Our Practicing The Presence series is inspired by Brother Lawrence’s 17th century devotional classic, Practicing The Presence Of God.
My goal is that people will learn and experience first hand how to have a union with God is that active and not static; living and not stagnant. That’s why the sermon concluded with a guided prayer experience and it’s also why we distributed prayer guides for the rest of the week.
The entire series comes from the book of Psalms. Yesterday’s passage traced a “morning” pattern through a series of selected Psalms to land at this bottom line:
WHERE you start the day determines HOW you finish it.
Years & years ago, the summer I was 17 in fact, I was invited to a tryout camp for what they called the National Jr. Davis Cup Team. Kinda of a big deal. And we stayed in dorm rooms at a boarding school in Texas. Anyway, my roommate during these pretty high pressure tryouts was a guy from … New Jersey. Now you need to know that when I was in high school I was voted “Third Most Innocent” which is also a way of saying “Third Biggest Loser.” And so he was 18 & I was 17 & we were both in this high stress environment and when the alarm clock went off in the dorm room, man the language that came out of his mouth! Whew! I mean here I am – SO INNOCENT – and this RUFFIAN from the NE greets the morning sun with language that’s beyond colorful. Word choices and word combinations that I had never dreamed of, much less heard. I think I was kind of shell shocked actually. And that all explains why I didn’t MAKE the team I was trying out for! Mornings.
Because a.m. routines are kind of fascinating, aren’t they? Admit it: a lot of you wake up with the same attitude and even the same vocab as my JDC roommate. Or you at least feel that way until you get your morning brew. You’re like the ad from yesteryear: the best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup. Catchy! Because the world is divided between Morning Glories & Night Owls & I’ve got the research to prove it: READ FB post 10.25.17. Jill Wagner: Morning glory – when I was a schoold bus driver I once had a student request to have her seat moved to the back of the bus because I was “entirely too perky first thing in the morning.”
Well, over the last dozen years or so we have added an entirely new element to what we do when we wake up: AV of smart phone. We check our devices or our laptops and do we want more than anything? Likes! Recognitions! Emojis! Some overnight affirmation that we are remembered and loved and included. And each of those Likes, Recognitions, & Emojis fires our brain with dopamine, the same chemical released on cocaine. Addictive. But what it means is that almost as soon as you open your eyes, you are at the mercy of the day. The day sets the agenda, your stimuli hold the cards (dopamine control!) & you simply follow. And I believe the reason so many of you feel so chaotic at the END of the day is because you’ve been so reactive from the BEGINNING.
Well, as we start 2018, I genuinely & truthfully believe that God has a different design. Because a fascinating yet unmistakable pattern emerges from the book of Psalms. Now the Psalms, which is part song book, part poetry collection, is home to a lot of patterns – praise to rage, trust to suspicion – but this one is especially striking as we open Practicing The Presence. Look:
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
My heart, O God, is steadfast,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
8 Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
But I will sing of your strength,
in the morning I will sing of your love;
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
It’s hard to miss, isn’t it? There is this purposeful attempt to prioritize and then record the role of MORNING when it comes to praying. Not that it’s the only time but it is the stage setting time. The foundational time. And when you pile on these claims – involving pleading, singing, praising, declaring – it’s clear that this something more significant is going on than just the ramblings of some shiny, happy morning glories.
Because look next at the common RESULTS in these uncommon Psalms: READ 5:11-12 (ALL, EVER), 57:9-10 (ALL, ABOVE), 59:16b-17 (TIMES), 90:14b (ALL OUR DAYS), 143:8b-10 (MY LIFE). That window of time in the a.m., where the authors are IN God’s word, IN his presence and IN his glory — sets in motion what happens comprehensively the rest of the day – and longer. The morning LOCATION sets the evening’s DESTINATION. So here’s where we land right here at the beginning of PtP. And this is true even if you’re skeptical of the God I want you to try on for size in January: WHERE you start the day determines HOW you finish it. Yes! You start the day consciously, purposefully IN the word and IN the presence and even IN silence, it sets forces in motion that shape and mold the rest of the day so that whatever it brings you respond with more serenity than otherwise possible. Your location in Christ, at dawn, results in your destination in peace at night. WHERE you start the day determines HOW you finish it.
Because, really, it’s like electricity. How many of you have ever seen it? None! Of course! An invisible presence in our lives. And yet how many have used it already today? All of us! (Lights off!) It’s an invisible presence with very visible privileges. Well, you spend a.m. time in his invisible presence and it will result in visible privileges and power throughout the rest of the day. And it is so kind of God to provide all us visual, tactile people with things we can see and touch to engage with him in the morning – the Scriptures, our journals, his music. WHERE you start the day determines HOW you finish it.
Or it’s really about making the other 1425 go better. Huh? Yes, the OTHER 1425! Did you know there are 1440 minutes in a day? Well I want you to give God the #First15. In his Word. In his Presence. In his Silence. You set those first 15 aside and he has a way of so centering you that the other 1425 go according not to your plan but to his. You’re no longer at the mercy of the day but in the grace of your God. WHERE you start the day determines HOW you finish it.
Or it’s like those three pastor’s wives who were knitting some repairs on their husband’s clothes (#1. Very OLD. #2. You know it does NOT involve Julie.) And two of the wives were lamenting our contentious everything was in their churches and how despondent their preacher husbands had become. After a few minutes of the painful whining, the third wife said, “Oh, I’m so sorry ladies. It’s going well where we are. The people are inspired and they respect my husband’s teaching and support his leadership.” And then she went back to repairing holes in the … knees of her husband’s pants. Yep, it involves more than just an individual life. WHERE you start the day determines HOW you finish it.
Now: I know some of you right now. You’re young moms and young dads and time in the morning is not just hard, it’s impossible. Listen: I’m not going to be legalistic. Don’t traumatize your month old baby by telling her you can’t feed her even though she is shrieking because you need time with God. But I AM going to let you know that when that initial schedule settles down, you’ll want to grab time during nap time OR GET UP 15 MINUTES EARLIER THAN NORMAL IN THE A.M. Build it in to the early part of the day to set the tone for the rest. I believe in this so much that I’m even going to call out students to join this movement. It’s 15 minutes earlier. It’s a way to SET the day so that you never need a RE-SET! Because isn’t that a bummer. The day becomes so chaotic, so filled with both tension and obstacles, that you throw your hands up and think, “can I just get a do over? A re-set?” No. Set it first & then no re-set need. Why correct something when you can get it right from the start? REF
Because here’s what I know and what I’ve learned from ancient saints and modern role models: dedicated communication in the morning leads to constant conversation the rest of the day. That’s what I want for you and me and all of us! Practicing The Presence is about the people of GS becoming so weird that you talk to God all day long. In constant conversation: acknowledging your dependence, expressing your gratitude, praising his character, pleading for his assistance. Not only in the morning. But what you do purposefully in the morning makes it almost effortless the rest of the day. You have this holy inactivity at dawn – you’re just WITH God — & that empowers a healthy activity the rest of the day. And I firmly believe that what emerges is a confidence, a glow, a serenity.
This is how it happens with me. You need to know that I have a terrible poker face. The Worst. Jaw drop, mouth open, all of it. And yet here I am, talking and listening with people for a good chunk of the day as they share some really deep, often troubling stuff. So what do I do. Sit down and I am praying the whole time I’m listening: “Lord, let them see Jesus on my face and not my crappy poker face. Jesus on my face.” It’s a talking during the day (that works!) that is only possible because I’ve put gas in the car with that directed, focused conversation in the morning.
You know why this matters? Why Practicing The Presence as a whole matters? Because you will either practice God’s presence or someone else’s. That someone else’s presence – the voice you listen to, the thoughts that fill your mind – will likely not be quite so positive or healthy. CNN, MSNBC, Fox. Or for others of you, you’ll practice the presence of Jack Daniels. Or Hugh Hefner. Or Oxy Contin. Or the rage you inherited from your dad. It will lead nowhere fast, likely into the same difficulty you always find yourself in. If you start that with a monolog directed to God, you’ll find the day continuing as a dialog with him. That’s what we want! A day of God-centered dialog. This conversation doesn’t make him REAL, but it does make you come ALIVE. WHERE you start the day determines HOW you finish it.
And then there is this marvelous things where you sense God as much in the MUNDANE as you do in the MIRACULOUS. See, we think we feel a connection to God most powerfully during a great song, when we witness a healing, maybe even during a stirring sermon … but what about when you’re doing the dishes? Changing the diapers? Talking a walk? At the gym? All that, ALL THAT, is fodder for practicing his presence; for coming alive that he is never too busy or too frustrated to dialog. It starts with that FOCUSED time in the morning which leads to FREQUENT conversation other times. WHERE you start the day determines HOW you finish it.
And when I talk about WHERE leading to HOW, you know what I mean with this HOW? I mean the kind of day where at the end of it you can do a searching and fearless moral inventory of the last 16 hours or so. And you realize: you didn’t lose your temper with your kids or your dog. You have no shame or regrets. You did nothing you’d want to hide from your spouse, your kids, or your Savior. You will sleep well. And then you’ll want to do it all over again the next day. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s actually what we mean by … holiness. Where you are so in tune and in touch with God’s abiding presence all day long that sleeping at night is a breeze. WHERE you start the day determines HOW you finish it.
Here’s what we’re going to do. I want you start your day in a holy WHERE that you conclude it in a peaceful HOW that actually going to do it, together, now. Ready for this? For some of you this will be brand new and we’re going to give you some tools that you can use the rest of the week. For others it will be old hat – you learned this stuff a long time ago. For A LOT of you, it’s old hat – but you haven’t done it in ages. I know how you are!
On screen, dissolving in:
READ (Out loud & together) Philippians 2:9-11
NOW: JUST BREATHE. SLOWLY. DEEPLY. REVERENTLY.
BREATHE IN GOD’S PEACE.
BREATHE OUT YOUR ANXIETY.
Now we’re going to ask you to pray a word. Just a word. A word that establishes who is in control, who is not, and a word I simply want you to pray softly & verbally. And if you don’t believe in Jesus yet, stay with me and try it anyway. He won’t be mad. LORD …
Now: I TRUST you, Lord …
Now: This day is yours, Lord …