Practicing His Presence With A Sabbath Heart
Written by Major Shelley Bell
Mark Buchanan’s book The Rest of God has impacted my understanding of Sabbath rest and of having a Sabbath heart. He talks at length about Sabbath being a day of celebration and rest from work but also about Sabbath as an attitude. Sabbath is a day, yes, but it is also an attitude that we take into each day. It is the awareness of the presence of God in every moment of the day. If you are familiar with Brother Lawrence, that phrase of “practicing the presence of God” will have caught your attention. Lawrence, a 17th century French monk penned a very short work called “Practicing the Presence of God.” I would encourage you to read this 76 page masterpiece on what it means to carry the presence of God with you in every detail of your life. This has been an important spiritual discipline in my life. It’s about having a relationship with Christ that is so close that it carries you throughout the day.
Christ Holds Us in His Presence
“O Lord, you have searched me and You know me, You know when I sit and when I rise; You discern my thoughts from afar. You know my going out and my lying down. You are familiar with all of my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, You lay Your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:1-5).
It is a comfort to know that God remains with us, holding us within His power and protection. “You hem me in behind and before and You lay Your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5). He holds us, behind and before, within His presence. Practicing the knowledge of His presence is to reflect on the meaning of each moment and each word throughout our day. That is having Sabbath in our hearts as an attitude. And dear Brother Lawrence discovered the practice while on kitchen duty at the monastery! While cooking and cleaning the pots and pans he discovered his best method of reaching God.
He writes, “We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him, and that is done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him, Who has given me grace to work; afterward I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”
Practicing the Knowledge of His Presence
Reflecting on His presence is part of the growth in our relationship with Him. A Sabbath heart takes His presence throughout the day, through highs and lows, through labor and rest. I had a great heart example of this when my daughter Emma was in middle school. Middle school is rough; it has always been rough, but it is an almost impossible nowdays. Pray for your middle schoolers! Emma had started to have some anxiety in the whole process of attending school and so we regularly practiced breathing exercises and ways to cope with her growing anxiety on the way to school. One day, while praying and breathing, she pulled her shirt collar up to her nose and breathed in from there. Puzzled, I asked, “Emma, what are you doing?” She explained, “When Daddy hugs me goodbye, he has just put on his cologne and so now, I smell like him.” I determined this was probably not a good thing in middle school and said, “We can ask Daddy to hug you before he puts on his cologne.” She stopped me. “No, I like to smell him, because when I head through the halls of school and people are fighting or something else is going on around me out of my control, I feel like Daddy is there walking beside me through it.” It’s probably unnecessary to say, but I had to pull over and weep for my girl that morning.
Practicing His Presence in the Details
When we put God in front of and behind all things in our life, that is practicing His presence. All the details can belong to Him too. Brother Lawrence found that love for God was the end. That’s it. The means were not important but living every moment in the presence of God for the chief end of loving God alone, that was the purpose. Every single work, action or deed can be done for the love of God. Once again from Brother Lawrence:
“I know that for the right practice of it, the heart must be empty of all other things; because God will possess the heart alone; and as He cannot possess it alone without emptying it of all besides, so neither can He act there, and do in it what He pleases, unless it be left vacant to Him.”
Praying Continuously by Practicing His Presence
What I love and am so intrigued by was this Sabbath heart attitude of taking God with me in the daily business. I believe wholeheartedly this is how we are meant to pray continuously, because we never leave God. His presence surrounds us (like that cologne cloud on a 12-year-old!) We are taking Him with us into every situation and He is our purpose of action and word. The last line of that small book attributed to Brother Lawrence is this: “Believe me, count as lost each day you have not used in loving God.” And I think we could further add, each hour, each moment, each action and each word.
“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me, you know when I sit and when I rise; you discern my thoughts from afar. You know my going out and my lying down. You are familiar with all of my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, you lay your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:1-5).
Be hemmed in by His presence and let His love continuously surround you!
Buchanan, Mark. The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath. W Pub. Group, 2006.
Lawrence, Brother. Practicing the Presence of God. Problem Child Press, 2018.