Excerpt from The Great Omission

Prac­tic­ing the Pres­ence of God” 

The first and most basic thing we can and must do is to keep God before our minds. David knew this secret and wrote, I have set the Lord con­tin­u­al­ly before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shak­en. There­fore my heart is glad, and my glo­ry rejoic­es; my flesh also will dwell secure­ly” (Ps. 16:8 – 9NASB).

This is the fun­da­men­tal secret of car­ing for our souls. Our part in thus prac­tic­ing the pres­ence of God is to direct and redi­rect our minds con­stant­ly to Him. In the ear­ly time of our prac­tic­ing” we may well be chal­lenged by our bur­den­some habits of dwelling on things less than God. But these are habits — not the law of grav­i­ty — and can be bro­ken. A new, grace-filled habit will replace the for­mer ones as we take inten­tion­al steps toward keep­ing God before us. Soon our minds will return to God as the nee­dle of a com­pass con­stant­ly returns to the north. If God is the great long­ing of our souls, He will become the pole star of our inward beings.2

Jesus Christ is, of course, the Door, the Light, and the Way. We are priv­i­leged to walk in this pro­found real­i­ty, not just preach it. We first receive God into our minds by receiv­ing Jesus. The way for­ward then lies in inten­tion­al­ly keep­ing the scenes and words of the New Tes­ta­ment Gospels before our minds, care­ful­ly read­ing and reread­ing them day by day. We revive them in word and imag­i­na­tion as we arise in the morn­ing, move through the events of the day, and lie down at night. By this means we walk with Him moment by moment — the One who promised to be with us always. 

As a begin­ning step in this prac­tic­ing” process, we can choose to prac­tice con­stant­ly return­ing our minds to God in Christ on a giv­en day. In the evening then we can review how we did and think of ways to do it bet­ter the next day. As we con­tin­ue this prac­tice, gen­tly but per­sis­tent­ly, we soon will find that the per­son of Jesus and His beau­ti­ful words are auto­mat­i­cal­ly” occu­py­ing our minds instead of the clut­ter and noise of the world-even the church world. 

Our con­cen­tra­tion on Jesus will be strength­ened by mem­o­riza­tion of great pas­sages (not just vers­es) from Scrip­ture. Pas­sages such as Matt. 7, John 14 – 17, 1 Cor. 13, and Col. 3 are ter­rif­ic soul grow­ing” selec­tions. This prac­tice of mem­o­riz­ing the Scrip­tures is more impor­tant than a dai­ly qui­et time, for as we fill our minds with these great pas­sages and have them avail­able for our med­i­ta­tion, qui­et time” takes over the entire­ty of our lives. 

God’s word to Joshua, as he under­took the great task before him, was, This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall med­i­tate on it day and night, so that you may be care­ful to do accord­ing to all that is writ­ten in it; for then you will make your way pros­per­ous, and then you will have suc­cess” (Josh. 1:8, NASB). Psalm 1 demon­strates that this became a part of the rec­og­nized prac­tice of spir­i­tu­al liv­ing among the Israelites. Med­i­ta­tion on Him and His Word must become an inte­gral part of our lives too. 

But how does the law get in your mouth? By mem­o­riza­tion, of course. It becomes an essen­tial part of how we think about every­thing else as we dwell on it. Then the things that come before us dur­ing the day come in the pres­ence of God’s illu­mi­nat­ing Word. Light dwells with­in us and enables us to see the things of life in the right way. In Thy light we see light” (Ps. 36:9, NASB). This is the true edu­ca­tion for min­istry and for life. 

Love and Worship 

As the Liv­ing Word and the writ­ten Word occu­py our minds we nat­u­ral­ly — and super­nat­u­ral­ly — come to love God more and more because we see, clear­ly and con­stant­ly, how love­ly He is. 

The wise Puri­tan, Thomas Wat­son, wrote: 

The first fruit of love is the mus­ing of the mind upon God. He who is in love, his thoughts are ever upon the object. He who loves God is rav­ished and trans­port­ed with the con­tem­pla­tion of God. When I awake, I am still with thee” (Ps. 139:18). The thoughts are as trav­el­ers in the mind. David’s thoughts kept heav­en-road. I am still with Thee.”God is the trea­sure, and where the trea­sure is, there is the heart. By this we may test our love to God. What are our thoughts most upon? Can we say we are rav­ished with delight when we think on God? Have our thoughts got wings? Are they fled aloft? Do we con­tem­plate Christ and glo­ry? … A sin­ner crowds God out of his thoughts. He nev­er thinks of God, unless with hor­ror, as the pris­on­er thinks of the judge.3

In this way we enter a life, not just times, of wor­ship. The hymn of heav­en will be a con­stant pres­ence in our inner lives: To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be bless­ing and hon­or and glo­ry and domin­ion for­ev­er and for­ev­er” (Rev. 5:13NASB). 

Wor­ship will become the con­stant under­tone of our lives. It is the sin­gle most pow­er­ful force in com­plet­ing and sus­tain­ing restora­tion of our whole beings to God. Noth­ing can inform, guide, and sus­tain per­va­sive and radi­ant good­ness in a per­son oth­er than the true vision of God and the wor­ship that spon­ta­neous­ly aris­es from it. Then the pow­er of the indwelling Christ flows from us to others. 

Remem­ber, how­ev­er, that we are not try­ing to wor­ship. Wor­ship is not anoth­er job we have to do. It is one aspect of the gift of liv­ing water” that springs up to eter­nal life” (John 4:14; 7:38, NASB). Our part is to turn our minds toward God and to attend to His grace­ful actions in our souls. This is the pri­ma­ry care of the soul” we must exer­cise. Then love and wor­ship, wor­ship and love, flow in our lives as we walk con­stant­ly with God. By step­ping with Him — in the flow of His grace — we live with spon­tane­ity, love our neigh­bors, and min­is­ter the word and pow­er of the gospel. 

Open­ing to the Full­ness of Joy

Per­son­al soul care also requires attend­ing to our feel­ings. Emo­tions are a real com­po­nent of life and of our lives in Christ. Some min­is­ters allow their emo­tions to defeat them. 

We do well to note, how­ev­er, that love is the foun­da­tion of the spir­i­tu­al life and joy is a key com­po­nent in the Christ life. Joy is not plea­sure, a mere sen­sa­tion, but a per­va­sive and con­stant sense of well-being. Hope in the good­ness of God is joy’s indis­pens­able support. 

In a moment of wor­ship and praise, Paul spon­ta­neous­ly expressed a bene­dic­tion on the Chris­tians in Rome: Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believ­ing, that you may abound in hope by the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it” (Rom. 15:13, NASB). This verse address­es the pro­found needs of the emo­tion­al side of the Chris­tian’s life. 

The great cen­tral terms of life in Christ are faith,” hope,” love,” and peace.” These are not just feel­ings; in sub­stance, they are not feel­ings. They are con­di­tions involv­ing every part of an indi­vid­u­al’s life, includ­ing the body and the social con­text. They serve to equip us for the engage­ments of life. They do, how­ev­er, have feel­ings that accom­pa­ny them, and these pos­i­tive feel­ings abun­dant­ly char­ac­ter­ize those liv­ing in the pres­ence of God. These feel­ings dis­place the bit­ter and angry feel­ings, that char­ac­ter­ize life in the flesh” — life in human ener­gies only. They even trans­form the sick­en­ing emo­tion­al tones that per­me­ate and large­ly gov­ern the world around us — even many times the Church world. 

Jesus taught us to abide in God’s love that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15: 10 – 11, NASB). Our joy is full when there is no room for more. Abid­ing in God’s love pro­vides the unshak­able source of joy, which is in turn the source of peace. All is based in the real­i­ty of God’s grace and goodness. 

Faith, hope, love, joy, and peace—the mag­nif­i­cent five” — are insep­a­ra­ble from one anoth­er and rec­i­p­ro­cal­ly sup­port each oth­er. Try to imag­ine any one with­out the others! 

Soli­tude and Silence 

Among the prac­tices that can help us attend to soul care at a basic lev­el are soli­tude and silence. We prac­tice these by find­ing ways to be alone and away from talk and noise. We rest, we observe, we smell the ros­es” — dare we say it? — we do noth­ing. This dis­ci­pline can be used of God as a means of grace. In it we may even find anoth­er reminder of grace — that we are saved, jus­ti­fied by His redeem­ing pow­er — not by our striv­ings and achievements. 

In draw­ing aside for lengthy peri­ods of time, we seek to rid our­selves of the cor­ro­sion” of soul that accrues from con­stant inter­ac­tion with oth­ers and the world around us. In this place of qui­et com­mu­nion, we dis­cov­er again that we dohave souls, that we indeed have inner beings to be nur­tured. Then we begin to expe­ri­ence again the pres­ence of God in the inner sanc­tu­ary, speak­ing to and inter­act­ing with us. We under­stand anew that God will not com­pete for our atten­tion. We must arrange time for our com­mu­nion with Him as we draw aside in soli­tude and silence. 

The psalmist said, Cease striv­ing and know that I am God” (Ps. 46: 10, NASB). And imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing this, the writer affirms the suc­cess of God’s mis­sion on earth: “‘I will be exalt­ed among the nations, I will be exalt­ed in the earth.’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our strong­hold” (vv. 10 – 11NASB). 

Oth­er trans­la­tions of this verse read, Be still, and know” (NIV) or Step out of the traf­fic! Take a long, lov­ing look at me” ™. God’s pro­vi­sion for us and for His work through us is ade­quate. We do not have to make it hap­pen.” We must stop shoul­der­ing the bur­dens of out­comes.” These are safe­ly in His hands. Some­one insight­ful­ly said, The great­est threat to devo­tion to Christ is ser­vice for Christ.” 

What a para­dox! This is so eas­i­ly a chal­lenge for many min­is­ters. Allow­ing ser­vice for Christ to steal our devo­tion to Him is a rad­i­cal fail­ure in per­son­al soul care. But it is one from which the prac­tice of com­muning with Christ in times of soli­tude and silence can deliv­er us. 

Time is Made, Not Found”

A response to giv­ing atten­tion to per­son­al soul care often is, I don’t have time for exten­sive soli­tude and silence. I have too much to do.” The truth is you don’t have time not to prac­tice soli­tude and silence. No time is more prof­itably spent than that used to height­en the qual­i­ty of an inti­mate walk with God. If we think oth­er­wise, we have been bad­ly edu­cat­ed. The real ques­tion is, Will we take time to do what is nec­es­sary for an abun­dant life and an abun­dant min­istry, or will we try to get by’ with­out it?” 

So a cou­ple of words of coun­sel are appro­pri­ate for our attend­ing to the inner life. First, God nev­er gives any­one too much to do. We do that to our­selves or allow oth­ers to do it to us. We may be show­ing our lack of con­fi­dence in God’s pow­er and good­ness, though it may be that our mod­els and edu­ca­tion have failed us. Sec­ond, the exer­cise of God’s pow­er in min­istry nev­er, by itself, amends char­ac­ter, and it rarely makes up for our own fool­ish­ness. God’s pow­er can be active­ly and wise­ly sought and received by us only as we seek to grow by grace into Christ­like­ness. Pow­er with Christ­like char­ac­ter is God’s unbeat­able com­bi­na­tion of tri­umphant life in the king­dom of God on earth and for­ev­er. Pow­er with­out Christ’s char­ac­ter gives us our mod­ern-day Sam­sons and Sauls. 

Know­ing Christ through times away in soli­tude and silence will let our joy be full” (see John 16:24). It will bring over us a per­va­sive sense of well-being, no mat­ter what is hap­pen­ing around us. Hur­ry and the lone­li­ness of lead­er­ship will be elim­i­nat­ed. We can allow the peace of God to sink deeply into our lives and extend through our rela­tion­ships to oth­ers (see Matt. 10:12 – 13). 

A young Chris­t­ian who had been guid­ed into the effec­tive prac­tice of soli­tude and silence had this to say: 

The more I prac­tice this dis­ci­pline, the more I appre­ci­ate the strength of silence. The less I become skep­ti­cal and judg­men­tal, the more I learn to accept the things I did­n’t like about oth­ers, and the more I accept them as unique­ly cre­at­ed in the image of God. The less I talk, the fuller are words spo­ken at an appro­pri­ate time. The more I val­ue oth­ers, the more I serve them in small ways, and the more I enjoy and cel­e­brate my life. The more I cel­e­brate, the more I real­ize that God has been giv­ing me won­der­ful things in my life, and the less I wor­ry about my future. I will accept and enjoy what God is con­tin­u­ous­ly giv­ing to me. I think I am begin­ning to real­ly enjoy God.4

Expe­ri­enc­ing God through the prac­tice of con­nect­ing with Him via this dis­ci­pline brings rich rewards. 

Plan­ning for Full­ness of Life 

Our dis­cus­sion so far has been more illus­tra­tive than expos­i­to­ry. Soli­tude and silence are absolute­ly basic in our respon­si­bil­i­ty to soul care. But they also open before us the whole area of dis­ci­plines for the spir­i­tu­al life. It is vital for us to keep before us that there are tried and true ways we can pur­sue toward abun­dant life in Christ. These ways are often referred to as spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines.”5We can and must incor­po­rate these into our lives as com­plete­ly reli­able ways of per­son­al soul care. There is no sub­sti­tute for this. 

A per­son could make a long list of such dis­ci­plines, draw­ing on the his­to­ry of Christ’s peo­ple. The list would cer­tain­ly include fast­ing, which when right­ly prac­ticed has incred­i­ble pow­er for the trans­for­ma­tion of char­ac­ter and for min­istry. On this list would also be such prac­tices as fru­gal­i­ty, ser­vice, cel­e­bra­tion, prayer (as a dis­ci­pline), jour­nal­ing, fel­low­ship, account­abil­i­ty rela­tion­ships, sub­mis­sion, con­fes­sion, and many others. 

There is no such thing as a com­plete list of the dis­ci­plines. Any activ­i­ty that is in our pow­er and enables us to achieve by grace what we can­not achieve by direct effort is a dis­ci­pline of the spir­i­tu­al life.6

As we seek to know Christ by incor­po­rat­ing appro­pri­ate dis­ci­plines into our lives, we must keep in mind that they are not ways of earn­ing mer­it. They also are not paths of suf­fer­ing or self-tor­ment. They are not hero­ic. They are not right­eous­ness, but they are wisdom. 

Once we team that grace is not opposed to effort (action) — though it is opposed to earn­ing (atti­tude) — the way is open for us to work out” all that is involved in our sal­va­tion, not only with fear and trem­bling” but also with the calm assur­ance that it is God who is at work in us to accom­plish all of His good­will (see Phil. 2:12 – 13NASB). 

When we have set­tled into a life of sen­si­ble dis­ci­plines with our ever-present Teacher, then Peter’s admo­ni­tion (2 Pet. 1:5 – 7) to add virtue to our faith, knowl­edge or under­stand­ing to our virtue, self-con­trol to our knowl­edge, patience to our self-con­trol, god­li­ness to our patience, broth­er­ly kind­ness to our god­li­ness, and divine love (agape) to our broth­er­ly kind­ness will prove to be a sen­si­ble plan for life. God will use this course of action to help oth­ers through our min­istries as well. 

As long as you prac­tice these things,” Peter con­tin­ues (v. 10, NASB), you will nev­er stum­ble.” In our walk with God in Christ there will be pro­vid­ed to us, from His rich­es in glo­ry” (see Phil. 4:19, NASB), sweet­ness and strength of char­ac­ter, pro­fun­di­ty of insight and under­stand­ing, and abun­dance of pow­er to man­i­fest the glo­ry of God in life and in min­istry — no mat­ter the cir­cum­stances! And entrance into the eter­nal king­dom of our Lord and Sav­ior Jesus Christ will be abun­dant­ly sup­plied to you” (2 Pet. 111

Excerpt­ed from Per­son­al Soul Care” by Dal­las Willard. Read the entire arti­cle here.

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