Man sitting in hammock facing river

Practicing the Presence of God

I sit by a window that reaches upward 18 feet. Through it, I see a neat garden and play area where children in the community can play within walled security while their parents find books or read. A full and colorful Japanese maple anchors a corner, and proverbs or quotes are etched against the brick wall that hems in this garden. My air pods fill my ears with rain, providing a chance to escape the din of library staff who are greeting patrons. The setting is familiar and comforting for me, especially since I have learned to bring warm clothing into an area whose controller of the thermostat embraces arctic temperature ranges!

And in this strange quiet, my soul feels nourishment. I’m in seclusion, solitude, for the sake of my soul and the sake of our church. Every few months, I come here and seek the Lord’s presence and leadership, creating large swaths of silence. People often ask me about prayer, and my answer is usually surprising: “Praying is much more about listening than speaking.” Scripture primes the pump, prepares the perception, softens and readies the heart, but I find a growing need for extended silence. It’s unnerving when you decide to pursue silence and listen. At first, it feels a bit silly. When I describe this to others, I often see skeptical shock. “How can you just listen?”

When I was a young man, I learned to listen on the deer stand. I would climb the flimsy steps to the landing outside of the box I had constructed with my dad. (Yes, before the luxury of modern blinds, we built ours out of pallets and scrap wood!) Slowly, the dark would turn gray, and the woods would come alive. It was a great time for me to listen. Most hunters I know will smile knowingly when you ask about the dawn while on the stand. Many say that they feel closer to God in that setting than they do in a church service. I have known that feeling, too.

That same pattern punctuated my high school summers as I spent all day on a tractor by myself. Numbed by the drone of the engine, it became white noise as I practiced hundreds of “right turns” as I cut the hay for baling.

In today’s world, silence is nearly extinct. Even as I sit by this empty garden, the “rain” in my ears is an intentional disruption of the noise that would distract me. But in this silence, I welcome the “still small voice” of God’s presence. I imagine the same voice that the disciples heard when Jesus said, “Come away to a lonely place where you can rest. . .” Gladly, purposefully, the deep sighs of busyness melt away, if only for a few hours or days. And as “Brother Lawrence” once described, I “practice the presence of God.”

Do you feel choked with activity? Plan a day to listen. On the deer stand, in your backyard, at a lonely tree beside a lake, or in a long leisurely drive with nothing but windshield as your companion, “come away to a lonely place” with Jesus. You really will find rest for your soul.

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