I confess: I sometimes struggle to be present. My wife knows. The person on the other end of the phone knows. I think I’m fooling others, but I’m only fooling myself.
I (and maybe you too) are distracted by thoughts of what you should be doing next. I am distracted by how I’m going to respond to what you’re saying when I should be listening to what you’re saying. I have recorded events on my camera that I never recorded in my brain because I was more focused on the camera than what was right in front of me. Even in ministry, I have only been half-present at times because I have resisted the limitations and messiness of my own context.
But God is rich in mercy. He gives grace to the distracted as we long to be present where we are. We can learn about him, and his presence everywhere, along with the implications for us who are not, and who are often frustrated because of this.
The Omnipresence of God
In contrast to us, God is fully present. In Concise Theology J.I. Packer writes:
He is present everywhere in the fullness of all that he is and all the powers that he has, and needy souls praying to him anywhere in the world receive the same fullness of his undivided attention. Because God is omnipresent he is able to give his entire attention to millions of individuals at the same time.
This knowledge, Packer writes, produces great faith and great praise.
Applying God’s Presence to My Distraction
It’s not enough to believe in the omnipresence of God. We need to apply it, especially given the frustration we often feel about being so limited to one time and place with all of its messiness.
In his excellent book Sensing Jesus, Zack Eswine advises us to learn our limits. He wants us to embrace our physicality (“our lives, in contrast to God’s, are necessarily physical and local”) and immediacy (we are often in more of a rush than God is). We learn to attend to our place differently:
In Jesus we learn that we are never the first to arrive on the scene. We enter the moment quieted to learn what has transpired there before we arrived. What has God been doing prior to our arrival? Once there, what is his intention for our presence?
We learn to be patient. Eswine quotes an Jack Miller’s advice to a missionary:
Give it your heart out of gratitude for a tender, seeking and patient savior. Make every common task shine with the radiance of Christ. Then every event becomes a shiny glory moment to be cherished— whether you drink tea or try to get the verb forms of the new language. . . . Always try to be daring but don’t be in a hurry. . . . If you don’t like what is going on in Uganda, wait a week. It’ll be the opposite.
Sounds a lot like missionary Jim Elliott’s advice: “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
In other words, God’s presence everywhere means we can be present right where we are. His presence in all of time means that we can be present not just in this space, but also in this moment.
This is what God’s presence means for my distracted heart. It means that I embrace the limits of where I am, believing that God is fully present there. It means that I learn to live every moment in the richness of God’s presence, believing that he was at work long before I got here. It means that I put aside my impatience and take up ordinary tasks for his glory, living in this space and time as an apprentice of Jesus.
It means that I’m learning to be present.