One of the most common challenges Christians have in regard to their relationship with God is how to be aware of God’s presence with them. The verse, “Be still and know that I am God” may even feel unreachable or difficult to imagine. How do we sense the presence of God? What are we looking for? What does it feel like? These are not trivial questions, and any lack of awareness of God with us and lead us to believe we are defective for not being able to sense God with us.
There can be several reasons why this is so, but there are three very common problems that block us from sensing God’s presence. First, and perhaps most obvious, very few of us have ever been mentored in this area. Those who find is easy to feel God’s presence often do not know how or why they are able to encounter Him in that way, and are not sure how to help those who have trouble. It is one thing to provide another person information they do not have. It is quite another to help someone else experience something they have not yet experienced. The good news is that we can grow in our ability to sense the presence of God. We are not simply gifted in that area or not. So we can have hope, because this is something we can learn.
Second, some people are not sure what they are looking for when they try to sense God’s presence. Should I feel a twinge or a flutter in my stomach? Will He touch my shoulder or give me some other physical sensation? Will I see some kind of glow in my mind? What does it even mean to feel His presence? I know God is here, because He is everywhere. But how can I experience Him being with me? Not knowing what we are looking for can leave us feeling a bit lost in this process.
The third most common reason for this difficulty can be somewhat challenging. There are many people whose emotional and relational life has been relatively shut down due to injuries they have experienced from others. Especially people who have known a dearth of relationships, a veritable emotional vacuum and a lack of connection to others — they may even have trouble feeling the emotional presence of another person who is in the room with them. If those parts of our mind are closed off to other people, we will probably have a lot of difficulty relating to God as well, because we need to use most of those same brain circuits to feel the presence of God. Those who find themselves in this predicament should seek the help of a Christian counselor who understands attachment issues (not all do!) and begin to retrain their heart and mind to be more emotionally and relationally available.
So back to our earlier question, how can we practice the presence of God in a way that will grow our capacity to sense Him with us?
One of the best ways we have found is a practice we call, Relational Quiet. One way to describe this is to say it is “relaxing in the presence of another person (or in the memory of another person), knowing that I am secure and safe in their thoughts and in their heart.”
To begin, bring into your thoughts a person whom you trust with your heart. Think about how good they are, how much contentment you feel when you are with them, your sense of security while around them, how safe you feel in their thoughts about you, that you are loved and known by them. Hold them in your heart as you ponder how good it is to be their friend or confidant — how they care about you, forgive you in your faulty ways, how they encourage you, love you, and hold you in their heart. See how calm your body becomes as you do this; perhaps how deeply you feel their love.
This is “feeling the presence of another person.” And you can do this even when they are not in the room with you, simply by recalling them to mind and ruminating about how much you admire their character and how much you value your relationship with them. The point here is that they do not have to be visible to you in order for you to feel their “presence” in your heart and mind.
We can do exactly the same thing with God! All we have to do is bring Him to mind and let ourselves feel all the goodness of His love for us. If you have ever experienced God healing an old wound or speaking into your life, you already have a lot to be grateful for, and you can bring these things to mind. If you can look back over your life and see how God has brought you to a good place in your journey, you can be grateful for that. If you are just beginning your walk with Him or just now learning how good He is, you can be grateful for the hope He is giving you as you look to your future with Him. Think of all the goodness Jesus showed when He walked on the earth. Imagine the heart of God who wanted a relationship with you so much that He moved heaven and earth to make a way for us to be with Him. As Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute … think on these things” (Phil.4:8). Even if we do not yet feel the love of God in our life, we can believe that He loves us more than we know, and we can yearn for that first-hand experiential knowledge. We can believe we are safe in His thoughts of us, that He holds us in His heart and cares about us and who we are and how we manage life.
As we carry these thoughts and feelings in our heart, we are experiencing the presence of God — who is actually in the room with us! — just as we might experience the presence of some loved one who is not in our line of vision right now. This is practicing the presence of God. And holding these feelings for a few minutes in quiet contentment is what we call Relational Quiet. Practicing this for even a few minutes, several times a day, can literally change your heart to be more aware of God’s presence with you.