Pastor David B. Curtis

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Living in His Presence

Psalm 16:11

Delivered 07/22/2001

How aware are you of the presence of God? Is your life lived as if in the very presence of God? Do you live in constant communion with Him? The Scriptures teach us that He is always with us:

Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV) Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." It is almost impossible to reproduce in the English the emphasis of the original, in which no less than five negatives are used to increase the strength of the negation, according to the Greek idiom. We could render it this way, "I will never, no, never leave thee, nor ever forsake thee"

David talks about God's presence being with us everywhere:

Psalms 139:7 (NKJV) Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?

David realized that he was in God's presence no matter where he went:

Psalms 139:8-12 (NKJV) If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. 11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me," Even the night shall be light about me; 12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

This closeness of God is a far cry from what Bette Midler is trying to get across in her song "From A Distance". I don't know whether she wrote this song out of misunderstanding or spite, but I do know that it is totally wrong. Her song, "From a distance", indicates to us that God is far away and keeps his distance from earth. But the Scriptures teach us that God is not far away but present with us, always.

Jonah foolishly tried to run away from the Lord by setting sail for Tarshish. He paid the fare and boarded the ship at Joppa in a pointless effort to flee from the Lord. A few days into his Mediterranean Cruise, God decided to get Jonah's attention by sending a mighty wind, which threatened to break up the ship. Little did the reluctant prophet know, but a great fish was divinely appointed to swallow him up.

No matter where we go ­ God is there. While it is true that we cannot flee from God's presence, we must recognize that we can lose the sense of God's presence:

Psalms 13:1 (NKJV) How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?

God is always present with us, but we are not always aware of His presence. In fact, I would have to say that most Christians are very seldom aware of God's presence. To most Christians, God is more of a life-preserver, something to be used in emergencies, rather than a life-companion. Because of our neglect of God, we miss out on the real joy that comes from abiding in His presence:

Psalms 16:11 (NKJV) You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

When David said to the Lord, "In your presence there is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures for evermore," he meant that nearness to God himself is the only all-satisfying experience of the universe. God created us, and He created us to live in fellowship with Him. Only as we do that will we know true joy and satisfaction.

A little more than 300 years ago, a middle aged man named Nicholas Herman entered a monastery in France and lived the remaining 30 years of his life as a cook. Though his life was lived in obscurity, he accomplished one thing that destined him for greatness. He sought and eventually achieved the ability to walk continually in God's presence.

As he approached the end of his life, he wrote about it in a book that came to be called "The Practice of the Presence of God." This book, written by an obscure monk, has influenced countless Christians over the centuries, helping them discover the joy of living day-in, day-out in God's presence.

Brother Lawrence said, "I still believe that all spiritual life consists of practicing God's presence, and that anyone who practices it correctly will soon attain spiritual fulfillment."

In one of his writings, he said: "If I were a preacher I would, above all other things, preach the practice of the presence of God. If I were to be responsible for guiding souls in the right direction, I would urge everyone to be aware of God's constant presence, if for no other reason than because His presence is a delight to our souls and spirits."

"I honestly cannot understand how people who claim to love the Lord can be content without practicing His presence. For there is nothing in the world sweeter or more delightful than a continual conversation with God."

I believe that what Brother Lawrence calls, "practicing the presence of God" is what the Bible calls "abiding in Christ."

John 15:1-3 (NKJV) "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

Jesus uses "clean" here in the sense that they had been cleansed of their sin, they were Christians. We know this from his use of this same word "clean" in chapter 13:

John 13:10 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you."

Here he says that not all of them were clean, because Judas was with them. So, clean refers to salvation. Jesus is talking to Christians when he says:

John 15:4 (NKJV) "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

It is to those who have trusted in Him that Christ says, "Abide in Me." To be a Christian and to abide in Christ are two different things. "Abide in me" is the active voice. That is something we are expected to do. We initiate that. The word, "abide" is the simple word, "remain." "Stay with me," he is saying. "Keep close to me." In other places, it is the word, "Follow me," "do what I say," "obey my commands." Christians are exhorted to abide in Christ, because this privilege and duty may be neglected, and very often is.

"And I in you." The implication is, "Let me abide in you." That is passive. It is not something we can initiate, but something we can expect to happen and trust God for.

To abide is to have fellowship with Christ, to walk closely with Him, it is to walk in communion with him, it is what Brother Lawrence calls, "practicing the presence of God."

Abiding in Christ has the same result as being in His presence that we saw in Psalm 16:11 - joy:

John 15:11 (NKJV) "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

Believers, we are called to "abide" in Him, to daily practice His presence. How do we do this? How do we abide in God's presence? Brother Lawrence said,

"Remember what I advised you to do: Think about God as often as you can, day and night, in everything you do. He is always with you. Just as you would be rude if you left a friend who was visiting you alone, why abandon God and leave Him alone?"

In the beginning, Brother Lawrence declared that a little effort was needed to form the habit of continuously conversing with God, telling Him everything that was happening. But after a little careful practice, God's love refreshed him, and it all became quite easy. "Do not forget Him! Think of Him often; adore Him ceaselessly; live and die with Him. That is the real business of a Christian."

Whatever it is that you do with the majority of your time - whether you're a businessman, a student, a homemaker, or whatever else it may be - God wants to be part of it. We see this truth in Psalm 127. Listen to what the Psalmist says:

Psalms 127:1 (NKJV) Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain.

This Psalm is saying, "Whatever it is you have to do, God wants to be involved." If you've got a house to build, God wants to build it. If you've got a city to watch, God wants to guard it. You've got a business to run, he wants to run it. You've got a family to take care of, he wants to be the Lord of your home.

Whatever it is you do, God wants to be involved; he wants to be in charge. There's nothing about your life that is unimportant to him.

Sometimes we may wonder, "Is God really concerned whether or not I make this sale? Is God really concerned whether or not I meet this deadline? Is God really concerned about whether or not I make a good grade on this test?" The answer is, always, "Yes!"

He wants to be involved in every aspect of your life - and not only involved; he wants to be in charge. Whatever it is you have to do, he wants you to do it his way. There's a good reason for this: His way is always the best way.

So, as we approach our responsibilities in life, we are to surrender them to his control. We're to say, "God, I'm giving you control of my business; build it for your glory. God, I'm giving you control of my marriage, I'm giving you control of my family; build us together for your glory. God I'm giving you control of my future; build it for your glory."

When Herman Cain took over as CEO of Godfather's Pizza, the company was in the midst of a severe financial crisis. Within one year, he brought the company into profitability. When he was asked how he did it, he said, "The secret to my success is my faith in Christ and God almighty - and they are no secret! I have to give God the glory in everything I do and in every success I've achieved."

Whatever it is that you're responsible for, God wants to be in charge. He wants to build the house. He wants to run the business. He wants to watch over the family. He wants to be in charge, because his way is the best way for you.

If you want to live in God's presence 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you can. You can experience God's presence in your life; you can experience God's peace in your life. It is there. It is available.

Now, hopefully your thinking, "How?" "How can I come to the place that I am experiencing God's presence in my life?"

Let me give you some practices that will help you to practice the presence of God in your life.

1. Solitude:

How much time do you spend alone with God? I mean just you, your Bible and a notebook. Studying His Word, praying to Him, writing down what you learn. It is impossible to have fellowship with Christ when you spend no time with Him.

Psalms 119:148 (NIV) My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.

Believer, you will never know God's presence in your life if you don't spend time in solitude with God. That is so simple, so basic, but do you do it?

A teacher said, "The experts say how you spend the first hour of your day plays a major role in determining how the rest of your day will go." I don't know who his source was, or who were the "experts" he referred to, but I think there is a lot of validity to what he said. If you are going to live in God's presence, you need to start your day with Him. David said:

Psalms 5:3 (NKJV) My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up.

A lot of people I know don't spend time alone with God in the morning, because they say they don't have time - their mornings are too hectic. I understand that. So let me make a suggestion - make a commitment to get up earlier than you have to. This will prevent you from starting the day in crisis mode. You know what I'm referring to, don't you? Have you ever done that? You wake up, and the first thing you think is "Yikes! I'm already behind!" It doesn't have to be that way. Before the day is over, you'll go through stresses and anxieties and maybe even a crisis or two, but you don't have to start your day that way.

If you get up earlier than you have to, you can move a little slower, you can be a little more deliberate in the choices you make, you can enjoy a little time of solitude with your God.

When I worked for NARF, I would get to work an hour early and spend that time reading my Bible. If we are going to live in His presence, we need to start our day with Him. Get your day started right; get up earlier than you have to. Jesus did this very thing. Listen to what Mark says:

Mark 1:35 (NKJV) Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.

If you want to get your day off to a good start, you've got to get up a little earlier than you have to so you can spend some time in God's Word and in prayer. David did:

Psalms 5:3 (NKJV) My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up.

If you are going to practice the presence of God, start the day off spending time with Him, reading, praying, worshiping.

Not only will solitude help us to practice God's presence but so will:

2. Music:

I believe that music is a tremendous aid to practicing God's presence. A big area of influence in our lives is music. Everywhere you go people are listening to music. Is the music you listen to helping you to focus your mind on things which are above? God has put music in the heart of man. Singing is an expression of the emotion of the heart.

Johann Sebastain Bach said, "The aim of all music is the glory of God." All through the Scriptures we see God's people singing. W. Barclay writes, "In the orthodox Jewish synagogue there has been no music since AD 70. When they worship, they remember a tragedy." They cannot sing because the Old Covenant ended, but we have much to sing about in the New Covenant.

Psalms 100:1-2 (NKJV) Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! 2 Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing.

As we sing songs that reflect God's person and work, we are brought into His presence through our songs.

Psalms 33:1-4 (NKJV) Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. 2 Praise the LORD with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. 3 Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. 4 For the word of the LORD is right, And all His work is done in truth.

Good music that exalts God lifts our hearts in worship and praise. Music can take us from a down and discouraged attitude to one of praise and adoration.

1 Samuel 16:23 (NNAS) So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.

That is a powerful testimony to the effect of music. I believe that music can greatly enhance our worship and our fellowship with the Lord. I know in my own life whenever I get down, whenever I am struggling spiritually, I put on a good praise tape and my heart is encouraged and refreshed. It focuses our mind and heart upon the Lord and His goodness and helps me to dwell in his presence.

Now, along with solitude and music there are some attitudes that we must develop if we are going to practice the presence of God.

DEPENDENCE:

In the book of James believers are warned of the damaging attitude of independence. This warning that James gives his readers is very pertinent to us today:

James 4:13-15 (NKJV) Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that."

What James is describing here is practical atheism. The person he is describing imagines himself as the final authority over his life and then lives as if it were true. He lives as if he were independent of God. Please understand that It is possible to express our dependence upon God in formal worship such as church attendance, prayer, or Bible study, and then disregard Him in the daily pursuits of life.

In verse 13, James gives us the illustration of an independent businessman planning out his future. He says, "Come now" - this expression is only used here and in James 5:1, but it is common in secular Greek. The idea expressed here is, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself, don't you know what you are doing?"

"You who say" - the word "say" is lego and means: "saying something out of reason or logic." They have reasoned it out and are in the habit of saying, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"

The problem that James has with this is that it is presumption caused by arrogance. How do they know that they can do all this? They are not omniscient or omnipotent and they are forgetting about the One who is.

Is God in all your plans? None of us have any right to plan tomorrow, next week, month, or year without acknowledging God in our plans.

Corrie Ten Boom said, "Connected with Him in His love, I am more than a conqueror; without Him, I am nothing. Like some railway tickets in America, I am 'Not good if detached.'"

Jesus said this in:

John 15:5 (NKJV) "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

It is not a question of your sufficiency, but admitting your insufficiency. No figure could more forcibly express the complete dependence of the believer on Christ for all fruit bearing than this. The branches will produce nothing unless they remain connected to the vine, from which their life and sustenance flows. Believers, we can produce "nothing" of any spiritual value unless we live in a dependent relationship to Jesus. He is the source of all life and productivity for the disciple.

Whenever Brother Lawrence considered doing some good deed, he always consulted God about it, saying, "Lord, I will never be able to do that if You don't help me." Immediately he would be given more than enough strength.

When he sinned, he confessed it to God with these words: "I can do nothing better without You. Please keep me from falling and correct the mistakes I make." If Brother Lawrence didn't sin, he thanked God for it, because only God's grace could keep him from sinning. That folks, is an attitude of dependence.

Another attitude that we must have if we are to abide in His presence is:

GRATITUDE:

As Christians, we are commanded to be thankful:

Colossians 3:15 (NKJV) And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

An important element in allowing the peace of Christ to rule is found in the closing words of the verse - "and be thankful." And God's peace is not going to rule in your heart if you are not practicing His presence, if you are not abiding in Him. The present tense of the Greek text suggests the translation: "keep on becoming thankful." There is a connection. A constant spirit of thankfulness is an essential part to letting the peace of Christ rule in one's heart. Because of our tendencies as sinful people, our natural bent is to be unthankful, and an unthankful person is one in whom the peace of Christ does not rule. Thankfulness is thus something we must develop and work at. It takes time and effort. This is suggested by the present tense which refers to that which is to be repeated or continued, and by the verb ginomai: "to become, come to be." The Greek text is looking at a process of developing and maintaining a thankful spirit.

Christians should be the most thankful people in the world. Our lives should be full of praise and thanksgiving. We have so many reasons to be full of thanksgiving, even in the midst of adversity, but because of the world around us and the attitudes of most, and because of our own bent toward self-centeredness, we are prone to be very unthankful. Instead, we are prone to be full of the kind of mental attitude sins that lead to complaining and grumbling.

Paul called the Roman Christians to live for God out of gratitude for all that he had done for them:

Romans 12:1 (NKJV) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

Please notice what Paul uses here for a motivation for them to come to a total commitment. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God." His motivation is gratitude! In view of all that God has done for you, you are to live for Him. There are no threats here, just a call for a response of gratitude. Many today teach that man will not live as God desires him to live unless he is threatened. As popular as that notion is, it is false. Gratitude is a much stronger motivation than fear.

Brother Lawrence insisted that it is necessary to always be aware of God's presence by talking with Him throughout each day. His principal endeavor has been to stay as close as possible to God; doing, saying, and thinking nothing that might displease Him. He has no reason for doing this, except to show his gratitude for God's pure love, and because God deserves infinitely more than that anyway. He said, "Out of love, I try not to say, do, or think anything that might offend Him. My only request is that He do whatever He pleases with me."

An attitude of gratitude will motivate us to dwell in His presence. It is extremely difficult for those who are ungrateful to practice the presence of God.

Brother Lawrence declared that he felt much closer to God in his day-to-day activities than most people ever believed to be possible. The worst trial he could imagine was losing his sense of God's presence, which had been with him for so long a time.

The joy, fulfillment, and peace that so many desperately seek is only found in an abiding relationship with Christ. Why not make abiding in Christ a priority in your life?

Brother Lawrence wrote, "If we only knew how much we need God's grace, we would never lose touch with Him. Believe me. Make a commitment never to deliberately stray from Him, to live the rest of your life in His holy presence. Don't do this in expectation of receiving heavenly comforts; simply do it out of love for Him."

When David said to the Lord, "In your presence there is fullness of joy, in your right hand are pleasures for evermore," (Psalm 16:11), he meant that nearness to God himself is the only all-satisfying experience of the universe.

Let's take God at His word, let's choose to believe that "in His presence is fullness of joy", and then let's make every effort to live in His presence 24/7. We can learn to do this if we will spend time in solitude with Him and listen to music that exalts Him. Then let's work on our attitudes; we need to have attitudes of dependence and gratitude.

Believers, we have been joined to Christ, the God who created the universe dwells in us! I believe that there is so much more to the spiritual life than most believers ever experience. Let's learn to practice the presence of God. As His children, let's live in communion with Him, thinking of Him constantly, and seeking to do only those things that please Him. Let's make practicing His presence the priority of our lives.

Media #207

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