Today’s blog post is an abbreviated version of a recent post authored by Dr. Evan Parks, a SEND colleague of mine who works in Budapest. Evan has been working as a licensed clinical psychologist since 1987. After working in Michigan and Illinois in both private practice and public settings, he and his family moved to Hungary in 2001 to start the Budapest Care Center. Throughout Europe and Eurasia he consults in crisis and trauma situations as well as helping mission leaders address difficult personnel issues. You can find the original blog post, as well as other posts by Evan at his website, WiseSight.org.
What is behind our desire to develop, grow, and strive to be better? I believe our motivation for growth and change can either be righteous and God-honoring, or it can be based squarely on sin and rebellion against God.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a clear emphasis in this passage on personal effort—growth requires a conscious decision to make changes in our life and face difficult challenges. We have to work at it.
But we can pursue spiritual growth with the wrong motives. I have often found myself doing what looked good just because I wanted to appear spiritual. Many years ago when I was a university student I would pray, read, memorize, and wake up early to get all these things done because I thought I could please God and make myself a bit better than other Christians. I was on the self-improvement spiritual growth plan—no real relationship with God was needed at all. This approach is just a sophisticated, well-disguised form of pride.
I still get up early, but not for the same reasons anymore. I want to share with you what I have learned about pursuing God and enjoying his presence. It is obviously a journey that I am in the middle of and do not claim to be an expert. But I can say that I have practiced these eight habits for several years and they have come to me by trial and error as well as from the advice of others.
To remember the habits I daily follow in my pursuit of God I use the word, “PRESENCE” as an acrostic. Each letter represents an activity that I engage in almost every day for the purpose of drawing closer to God and walking in his presence. I do not use these habits to improve myself; I try to stay focused on thinking about God and seeking Him.
- Prayer (P) is how I start my day. My day begins by reading one Psalm before I do anything else. I want this one Psalm to be my prayer during the day. The Psalms are an excellent launching pad for expressing worship and bringing burdens before God.
- Reading (R) the Bible comes next. I have had a habit of reading through the entire Bible or reading individual books of the Bible several times over. I have found no better source of spiritual strength and nourishment than directly reading the Bible for myself.
- Exercise (E) is always a part of my day, even if it is just taking the dog for a long walk. I think it is possible that some people are born with this kind of discipline and others are not, but for me personally, exercise is a great aid in dealing with stress and staying physically healthy. Exercise is a part of my commitment to being a good steward of what God has given me.
- Scheduling (S) is an essential part of my day and week. I want to know what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and what are my most important goals that need to be accomplished. Without scheduling, I will take on too much and expect to complete a project in one or two hours that actually takes eight hours to accomplish. I always overestimate what I can do.
- Examining (E) my day is a small habit that takes just a few minutes of sitting quietly. Being still is actually a challenging skill to develop! Our minds are always racing. Our emotions are too numerous to identify. I take 10 minutes out of my day to sit quietly and I think about my thinking—I examine my life, my day, my emotions and try to be aware of what is going on inside of me. Asking God to bring to mind what I need to be aware of always leads to an important personal insight.
- Nourishing (N) myself is a way of refreshing my mind, body, and spirit so that I have more to give to others and a way to replace the energy that I have used. There are dozens of activities, people, and places that we might find refreshing and nourishing. For me, enjoying music, playing musical instruments, and reading about history are always nourishing.
- Creating (C) solutions to problems is the nature of work. It is often how we earn a living. I think of my work as participating in God’s activity of restoring a lost and broken world to Himself. Life presents us with one challenge after another and we need to face these head on, coming up with creative solutions to solve them.
- Evaluating (E) my day happens at night when I look back and see what God has done, where I experienced His presence, and what I did in my own strength. I have yet to spend a whole day walking moment-to-moment in His presence, but that is my desire.
The eight steps of Practicing PRESENCE are:
I find it helpful to use a journal to record each day what I have prayed about, to write down my insights that I have gained from reading the Bible, and even record the success I have had in practicing the eight habits. We have a very short memory for the good things God has done. I find that keeping these daily records helps me to obey God’s command, “Remember!” God is good and he is worth pursuing wholeheartedly while we have breath.
Practicing the eight habits of “Presence” can only be done well in the context of an ongoing desire to know and experience God. The better we become at looking at Him, the less concerned we become with looking at ourselves and comparing ourselves to others.