Practicing the presence of people…

Posted by on Sep 13, 2016 in Blog | 4 comments

You might well be familiar with Brother Lawrence’s classic The Practice of the Presence of God – a wonderful text on becoming aware of God in the everyday. But what do you think about practicing the presence of people.  At my home church (Carey Baptist) we are currently working through Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and on Sunday it was my turn to speak, the topic springing from chapter 9 of the book, ‘Growing into a mature adult: Learning new skills to love well.’ It is in this chapter that Scazzero speaks of ‘the spiritual discipline of practicing the presence of people’. Let’s think about it for a while…

Jean Vanier (founder of the L’Arche communities for those with developmental disabilities) has written that ‘to love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth, their importance’. That’s profound. Being with someone in such a way that they come to discover the beauty within them, is an act of genuine humanity. Each time we brush someone aside because we are too busy, we are in effect saying, ‘I am important, you are not.’ By contrast, when we give the gift of being fully present with another, we affirm that they are worthy of our time – and of course they are, for each person has been wonderfully created in God’s own image.

Suggesting that ‘loving well is the essence of true spirituality’ (p179) Scazzero tries to flesh out the concept, noting that simply telling people to love is unlikely to accomplish much. People need tangible tools to help them to interact in emotionally mature ways. He fleshes out several constructive steps that can be taken, but his discussion on respect especially struck me. Noting that respect is shown in the way we act towards one another, he suggests a bill of 11 rights to be implemented in family life. Here they are…

Respect means I give myself and others the right to:

  1. Space and privacy
  2. Be different
  3. Disagree
  4. Be heard
  5. Be taken seriously
  6. Be given the benefit of the doubt
  7. Be told the truth
  8. Be consulted
  9. Be imperfect and make mistakes
  10. Courteous and honourable treatment
  11. Be respected

Rattling through that list won’t change much, but pausing by each one and considering the difference implementing it would make to family life, church life, life at work – indeed, all of life, is worth the effort. Next time a little gossip floats your way, ponder number 6 – that each person has the right to be given the benefit of the doubt (and let’s face it, with gossip, there is usually a lot of doubt), or when we are about to explode at an employee at work, let’s try number 9, and give people the right to be imperfect and make mistakes (even while we try to help them to do better next time), and when we are getting a little too carried away at reshaping the future for our church or workplace, let’s remember number 8, that respect leads to genuine consultation (not the pretence of it).

On Sunday we explored these ideas against the backdrop of Paul’s prayer found in Ephesians 3:14-21. It’s one of my favourite passages. This Trinitarian prayer, made as Paul is on his knees (for a Jew a sign that the prayer was unusually intense and heartfelt) has three key requests:

  • That from God’s infinite riches, we would be strengthened by the Spirit in our inner being (v16). The journey to maturity starts as an inner work of strengthening performed by the Spirit. It is not all about me trying to pull myself up on my own. It is a gift of grace, as the Spirit works within.
  • That Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith (v17). When I am tempted to push someone aside, or not to take them seriously, I need to ask if the one who lives inside of me (Jesus) has the same perspective, and also wants to go that path. After all, I am not alone. Listening to the voice of Christ who lives within, will often see me acting very differently.
  • That knowing the depth of the love of Christ, we would be ‘filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’. Filled with the fullness of God – and that resulting from experiencing the love of Christ.

That’s the key. Because Christ has been fully present for me, and because Christ loves me, I am liberated to be present with others, and to love them a little less conditionally. I guess now it is time to stop taking about it, and to be mature enough to do it…

As always, nice chatting…



  1. Dear Brian,

    Thought you would like some feed-back: I was awake this morning at 4 a.m. UK time, and impressed by the overwhelming need for the expression of God’s love. Our family has recently suffered a torrid time with life threatening illness, and if there was ever a time when one needed to know the love of God, it is surely at such times. So, you can imagine that my heart-cry was motivated by a sense of yearning-a need to connect with God’s positive terminal and feel the connection of His love at this time-Brian, you have reached around the globe and touched a thirsty soul with your gracious words. Bless you! Ephesians 3:14-21 has been a tonic.

    Regards for now.


    • Thanks so much Robert. That is more than a little encouraging. And thank you for doing that at a time that is challenging to you. My prayers are with you.

  2. I too was blessed by this in my quiet time this morning. It came as an echo from the past. I preached on this text thirty years ago at a chapel service in a Bible college in NSW. It really spoke to me at the time. Though, I have been disillusioned by the church of late and somewhat isolated. I will write these points into my journal and work through them along with the text.
    Many Thanks

    • Thanks Christine. Hope there is strength and encouragement for you as you do.

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