 5 and 6. The heart of worship is praise, but we cannot forget that there is pain in this life.
It is important to note that lament is not simply an Old Testament concept. Jesus, himself, wept for the death of Lazarus (John 11:35). John does not tell us in his Gospel what Jesus said or anything specific except for the fact that he wept. The lack of description leaves a certain degree of emptiness for the reader. The lack of description depicts the pain. By only saying two words, John creates a genuine, deep sense of mourning and of lament.
There may be some who would argue that Jesus discouraged lament. In Luke 8:52, Jesus tells the parents of a dead child not to weep or lament. From the surface, one could come to the conclusion that he was discouraging the practice of lament, but Jesus was about to bring resurrection and hope. He was not attempting to chastise them for crying. Jesus understands lament, but he is in the midst of pain bringing hope. It wasn’t a rebuke against lament, sadness, or the pain they felt. It was encouragement of hope and resurrection.
The book of Psalms, as well as the whole Bible, is filled with celebration, praise, wonder, and awe, but it is also filled with lament, sadness, and pain. Authentic worship gives praise to God, and it is free to encompass all parts of life. God is present with us. God celebrates with the community and cries with the community, His followers. This is the blessed assurance we have. God is with us in the joy and the pain. As the book of Psalms shows, God is not uncomfortable with our pain, but is there at work in it.

As we continue to walk through what worship is, we are defining worship, and we are continually seeing a broader, fuller view of worship that is formative. By adding lament into a personal spiritual practice, we can connect with God and worship God in new ways as we develop our relationship with the God of love. But how do we start implementing this kind of practice? A good starting point would be to read through the lament Psalms and pray through the experience. It is important to understand that we are not the audience of worship, whether in private or corporate worship. God, who is the author and perfecter of our faith, is the audience. God is bigger than us and is with us as we go through life.


God Creates Beauty

As I look out of my office window, admiring the changing colors of the leaves, it reminds me of how incredible God’s creation is. Everything and every action in God’s creation has a purpose. The tree, in order to protect itself for winter, stops producing the chemical which is needed to form budding green leaves. The leaves, lacking the proper nutrients, change colors and eventually die. The dead leaves on the ground act as a nutrient to the soil, and a source of food to the tree roots neatly tucked away just under the surface of the ground. This entire process, is triggered by one event: the shortened days and longer nights. What a beautiful and amazing thing.


God doesn’t reserve the beauty exclusively for nature, He creates it in our lives as well. The Apostle Paul writes, “28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV). Like the tree in nature, God has a way of creating beauty in a seemingly inclement season.


From the beginning of time, God has created order out of chaos. The author of Genesis tells us that with a few verbal commands, God turned a dark formless void into this vast, incredible universe we have today (1:1-31). If God can create this vast complex universe with just spoken word, imagine what He can do in our lives.


Inevitably, we will come to a point in our lives that seems dark, without shape, and void. The good news; God can take that darkness and shape it into something beautiful. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, God has paved a way for us to experience the most beautiful life possible. The power of Christ has opened the door to eternal joy. As we call on the name of Christ, God begins a restoration process in our lives (1 Peter 5:10). He prepares us for the impending “winter months” and stands with us during the storms.


So, as I stare out of my office window, I see more than the beautiful colors of the changing leaves. I see all of the times God has protected and stood by me during my “winter months”. As a challenge, I urge you to just sit, spend some time admiring God’s creation and reflect and all the beauty He has created in your live.