Presence prayer is choosing to believe in and concentrate on God’s continual attention towards us in order to increase our awareness of and dependence upon his very personal presence.
1. First resolve just to start and finish each day as Brother Lawrence did, by inviting the Lord to rule your day as you think about it before you rise and by offering him the results at the end of the day before you fall asleep. Do not wait until you have mastered this habit, but set yourself a goal of several days or weeks during which you will simply invoke the Lord’s presence, asking him to speak, before waking fully and before sleeping fully.
2. When you reach your mark, note any ways in which your awareness, your daily life, or anything else has changed. You may consider more practice of the same or may feel it is time to move further into the discipline.
3. Choose something regular in your day that you will use as a prompt. Perhaps it will be the sight of your favorite color, the quarter-hour chime of a clock, or a daily chore such as walking the dog. Whenever your prompt appears (or sounds), pause to invite the Lord into your actions, your words, your thoughts, your emotions. Every few weeks, you may need to change your prompt to stir the practice, so that you do not become mired in habituation and miss the Lord. Think of these pauses as checking out to rest for a moment in the “chapel of your heart.”8 Perhaps you will imagine Jesus with you in your sanctuary.
4. Regularly note the impact that these rest-stops have in your ordinary life. How is the Lord present? Do you feel like you are cooperating with God in the little things? Have you begun to miss God if you wait too long to take a break with him? Do you find the practice arduous? Have other conversations or tasks changed as you seek God regularly?9 Discuss these with a friend in the journey. Perhaps you will journal once a week so that you may revisit your notes in times of discouragement.
5. You may wish to play the game of minutes,10 where you try to see how many minutes in a day you can be aware of God’s presence.
6. Perhaps you will pick one hour each day to continuously cooperate with God, even in the littlest tasks. Ask him what he thinks while making each decision, tightening every bolt, reading every paragraph, etc. Enjoy the perfection of that hour with him. Initially, such a goal might seem unrealistic. Laubach laments, “If one thinks of God all the time, he will never get anything else done.” But he reminds himself (and us) that “concentration is merely the continuous return to the same problem from a million angles. We do not think of one thing. We always think of the relationship of at least two things, and more often of three or more things simultaneously. So my problem is this: Can I bring God back in my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind as an after image, shall always be one of the elements in every concept and precept?”11
7. Eventually you may invite the Lord into everything, all day long, no matter how trivial, from riding the subway in a rush-hour crowd to answering customers’ calls on the phone. This may be the most difficult step in concentrating on the Lord because other people’s conversations and expressions distract you from your goal of hearing God. If this is the case, pray inwardly for the people you encounter, not an elaborate supplication, but a small shift of awareness, whatever reasonably allows you to remain present to that person and the business at hand. It will become easier as you turn the practice into a habit and feel a new depth and richness within the people around you.12 Finally, consider receiving interruptions to your plans as God’s plan instead. See them as God’s indicator to stop and listen to him.13
8. This exercise is called “practicing the presence of God” for a reason. It takes practice. Laubach began in a lonesome time of life and in the quiet times of the day and expanded to include interactions with people. He started by checking out of activity and in with God and then grew the exercise into a continuous habit. Talking about God with others, rather than only thinking about him, helped him stay on track. Initially, he sought God in one particular room of the house and eventually discovered that he longed to be in that room and got his best work done there because he associated it with God. When he practiced God’s presence, he addressed God in the second person (“you”) instead of concentrating on the abstract concept of deity. He tried to feel as though God was “just behind everything . . . just under my hand, just under the typewriter, just behind this desk, just inside the file, just inside the camera.”14 He even allowed God to talk back in his “inner life” by loosening control over his own tongue or fingers on the keyboard and noticing how the ensuing ramble or poetry spoke to him.15
9. Laubach noted that he hardly ever felt as though he had succeeded in being with God for a whole day. On the other hand, he asked, “Does the effort help?” And answered, “Tremendously. Nothing I have ever found proves such a tonic to the mind and body.” He acknowledged that forcing the experiment to the point of strain provided no success or relief.16 Instead, he realized that he could let go of his perceived failures and begin again with a clean slate at any instant (Phil 3:13–14). The possibility of a fresh start encouraged him to keep going. There may be times when you also feel too spiritually weary to sustain awareness of the divine with so much vigilance. Maybe during such a season, it would be better to tell the Lord you need a break and to trust in his compassionate understanding. After all, our Creator knows that “we are dust” (Ps 103:14). Legalism does neither the Lord, nor you, any favors.
10. The goal is communion with and deference to God. In the beginning, the outward discipline takes much practice. It may seem artificial. Eventually such prayer becomes involuntary. Instead of “checking out” of what we are doing to “check in” with God, we become as conscious of him as we are of other people in the room, even if he is not the focus of our conversation. The invocation enters our dreams and quiets our actions (Ps 3:5). There is a point, or several points, when we cease striving (Ps 37:7). Our thoughts and emotions shape themselves around the awareness of Christ’s presence. Living in prayer enters our rhythm so entirely that rooting it out would be like trying not to breathe. This is preparation for heaven and our eternal communion with the Trinity.
8Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (New York: Doubleday/Image, 1977), 65.
10Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (New York: HarperSanFancisco, 1992), 126.
11Laubach, Letters, 19–20.