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Learning the Practice of God's Presence

How do I know God is with me? How do I recognize God's voice and guidance when I pray? How do I see the presence of God in everyday life? Good questions. Simply claiming the mantle of Christ does not automatically confer the insight to answer these questions. Rather, they come as the result of deliberate, mindful openness to the leading of God and the practice of spiritual disciplines that help acquaint us with God.

It is easy to make assumptions about what people know and experience in their relationship with God, and we may be astounded to see how often our assumptions are mistaken. Even long-time church participants can use guidance in being open to God and in understanding just what happens when we are. Having said that, I don't mean to suggest that there is one answer. God moves in both obvious and mysterious ways that are sometimes abundantly clear and at other times painfully obscure. What we can say is that God is always at work in our lives and wishes to be known by us. We just have to watch for it. But how and where?

Opening to God in Christian Education Settings
We can trust that God is with us anywhere; but for our purposes, we turn here to settings and opportunities that are related to Christian education. Some of these settings are formal (organized classes and small groups, for example); others, informal (conversations with class participants or parents in the hall, spontaneous moments of prayer or other interaction).

Consider these opportunities:

The lesson material. Are prayers or other devotional tools included in the session plan? Does the content touch on some experience within a class or group member that calls forth prayer?
The teachable moment. Something happens (probably unexpected) that calls you to suspend the lesson briefly and do some deep listening, praying, or guiding for one or more persons in the group.
The life of the leader. Ideally, the group leader is ready to focus on the needs and issues of the group, but that is not always possible. Modeling the need for prayer, or more study, or for discernment frees up other people to ask for what they need as well.
The life of the church. Is something happening in the life of the congregation that resonates with the session material or that supersedes it for all or part of a group session? Is there an opportunity for Christian conversation about a congregational concern that will bring God's clarity for the congregation?
The issues of the nation or community. When something particularly joyous or painful happens, we need to take time for celebration or grieving and processing. Especially in the wake of national tragedies, such as the September 11 attack, there is great need to discern, with God's help, how to make meaning or how to see a way when there appears to be no way. Helping group members think theologically about the events in their lives is a tremendous gift.

How Do I Know?
Sometimes a feeling of certainty or conviction follows prayer, a time of discernment, or Christian conversation. An answer of sorts takes shape in our hearts and minds. Sometimes an image, picture, or illustration pops to mind that evokes a godly message. Perhaps the lyrics to a hymn or other sacred song begin to play and illumine the heart. The timely word of advice or even an offhand remark opens up your thought in a way not previously considered. A daily devotional piece strikes a chord because of having opened previously to a new way or new desire of looking for God's response.

God's movement is constant and available; and by attention, desire, and practice, we become more proficient at both seeing the opportunities and benefiting from them. The key is to look and listen.

Diana L. Hynson is retired from the Discipleship Ministries. This article first appeared in Christian Education Week, 2005; edited, 2011.

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