Finding God’s Presence in Our Lives
When I went to seminary to become a pastor, one of our very first assignments was to remember a time when God had been present and had helped us. Then we were to share it with each other. The exercise was to teach us how to recognize God’s presence in our lives, a need so many have.
It was a very useful assignment. Many times, people can go through something and it is not until they look back on it that they are able to say, “I think God was present and He helped me through that time.”
However, if we are blessed and learn how, we can begin to see the world with what I call “God glasses.” By that, I mean we get so that we don’t have to look backwards and then say, “Ah ha! Now I see that God was with me in that thing that happened last year!” No, with “God glasses,” that is, spiritual eyes that are helped or trained to see spiritually, we begin to realize right in the present moments that God is with us, speaking, helping, comforting, etc.”
We don’t have to expect that it is only in looking backwards that we will see God’s hand. We can grow to where we sense His presence constantly and expect His goodness now and as we go forward. Being aware of God’s presence brings extraordinary healing and strength to our lives. There is a song, “Oh, The Glory of God’s Presence, that expresses this so well.
“But how?” Many very understandably ask. “How can I feel His presence? Better yet, how can I hear His voice?”
I get asked this question often by people in addiction recovery. They are understandably very eager, very concerned, to find out how to sense the presence of God and to hear His voice – because, if He can become absolutely real for them, perhaps they will never relapse again – that is their desperate hope and longing.
But it isn’t just addicts in recovery who hunger to sense the presence of God more. Most everyone does. So:
How Can We Recognize God’s Presence More Often?
1. Practice Gratitude as Often as You Can
When you make up your mind to see the blessings in your life, no matter how small, something will shift in your thinking and emotions. Instead of giving room to negativity, your gratitude will begin to let “the sunshine in.”
As you feel more peaceful, more content because you choose to see what you have versus what you don’t have, you then will be able to take the step of seeing God’s hand behind those blessings. You will know how to recognize God’s presence through gratitude. Remember, even the littlest of things – a cup of cold water, food, a good night’s sleep, a clean, available bathroom – in anything and everything, say thanks.
2. Give God the Credit
In the opening pages of my book, Jesus and the Addict, several people in recovery offered praises to God and spoke of how divine healing has been the route for them into sobriety. One young man, Marcus, wrote:
“It has taken six felonies, five trips to the Department of Corrections, the loss of my grandparents and my mother to cause me to start looking for God. [He was at the end of his rope and found God’s address!] And then, it only took me finding fifty cents while I was living in a homeless shelter to show me He loves me.”
There are those who would read about this man’s finding fifty cents and attributing it to God and say, “No, that was just coincidence.” And perhaps they are right. But this man was most likely so desperate and alone and without resources when he arrived at that shelter. Perhaps he was praying, “Oh God, help me,” or “Show me you’re real,” and then he found a few coins.
I used to find two pennies (two copper coins like from the biblical story of the widow having only two coins to give) in the oddest of places while I was doing ministry work. I would be standing by a counter or a table that was bare and then look and see two pennies suddenly. It was as if the Lord was saying, “Well done! I see what you are doing.” Coincidence? Maybe. But they would appear out of nowhere. Were they there and the Holy Spirit drew my attention to them? No matter how the appearance occurred, I had a deep and profound feeling of the love and affirmation of God each time. I sensed God so near and real.
I am simply saying we can retrain ourselves to say, “Oh, God, thank you that You sent that person to speak kindly to me. Or, thank You that the check showed up in the mail. Thank You that I rested well after praying. Thank You that the job opportunity happened for me and I was treated kindly by the interviewer.
When you begin to give God the credit for the blessings and say thanks for them, it’s amazing how increasingly real and near God becomes. And you start to “connect more dots.” You say, “I felt God leading.” “I felt God providing, etc.” This is an important step in learning how to recognize God’s presence.
3. Study Scripture for Stories of God Encountering People
In scripture, there are so many stories of people encountering God through His presence in scripture, in their dreams, through angelic encounters, through experiencing His power. There are stories of miracles, signs, and wonders. Countless stories of encounters. These stories will encourage you and cause you to reinterpret some of the things that happen in your own life. You will say more often, “I think it was God that did that!”
4. Study Scripture and See How It Relates to You
One of the things I do so often with people in recovery is teach them how to read scripture devotionally. There is a way to read it “as a scholar,” to study the context, the history, the original language, and so on, of the text.
But a place where many people have a big hole in their approach to the Bible is in hearing God speak to them through it. This is important so that they can find God’s presence in their lives.
I carry a note in my Bible from a young man that I met in recovery. He had told me that the Bible “left him cold,” and that he didn’t know how to get anything out of it.
I took him to a story from John and we read it together. We reflected about what it meant at the time of Jesus and John, but then I asked him, “Who are you in this story?” And I showed him how to see where his current situation and emotions connected to the Bible story. His eyes lit up and he was deeply moved. God was speaking to him through the Bible. He had discovered a beginning for himself in how to recognize God’s presence.
This is a little of what his note says:
“I found our talk last Friday deeply impactful and I have been reflecting on the advice you gave me all week. I have been reading John a few verses at a time and then stopping and thinking about how those miracles relate to my life.” He then said, “And I have been telling others.”
5. Recognize the Many Ways God Is Speaking to You
God can speak to us in so many ways, through His scriptures, through people, through preaching, through the worship service, in nature, through works of art, His thoughts joining our thoughts (when we have a really selfless, noble, kind idea), etc.
I remember one time taking a walk and feeling very melancholy. Some old, difficult memories surfaced, and I could feel the tenderness of the Lord as I walked and thought about this. My eyes landed on a word printed on a trash can, and I felt the Lord saying, “that word summarizes the actions of the person you are remembering, doesn’t it?”
As I walked on in the sunshine, I felt wrapped in a blanket of love and understanding. I just felt “not alone.” I sat on a bench and a mother with a baby in a stroller and her dog jogged by. The dog left the path, and without missing a beat, ran close to me and gave me a “drive by” kiss on the hand. I suddenly began to laugh and the whole, heavy mood was broken.
I thought, “And yes, Lord, You can even speak to us through a dog.” I felt God’s presence so profoundly.
Again, some reading might think, “Oh, that’s silly.” Or, “dogs are like that.” Or, “just coincidence.” But I felt a communication from God all along that trail because I have allowed myself to think that way. And I have trained myself to think that way.
“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” – Jesus (Matthew 18:3)
Some Scriptures About Recognizing God’s Presence
Jeremiah 29:13 NIV “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Psalm 145:18 NIV “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on Him in truth.”
Psalm 139: 17-18 NIV “How precious to me are your thoughts, God. How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand – when I awake, I am still with you.”
John 14:15-17 NIV ” If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
May God bless you and be ever more real to you with every passing day! Amen.
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