Sometimes, the best prayer is just being in God’s presence
Recently someone asked me about the “right way” to pray. They wanted to know what the correct words were to use when you pray, whether you’re asking God for something or just praising God.
I’ve been surprised over the years to meet a lot of people who don’t feel like they know how to pray. They hear ministers and pastors, as well as members of a church or Bible study group they’re in, wax eloquent when praying out loud during a church service, at a meeting, or even before a meal.
Several people in my Bible study classes have told me they didn’t really know how to pray very well, that they just didn’t know the right words to say, whether they were praying out loud in a group or silently to themselves.
The more I’ve thought about this, the more I can see why someone might feel this way. If you listen to enough spoken prayers, whether in church, at a Bible study, a meeting, or even on social media, you start to hear certain rhythms, patterns, cadences, and repeated phrases.
People who pray in public are often very good at it, in fact they can be quite eloquent at times, calling down God’s blessings, protection, and guidance.
Is there a “right way” to pray?
But what if you’re not so great at such eloquent prayers?
It’s no wonder that a lot of people think they don’t know how to pray, because they don’t think they can sound like the people they hear praying out loud. And I think others just tend to copy their prayer style, and then feel like they’re doing it the “right way.”
So when this person I mentioned earlier asked me about how to pray the “right way,” I told her there was no one right way to pray, that she should not try to copy someone else’s style or words, that she just needed to experience God’s presence. Then the right ideas would come for her to pray with.
Being in God’s presence
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea, just being in God’s presence. This is really the foundation of the most effective prayer, which is really just communing with God.
The Bible talks a lot about being in God’s presence.
Moses had to learn this over and over. He kept asking God for signs and proofs that God had chosen him, both before and after he led the children of Israel out of Egypt.
When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush, telling him to go speak to Pharaoh,
But Moses pleaded with the LORD, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.”
Then the LORD asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? … Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.”
But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.”
Then the LORD became angry with Moses. “All right,” he said. “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he speaks well. And look! He is on his way to meet you now. He will be delighted to see you. Talk to him, and put the words in his mouth. I will be with both of you as you speak, and I will instruct you both in what to do.” Exodus 4:10-15 NLT
Is God’s presence enough?
Moses saw the burning bush and talked to God. Later, he saw the Red Sea part before his eyes and the dry land appear. But Moses still felt uncertain of his abilities. He still needed some reassurance that he was doing everything the way God wanted him to.
Have you ever felt that way?
This was especially true right after Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of stone with the 10 Commandments written on them. He found the people worshiping a golden calf and claiming this idol had brought them out of Egypt. You can read about that in Exodus, Chapter 32.
This did not exactly fill Moses with confidence that he would be able to carry out what God had called him to do.
Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:12-14 NIV
God kept reassuring Moses
This sounds almost identical to the conversation when God first talked to Moses out of the burning bush. Moses had wondered who God would send with him to talk to Pharaoh and asked for someone else to do the job.
In each of these situations God said, “I will be with you,” “My presence will go with you.”
Moses had experienced God’s presence. He was constantly having a conversation with God about what to do, but he still wanted another person, something, someone, he could see and depend on.
God kept reassuring Moses that He would be with him. Moses needed to learn, that no one could help and guide him the way God could.
And I think this is one of the things Moses came to see, that talking to God, obeying God’s directions, being in God’s presence was more important and powerful than having someone else to help him.
The Bible affirms God’s presence
The importance of being in and feeling God’s presence is a theme throughout the Bible.
I love this verse from Psalms
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy; Psalms 16:11 NKJV
The book of Psalms is full of references to being in God’s presence. Here are just a couple more:
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. Psalm 95:2 NKJV
I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence! Psalm 139:7 NLT
Think about this for just a minute, you can never get away from the presence of God.
Do you ever feel out of God’s presence?
Unfortunately, sometimes we feel separated from God, and then we act that way. But you cannot actually get out of God’s presence, just as Psalm 139 says.
How do we know this? Well, because of the way God describes Himself,
Can anyone hide himself in secret places,
So I shall not see him?” says the LORD;
“Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD. Jeremiah 23:24 NKJV
If God fills heaven and earth, then where ever you are, God is there. You are in His presence, even if you don’t feel it, or believe it.
How to feel God’s presence
So the real question becomes, “How do I become aware of being in God’s presence?”
Well, maybe the first step is simply to admit that God is present where ever you are, have been, or ever will be, even if you’re not aware of it.
Think about the times when you have felt God’s presence. What was it that happened? Cherish those moments.
What if you have never felt God’s presence? Well, I can’t make any promises about how or when you will experience God’s presence. But I firmly believe that God will reveal Himself to you in one way or another.
It may not be a burning bush like it was with Moses.
It might simply be the way butterfly glides from flower to flower, or the way a sunset fills the sky. Or it could be a quiet sense of peace that words can never describe, a good deed done without any expectation of reciprocity, or the smile of a stranger.
God speaks to us and makes His presence known in many ways.
Sometimes when I’m not really feeling God’s presence, I talk to Him anyway. I ask questions, as if I know God will answer, sooner or later, at least. This has been really helpful to me on many occasions. When I think and behave as though God is present, even though I may not feel it at that moment, it helps break through what feels like distance or separation from God.
Basically, I just start talking to God, and listening for a response.
Jesus knew he was always in God’s presence
I think Jesus was always having a conversation with God, even when he was in the midst of helping or talking to people.
How can I say that? Well, if you’ve been listening to The Bible Speaks to You Podcast for a while, you probably know the Bible verse I’m going to mention here.
“I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it. And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.” John 12:49, 50 NLT
Jesus only said what God told him to. That means, whenever Jesus was talking to someone individually or to a crowd, he was listening for what God told him to say.
Jesus was always conscious of being in God’s presence.
And in thinking about this in relationship with Moses, I just realized that Jesus actually fulfilled the words God spoke to Moses, which I quoted earlier, “I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.” (Exodus 4:12 NLT)
Jesus and the Father
Jesus was aware of his relationship with the Father. He said
I and my Father are one. John 10:30 KJV
And he prayed that everyone who ever believed on him
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you.” John 17:20, 21 NLT
Jesus’s prayer was for us to experience the same oneness, the same relationship, with the Father that he had.
If Jesus prayed for this, it means it must be possible. So we can start from this premise.
Does that mean we can sit back and say to ourselves, “Well, I know I’m in God’s presence, so I’ll just do whatever I want to.”?
No, it’s not an intellectual activity or process. It’s not just saying the words. It’s a spiritual, heart-felt awareness. And we need to nurture that awareness.
How? Through prayer, Bible study, fellowship with others who have the same desire. There are lots of ways. Those are just a few. One of the most important ones is just to be alone with God.
Being alone in God’s presence
Jesus felt this need, to be alone with God. Sometimes he got up early in the morning to pray and sometimes he stayed up all night to pray. (See Mark 1:35 and Luke 6:12 below)
Another time, Jesus sent the crowds away because he needed some time be alone. (See Matthew 14:22, 23 below)
Jesus was doing what he needed in the moment to be in God’s presence. But he also set an example for us.
We need to take time to nurture the awareness of God’s presence in our lives. One of the best ways to do this is in quiet, solitary prayer.
Preparations for the day
When you get a sense of God’s presence in these quiet moments, it helps prepare you for what happens the rest of the time.
Right after Jesus had gotten up early to pray, his disciples came looking for him and they went to another town where he preached and healed lots of people. His early morning prayers being alone with God prepared him for what he did later that day.
The same is true for you and me. When you get a sense of God’s presence in your prayer time, for example, it prepares you for the opportunities and challenges that come up.
I cannot promise you, just because you have experienced God’s presence at some point during the day, that there won’t be challenges. But I can promise you that having experienced God’s presence in your quiet prayer time, will prepare you to meet those challenges and help you feel God’s presence in the midst of those challenges.
I felt God’s presence in a storm
One time, many years ago, I was planning to go on a hike with some friends. The sky was cloudy and overcast and it rained the previous night, but we decided to go anyway. This was before the weather channel or such an abundance of weather apps. It never occurred to us to check the forecast.
As we were driving to where the hike started, I felt the urge to pray. I caught a glimmer of Jesus’s promise that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. I had a wonderful sense of God’s presence and felt at peace.
Later on the hike, it started to rain again and we were caught in terrible lightening and thunder storm up on a mountain.
Everyone else in the group was terrified. It really was a pretty dangerous situation.
I had just come off the mountain when lightning struck not too far from me. I felt a mild surge of electricity through my body, and the keys in my pocket tingled. The others who felt it were screaming. At that moment I started shouting the Lord’s Prayer as loud as I could, but the thunder was so loud, I couldn’t even hear myself.
I have to say though, I felt completely safe. I was never afraid. I remembered my prayer from before the hike and that gave me a sense of calm. I really felt God’s presence there right in the middle of the storm.
When storms come into your life, either literal storms or metaphorical ones, it does not mean God is no longer present. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge God’s presence and trust God to help you get through a challenge, whatever it is.
Jesus, as always, gives us the best examples of this. He knew God was always present, whether he was healing someone, stilling a storm, or walking through an angry crowd unharmed.
But the supreme example was just before and during his crucifixion.
If you want to see the conversation Jesus had with God, knowing that in a few short hours he would be nailed to a cross, go read John, Chapter 17. I’ve already mentioned his prayer for our oneness with him and the Father. But there’s a whole lot more in this chapter that shows Jesus’s deep awareness that he was and always would be in God’s presence.
Even in the midst of the crucifixion, Jesus was conscious of and appealed to God’s presence. He felt God’s presence and could make this appeal for God to forgive everyone for the injustice done to him.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 NLT
Did God abandon Jesus?
Some theological perspectives say that Jesus felt abandoned by God when he was on the cross, that he felt separated from God’s presence, when he cried out,
At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Matthew 27:46 NLT
If you take this on the surface, it looks like Jesus does not feel God’s presence.
But this is actually the first verse of Psalm 22. Jesus is telling everyone to go read Psalm 22, which has multiple references to his crucifixion. It may seem like God had abandoned Jesus, but if you read all of Psalm 22, you realize it’s a declaration of victory over the evil forces that tried to destroy Jesus.
And finally Jesus quotes another verse from the Old testament (see Psalm 31:5), which shows he is very much aware of and completely dependent on God’s presence.
Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last. Luke 23:46 NLT
And we all know what happened. Three days later, Jesus walked out of the tomb. Jesus proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that God’s presence was always with him and is always with us.
It was true for Jesus. And it’s true for us, whatever the challenges or circumstances we find ourselves in.
Some people are afraid of being in God’s presence
But have you ever noticed, sometimes, people are afraid of God’s presence. They believe God will be so conscious of all the mistakes they’ve made in their lives, they aren’t worthy to be in God’s presence, or that God will condemn them.
But Christ has shown us and given us the pathway to freedom from sin. Paul says
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2 NKJV
Christ makes us free. Christ wakes us up to the fact that we are always in God’s presence.
And I love the way Paul explains this in
Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. Ephesians 3:12 NLT
Practicing God’s presence
I have a friend Heather, who used to say that the best prayer is just to practice being in God’s presence.
This is what I encourage you to do. Practice being in God’s presence. Consciously entertain the idea that God is right there with you, watching you, guarding you, guiding you, every moment.
How would you feel if you were completely aware of God being present with you? Would you act differently? Would you think different thoughts? How would it change what you say or don’t say? How would it change the way you think about and treat other people? How would it change the way you see and treat yourself?
In God’s presence, you are seen, you are known, you are provided for, you are loved by God. And you are conscious of it.
Once again, I encourage you this week, and beyond: Practice being in God’s presence. Take some time when you’re not trying to solve a problem, not praying for anything in particular.
Just practice being in God’s presence.
Photo credit: Davide Cantelli on Unsplash.com
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
Exodus 4:10-15 NLT
10 But Moses pleaded with the LORD, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.”
11 Then the LORD asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? …
12 Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.”
13 But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.”
14 Then the LORD became angry with Moses. “All right,” he said. “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he speaks well. And look! He is on his way to meet you now. He will be delighted to see you.
15 Talk to him, and put the words in his mouth. I will be with both of you as you speak, and I will instruct you both in what to do.
Exodus 33:12-14 NIV
12 Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’
13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
14 The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Psalms 16:11 NKJV
11 You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
Psalm 95:2 NKJV
2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
Psalm 139:7 NLT
7 I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
Jeremiah 23:24 NKJV
24 Can anyone hide himself in secret places,
So I shall not see him?” says the LORD;
“Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD.
John 12:49, 50 NLT
49 I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it.
50 And I know his commands lead to eternal life; so I say whatever the Father tells me to say.”
John 10:30 KJV
30 I and my Father are one.
John 17:20, 21 NLT
20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.
21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you.
Mark 1:35 KJV
35 And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
Luke 6:12 KJV
12 And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
Matthew 14:22, 23 NLT
22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home.
23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.
Luke 23:34 NLT
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Matthew 27:46 NLT
46 At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Luke 23:46 NLT
46 Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last.
Romans 8:2 NKJV
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
Ephesians 3:12 NLT
12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.