We live in stressful and scary times. We are all currently impacted by a worldwide pandemic with lots of uncertainty. With 24 hour-a-day news cycles and social media, we are confronted with constant updates and opinions that keep this potentially deadly virus at the forefront of our minds. In addition, the financial and economic world is in turmoil causing more stress. A natural reaction to such events is fear.
This is a normal and understandable emotion when our lives are impacted by something that can seemingly threaten our life and the life of our family. In these moments, the voice we often hear is one of fear and this voice can be relentless.
A Worldwide Pause
In response to the coronavirus threat, events around the world have been either delayed, suspended, or cancelled, creating in a sense a pause in activity to hopefully limit the spread of the virus. As our schedules have shifted, we may be tempted to fill up our time with other activities, partly as a way to cope with the fear and stress we may be experiencing.
What if rather than activity, we used this worldwide pause to redirect our attention to hearing the voice of God.
Rather than a voice of fear, panic, and desperation, we can listen to a voice of hope, peace, and even joy. But how do we do this? Can we really hear the voice of God when circumstances can seem overwhelming? Is this even possible?
Practice the Presence of God
A practical example of this is Brother Lawrence who was a lay person living in a monastery in France in the 16th century. His walk with God was so inspiring that a book was written about him called Practicing the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence made it a practice to acknowledge that he was in the presence of God throughout the day. Notice that word again, practice!
As we continue down this path of dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, rather than giving into fear, let us make the choice to put our faith into practice. Brother Lawrence gives us some simple and practical things to do that help us apply Gods biblical principles that lead to peace. Below are some things I have found helpful in practicing God’s presence and hearing His voice.
Brother Lawrence said to “form the habit of conversing with God continually, and referring all we do to Him, we must first seek Him with some diligence.” To beat back fear and anxiety, we must come to the place of practice with a heart resolved to persevere.
In our Genesis 3 world, we tend to respond from our flesh and brokenness. It takes time to reverse this trend.
Even Brother Lawrence, who was so known for his love for God, talks about having “no small pain in this exercise, and yet I continued it, notwithstanding all the difficulties which occurred.“ Hearing from God and experiencing His loving and compassionate presence is worth our efforts to persevere.
When practicing the presence of God, it is important that we learn to bring all of ourselves to Him. God, who knows the number of the hairs on your head, is interested in every part of your life. Brother Lawrence mentioned “speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in all our affairs, even as they happen.”
Whatever you may be experiencing during this time of uncertainty, bring it to Jesus because He cares for you.
Share everything with Him, as you go about your day. Pay attention to your emotional world and cast your anxieties on Him. Be specific and name exactly what your fear is and bring it into the presence of your loving Heavenly Father. Without being specific, it is way too easy to be overwhelmed and generally anxious, not knowing even what you are fighting.
3. Daily Duties
Sometimes we can approach our life with God based on certain times of the day or an appointed schedule. We might have quiet time in the morning or spend a few minutes at the end of the day in prayer.
But in practicing God’s presence, we can experience Him throughout the day.
Brother Lawrence talks a lot about his duties in the kitchen and how he would “do everything for the love of God.” These were duties which he did not like to do, but he did them for God. As he put Colossians 3:23 into practice, he felt “more united to God within activities and duties than when he practiced during time set apart for meditation and prayer.”
This is such an important point. Specific times for prayer and study are important but we can draw close to God as we go about our regular activities of our day. Too often we lament we do not have enough time in our day to study and pray. Brother Lawrence would encourage us to experience God in the regular course of our day.
4. Continual Conversations
Along with duties of the day, it can be helpful to think of being in constant communication with God throughout the day. Brother Lawrence offers some helpful tips here.
“This is how I consider myself in His holy presence. My most usual method is a simple attention and a general passionate regard for God. Let him then think of God as much as he can. Let him accustom himself, by degrees, to this small but holy practice.”
Sometimes a simple phrase can be helpful to reorient your thoughts back to God.
Sometimes I will simply say “it is good, Father, to be in your presence.” Brother Lawrence sometimes would say, “My God, here I am devoted to Thee. Lord, make me according to Thy heart.”
You might have a general prayer on your heart along these lines:
“O my God, since You are with me, and I must now, in obedience to Your commands, apply my mind to these other things, I pray You will grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence. Please prosper me with Your assistance, receive all my work and possess all my affections.”
5. Stinkin’ Thinkin’
When we are experiencing fear and anxiety, it is easy to let our minds focus on our fears and ruminate over them. In the midst of fear, we are bombarded by negative thinking. The apostle Paul talks about taking every thought captive and bringing them to Jesus. Brother Lawrence said “useless thoughts spoil everything. The mischief began there, but we ought to reject such thoughts as soon as we perceived their inappropriateness to what we were doing and return to our communion with God. I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of God.”
This takes perseverance and discipline, but when we get in the habit of noting when our thoughts go wrong, naming them specifically, rejecting them, and returning out attention to God, we will begin to experience greater peace. As we continue this practice we may find as Brother Lawrence did, that “the wandering thoughts stopped on their own, in a manner he could give no account of.”
As we practice, let’s be kind to ourselves.
We will find our minds wandering and we can end up beating ourselves up for not being disciplined enough. Brother Lawrence struggled with this too:
“I did not trouble or worry myself when my mind wandered involuntarily. I focused on His presence all the day long as well as at the appointed times of prayer; at all times, every hour, every minute, even at the busiest times of my work.”
When you catch your mind wandering, just stop and redirect your heart back to God. God is pleased to dwell with you. Any voice of condemnation is from the enemy.
When we are going through stressful and uncertain times, fear can become our companion. But even during overwhelming circumstances like a flood or viral pandemic, we have a Companion who offers us peace. Jesus told his disciples; “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Instead of fear, we can experience a peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7) even amid trouble. Brother Lawrence said, “In the noise and clutter 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.”
Now, stress in the kitchen may not compare to stress from what we are currently experiencing, but I believe what Brother Lawrence is saying is true for all of us as we seek communion with God and hear His voice. We can have a sense of “great tranquility” in this storm as much as we might in the middle of a powerful worship service. Let’s use this time as an opportunity to practice the presence of God and hear the voice of Truth. May the peace of God rule in our hearts as we seek to hear His voice.