Immanuel Every Day: How to Practice the Presence of God

{ Welcome to the 24 Days to A Christ-Centered Christmas Blog Party!
I’m glad you’re here. Thank you to Ana for inviting me to such a fun party. }

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.)

Abraham's Advent Cover

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.

Immanuel

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.

* * *

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.

There’s also a blog party Facebook group with all the posts and more!

Part of this celebration is a big giveaway – a chance to win $600 of PayPal cash! You can enter the giveaway through the image below.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas!

~ Lindsey

S.D.G.

Joy to broken worlds

The third Sunday of Advent approaches.

Some of us come to the pink candle with lighthearted laughter, sped on our journey by the jocund Spirit of Christmas itself. But some of us have walked a weightier road this season, and we are not sure we have strength to bear this word –

Joy.

Because, what if the landscape looks nothing like you thought it would? What if your best beloved is no longer there with you? What if you reach out for your journeymate in the night, only to remember the bed is half-empty and your heart is wholly crushed?

Oh, where can joy possibly be then?

And yet it comes, not as a reveller in an ugly Christmas sweater, popping champagne at the party. It comes into the lonely midnight kitchen, pulls up a stool, and drains the dregs of sorrow with you.

Joy is a relational reality.

Joy says, “It’s good to be me here with you.” It’s not based on the road you’re walking, but who you’re walking with.

Often it comes in the silent presence of a loved one, or that friend who shows up at just the right time with a tub of candy cane ice cream.

When life is hard, joy doesn’t ask you put on a happy face. Joy will cry all its mascara off with you. Joy comes when you can live life without masks and still find safety in vulnerability.

Joy comes somehow through grief that is shared.

And joy breaks into broken worlds with this simple phrase, “The Lord is come.” He is here, and here is proof that you are loved, and no matter what you face, you face it together.

Even Christmas. Even this first Christmas without the one who lit up your world.

At the heart of things, joy is relational. Joy means living loved, through grief and brokenness and doubt. Joy means living loved, even without understanding it all. Joy means living loved, so that when laughter sneaks in at unexpected moments, you can welcome it too.

Joy is for you – not as a display of fireworks or a Santa Claus parade, but as a single candle that promises to stay no matter how dark it gets.

 

~lg

S.D.G.

 

Peace is a Presence

 

Tonight, a whisper of peace over the weary world. . .

A quiet, a calm, but not as the world gives.

This peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the presence of something deeper, something that remains whole even when we are broken.

Peace is a Presence.

Peace is a Person.

 

~lg

S.D.G.

Humble Advent & A Giveaway

It’s the last day of November, and I am scrambling around trying to get the house ready for the decorations I promised the kids I would bring out tomorrow. It’s not looking like I will get everything done on my list. Which seems to be the reality most days, especially with a toddler who can pull things out faster than I put them away.

Our dining room table is at this moment covered with styrofoam shipping popcorn, bananas from the gas station, the neighbour’s mittens, assorted Duplo creations, current family read-alouds, Christmas cards in progress, and (storebought) gingersnap cookie crumbs. I’d post a picture if I could find my camera . . .

The older I get the more I realize there’s no such thing as ever being “ready” for Christmas, or even Advent for that matter. And paralysis can set in with the pressure we put on ourselves when our reality doesn’t match our ideal.

So I’m here to say, if you’re that person whose dining room table looks like mine when everyone else you know seems to have their Advent act together, just take a deep breath. It’s ok. It’s ok if you buy your cookies at the bakery. It’s ok if you don’t have a handmade Jesse tree, or 24 days of seasonal fun meticulously planned out. It’s ok if you lost the plan, or feel like you’ve lost the plot. It’s ok if you don’t have an ounce of energy to think about all this, or even a smidgen of Christmas spirit.

That’s not the point of Advent. Advent is not a time to show the world how much we’ve got it together. Just the opposite.

Advent is a time to acknowledge our mess, and be ok with it. Not because we like the mess, but because there is some One who loves us despite our mess.

The best preparation is the kind that makes your heart whisper, I can’t do this. Advent is for the hungry, the empty, the lonely, the lost, and the ones with yesterday’s dishes still in the sink. Advent is for the ones who long for something more, something beyond themselves and their abilities. Something that mere decoration can never bring.

It’s right there in Mary’s song:

He has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
but the rich He has sent away empty.   (Luke 1:52-53)

Humble.

Hungry.

This is the song of the woman who was preparing for the birth of Jesus. This is the attitude of Advent. And it’s all you need to experience the good things God wants to give you. Not. a. single. thing. more. 

The reality of Advent is for your real life. If we need some perfect preparation to welcome the mercy of the manger, that’s not good news at all.

So, yes, I am going to clear the table and maybe even sweep the floor. (Jesus may have been born in a barn, but that’s not the look I’m going for, at least not this year.) And make supper for my family, and keep going with the never-ending list. And smile through the inevitable chaos of decorating with kids and the grand design plans of a seven year old. (Please remind me of this tomorrow!)

But I will remember, at the end of another day, it’s ok. Whatever keeps me humble will also keep me ready.

***

Abraham’s Advent GIVEAWAY WINNERS

Abraham's Advent Cover

Advent begins this Sunday! If you’re looking to journey through Advent with another guy who didn’t always have his act together, might I suggest Abraham’s Advent? It’s a four week devotional that gets right to the heart of Christmas.

I will be giving away TWO copies of Abraham’s Advent (downloadable PDF, worth $7 each).

Just comment on THIS post with your favourite Christmas carol or song to be entered into the giveaway. 🙂 Entry deadline: Saturday, December 2, 6pm (EST). 

Feel free to share the giveaway on social media! Winners will be announced Saturday evening!

UPDATE: Our two randomly chosen winners are Thea and Jessica Collins!

Thea and Jessica, please send me an email at lindsey@theredlettersblog.com and I will send your copy of Abraham’s Advent on its way! 🙂

 

Happy almost Advent.

~ Lindsey

S.D.G.

The First “Nose”

Today was the first real snow.

It came in a bluster of northwest wind overnight, somewhat unexpected.

The first hint I had of it was the faint white glow from my bedroom window, when the baby woke me up before sunrise.

My seven year old saw it with her own eyes, and raced into the room to tell me. “A snowstorm!” She woke her five year old brother, and they began making plans involving sleds and snowballs.

While brewing the coffee downstairs, I flipped on the radio to discover that the bridge to the mainland was closed and the ferry wasn’t running. Every once in a while I remember we really do live on an island, and the best laid roads of mice and men are still subject to the whims of the North Atlantic.

But it was a cozy feeling nonetheless as the fire warmed the draughty old house, and I was left alone with my porridge while the big kids rolled snowballs across our giant front lawn, leaving crooked green trails behind. When they had three big enough to stack, the back door flew open and I could hear them rummaging for an extra hat and scarf. “Mom, do we have any carrots left from the garden?”

It never fails. The first snow always makes me smile.

This year I almost didn’t feel ready for it. There were too many things left undone from the summer and fall. Beach toys and tools to put away, and mitts still to find. To-do lists left undone. An unsettling sense of being behind in everything, and because of that a tingle of inadequacy. Like I wouldn’t deserve the joy I always felt, because I hadn’t done enough to prepare for it.

We rummage around for a stub of a carrot, and bundle up the baby. For all she remembers, this is her very first snow, all over again.

“Snow,” we tell her, pointing at the strange white stuff.

“Snow,” we tell her, as it makes crunching noises under her boots.

“Snow,” we tell her, introducing her to the lumpy snowman wearing a pink and purple toque. It is taller than she is.

“Snow!” we all cry.

Her face beams. “Nose!” she shouts. “Nose!”

We can’t help but laugh, and she thinks she’s made a marvellous joke. Who can blame a baby for a little consonant reversal? It’s all so new to her.

And snow has a way of renewing the child heart in me. This is its peculiar grace. I can’t control it, only find a mismatched pair of mittens, brace against the wind, and share in the delight with my kids.

Both wind and snow would clear up as the day went on. A brilliant sun would shine, melting all save for the little snowman that stood defiantly in the middle of the lawn, with a pebble smile under its nose.

 

~lg

S.D.G.