Immanuel. O come, O come, we sing each Advent night as we light our candles at the table.
Immanuel. Rejoice! rejoice! we shout on Christmas morn when the miniature baby makes his appearance in our nativity scene.
Immanuel. God is with us! This is the good news of Christmas. This is the holy wonder of the Incarnation. But it’s more than just the baby in the manger. It’s more than warm fuzzies under the twinkly lights. It’s more than a two thousand year old miracle.
Immanuel means not only God with some other people back then, or God with us in some abstract theological way. Immanuel means God with us right here and now. If Jesus has really done this – brought us into the embrace of the Mighty God through the flesh and blood He shares with us – then it’s a miracle we can live out any day, not just Christmas Day.
Immanuel means we can live out our ordinary lives in the presence of God.
Immanuel is a reality for your every day, whether that’s in the craziness of last minute shopping, or in the quiet letdown when the decorations are put away for another year.
It’s a nice thought. One of the nicest there could possibly be. But how do we actually live it? How do we live aware of Him when we are awash in the messy churning of real life? And what does it look like when we barely have a spare minute to ourselves, let alone a sweet hour of prayer?
I used to feel guilty when, as a new mom, I didn’t have the time anymore for lengthy, uninterrupted “quiet time” with God. I wanted that time with him, I so desperately needed that time with him, but I couldn’t seem to make it happen.
And then I discovered a little old book with a timeless idea.
It was called Practicing the Presence of God, and it was written by Brother Lawrence, a dishwashing monk who lived a few hundred years ago. He learned to recognize God as “intimately present with us” at every moment of the day. This is what practicing the presence of God is. Slowly, this concept began to transform how I thought about my time with God. I began a new practice – call it a habit, if you will – of living my days along with Jesus. Of living with Immanuel, the one who wants to live with us.
So how do we go beyond singing about Immanuel to living a lifestyle of Immanuel? I’ve put together a little list of the things that have helped me learn to practice the presence of God.
I’m sharing what I’ve learned in the hopes that it will bring you closer to Jesus as well, not just at Christmas but all year long. I’m not perfect, not by any stretch. Just a fellow pilgrim, on a journey toward deeper relationship with Christ.
1. Rethink Your Time
Here’s my little secret. You can spend more time with God, and it doesn’t necessarily involve getting up an hour earlier. (Good news for those among us who are slow starters!) Instead of looking at your schedule trying to figure out where you can “make more time” for God, look for opportunities throughout your day to live more of your time with Him. (Have you ever actually succeeded in making time? Me neither. It doesn’t seem to be a gift we mortals are blessed with.)
Making time doesn’t work well, and neither does dividing it. Sometimes we get caught in the trap of thinking some activities are “spiritual” and others are not. But we don’t need to divide our time, or or lives, into these two categories. God created us to live whole lives, with Him at the centre, radiating through all we do. Brother Lawrence felt just as close to God when he was scrubbing pots and pans as when he was worshiping in church, and we can take a page out of his book. Don’t wait for the house to be quiet to open your heart to God! He doesn’t mind the noise.
One of the best ways to think about practicing the presence of God is this: Open a conversation with Jesus when you begin your day, and keep it going. And remember, the conversation goes both ways. Speak to Him, and keep your ears open for His voice. I’ve heard it in many surprising ways. He uses even the mundane details of life as His mouthpiece. Instead of looking for some “ideal” time to spend with God, bring God’s reality into every moment of your everyday life.
2. Tie an Anchor
While it’s true that we can live alongside God during our day, it’s vital to have some time set aside to anchor ourselves in His Word and prayer. Think of this time as tying a knot into the very person of Jesus. This is what will keep you grounded in His truth. This is what will send your roots deep into His love. And this is what will keep you firm when the day threatens to sweep you away.
A daily habit of Scripture reading and prayer is foundational. It doesn’t have to be long. A few moments of focused time will go a long way in aligning your heart with God’s. You can read Scripture on its own, or track along with a devotional that is meaningful for you.
(Abraham’s Advent is a devotional I created for this season, and you can find it in the shop. Use the code WELCOME to receive 20% off until December 25.)
If you’re new to a daily habit of Scripture reading and prayer, here are a few tips:
First, choose the same time each day. That will help make it stick. Second, you can tie the habit you want to form with something you already do every day – your morning coffee, making your bed, an evening cup of tea, or something else that will trigger you to move into that time of Scripture and prayer. Piggybacking a new habit onto an old one will help. Third, be patient with yourself. New habits take time to form. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just tie that anchor the next day and keep going.
For me, morning prayer is the best way I’ve found to anchor myself in the presence of God. This is what opens the conversation with Jesus that I return to throughout the day.
(If you subscribe by email to the blog, you’ll receive the free printable “Move Into Morning Prayer,” which can help get your day moving in the right direction.)
3. Take a Moment
So you’ve opened the conversation with Jesus, and you’re trying to be more aware of His presence as your faithful friend in ordinary life. But what happens when your day starts going south, or you’ve realized all too late that you’ve lost that connection with Him and are flying off the handle? This is when you need to take a moment.
A moment is often all we need. In that moment, we simply acknowledge our need and look at Jesus. Call out His name. Turn toward His love. Recall the words He’s already spoken to you, or hear Him speak again into your situation. Realign with His purpose. Offer your gratitude. Present your requests. And rest in His otherworldly peace.
You can make a habit of doing this, as many throughout the centuries have done with “hours” of prayer (specific times of the day where you pause to pray). Or you can just reach out when you feel your need. Either way, His is the loving, faithful presence that says, “You matter. You are mine. You are beloved. My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”
So often we resist the very thing that will bring our day back on track. We throw up our hands in despair, wallow in self-pity, or succumb to distraction. But we don’t need another coping mechanism. We need to take a moment and reconnect to the source of our life. You will always be welcomed with grace.
At the end of the day, living with Immanuel means living loved in every moment.
Imagine if God’s love became the predominant reality of your day. Practicing His presence can do just that.
Here are some practical suggestions for living your every day with Immanuel this Christmas season:
- Put on Christmas music and worship while you wrap, or wash dishes, or drive to the mall, or whatever else is on your checklist today. Infuse your atmosphere with comfort and joy through music. And remember, dancing can reduce stress and lighten the atmosphere of your home, too!
- Choose a passage of Scripture to meditate on over the season, and make it visible. Write or print it out, and put it somewhere you will see it every day. There are so many beautiful passages that surround the birth of Jesus! Mary’s song in Luke 1 is one of my personal favourites.
- Take the opportunity to walk through an Advent or Christmas devotional. Pair it with your favourite hot beverage under the twinkly lights.
- Take a moment by the manger. Chances are, you have a nativity scene set up in your house somewhere. Even if, like in my house, the baby doesn’t make his appearance until Christmas morning, stop and quiet your heart for a minute or two before the scene. Breathe a prayer inviting Immanuel to fill you with His hope, peace, joy, and love. Count some of your blessings. Refocus on the centre of the story and let Him put things in perspective.
- Light a candle. With darkening days, candles are a fitting way to express hope. As you light the candle, thank Jesus for the light He brings to your life.
I believe with all my heart that we can live each day in the presence of God. What kind of day are you having? Busy? Stressed? Depressed? Lonely? Overwhelmed? Or maybe you are celebrating, or creating, or living full-hearted, messy-handed family life. No matter your day, it can be transformed by the presence of Jesus.
Rethink your time. Tie an anchor. Take a moment.
Live every day with Immanuel.
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Thank you for joining me as part of 24 Days to a Christ-Centered Christmas! You can check out all the posts here at They Call Me Blessed.
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Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!