Practicing The Presence Of God: Old Habits For A New Year

Day 4 of 5 • This day’s reading

Devotional

Day 4: Meeting the Resistance

In Day Three we explored a few steps for making a start in practicing the presence of God. The first was to recognize that He is, in fact, already present with us. The second was to realize that He actually wants to be engaged with us in the ordinary tasks and duties of our lives. Lastly, we were invited to keep a running conversation with Him as we move throughout the given responsibilities of our day. Now we turn to exploring the inevitable conflict that occurs when trying to make this spiritual exercise stick.

If you’ve begun making a preliminary go of practicing His presence, then it’s likely that you’ve already run into that oppositional force called resistance. It can take on the form of an unvanquishable foe, stopping us cold, and causing us to question the feasibility of developing a perpetual conversation with Father, Son, & Spirit. Of course, Brother Lawrence was no stranger to this peculiar enemy, and his writings offer up key insights that can help us repel it.

Know Your Enemy

The first insight is this. We must come to grips with just who the enemy is. Brother Lawrence keenly observed that resistance does not come from outside ourselves, but originates from within. He writes:

“Do not be discouraged by the resistance you will encounter from your human nature; you must go against your human inclinations. 

In other words, Lawrence is telling us that we should prepare to battle our own self-defeating thoughts, feelings, and habits, when attempting to permanently establish a continual conversation with God. As disconcerting as this revelation might be, it really shouldn’t surprise us. We know that even after receiving Christ, there will still be lingering factions at war in our interior. We “still have a little bit of the world in us” as Lawrence writes elsewhere. Paul understood this well. In his letter to the church in Rome, He explains:

“I have learned this rule: When I want to do good, evil is there with me. In my mind I am happy with God’s law. But I see another law working in my body.” 

Paul identifies this other law as sin. It turns out then that resistance really arises from the “sin within our members.” How miserable! Our own flesh works against us. What is the solution? In Paul’s same letter, he emphatically declares: Jesus Christ! He is the one who is capable of fully freeing us. But how? By embracing the obstacle that our Savior has set before us.

Embrace the Obstacle

Brother Lawrence observed that if we are to think often on God by day and night, we must: 

“Continually live and die with Him. This is the glorious employment of a Christian…this is our profession.”

In other words, Lawrence exhorts us to take up our cross and follow Jesus in his manner of dying and rising.

Now cross-bearing is undoubtedly the great paradox of the Christian life. When one reads in entirety the good news story, the first thing one has to indeed grapple with is the conundrum of the cross. Even Jesus’ disciples couldn’t fathom that this obstacle that looked so very much like a dead end, was, in fact, the way of redemption, salvation, and eternal life. The very impediment that stood in the way of the Son of God was the way.

Isn’t ironic? The cross—that thing our flesh so often tries to avoid—is the very thing that will lead us to liberation. Christ says as much when he declares, “if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily…whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

The key then is to embrace the cross, that instrument by which we repel the undercurrent of sinful tendencies in the body that so manifests itself in the form of resistance. We’re not alone in this endeavor though. Far from it. The Holy Spirit is with us in all of the trying moments, taking our simple effort and accomplishing infinitely more than we could imagine. Brother Lawrence notes:

“Comfort yourself with him who holds you fastened to the cross. He will loose you when he thinks fit. Happy [ are ] those who suffer with Him.” 

We therefore gladly persevere through the resistance that arises when we take up the practice of the presence of God. When we meet it, we count it as joy, and lean heavily into the Spirit. As we act, we do so for the love of God. Responding to our faith (demonstrated in our action), He performs the heavy lifting of routing the enemy within by reshaping us into the image of Christ. Lawrence concurs, reminding us that all our victories “are to be attributed to the mercy and goodness of God, because we can do nothing without Him.” 

Reflection

1. Resistance can express itself in many different ways. Procrastination and rationalization are two common manifestations. How does it most often present itself to you? 

2. We know that Christ died for us on the cross, so why does He ask us to take up our own and follow Him? Is the idea of personal cross-bearing a shift in mindset for you? 

Practice

Resistance is universal. We ought not be discouraged, or lose heart when it pounces. Whenever you feel it rearing its ugly head, have at the ready a verse of scripture to counter its effects. Consider memorizing Colossians 2:20:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”