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I hope that a new generation of believers discovers the rich treasure of wisdom found in Richard Lovelace’s The Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (IVP, 1979). I found the following quote instructive, convicting, and encouraging at the same time:

This failure to recognize the Holy Spirit as personally present in our lives is widespread in the churches today. . . . Even where Christians know about the Holy Spirit doctrinally, they have not necessarily made a deliberate point of getting to know him personally. They may have occasional experiences of his reality on a hit-and-run basis, but the fact that the pronoun “it” is so frequently used to refer to him is not accidental. It reflects the fact that he is perceived impersonally as an expression of God’s power and not experienced continually as a personal Guide and Counselor.

A normal relationship with the Holy Spirit should at least approximate the Old Testament experience described in Psalm 139: a profound awareness that we are always face to face with God; that as we move through life the presence of his Spirit is the most real and powerful factor in our daily environment; that underneath the momentary static of events, conflicts, problems and even excursions into sin, he is always there like the continuously sounding note in a basso ostinato.

Lovelace provides a metaphor for what sadly seems often to be the case:

The typical relationship between believers and the Holy Spirit in today’s church is too often like that between the husband and wife in a bad marriage. They live under the same roof, and the husband makes constant use of the wife’s services, but he fails to communicate with her, recognize her presence and celebrate their relationship with her.

Lovelace asks, “What should be done to reverse this situation?” Here is his answer:

We should make a deliberate effort at the outset of every day to recognize the person of the Holy Spirit, to move into the light concerning his presence in our consciousness and to open our minds and to share all our thoughts and plans as we gaze by faith into the face of God.

We should continue to walk throughout the day in a relationship of communication and communion with the Spirit mediated through our knowledge of the Word, relying upon every office of the Holy Spirit’s role as counselor mentioned in Scripture.

We should acknowledge him as the illuminator of truth and of the glory of Christ.

We should look to him as teacher, guide, sanctifier, giver of assurance concerning our sonship and standing before God, helper in prayer, and as one who directs and empowers our witness.

We should particularly recognize that growth in holiness is not simply a matter of the lonely individual making claims of faith on the basis of Romans 6:1-14. It involves moving about in all areas of our life in dependent fellowship with a person: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16 NASB).

When this practice of the presence of God is maintained over a period of time, our experience of the Holy Spirit becomes less subjective and more clearly identifiable, as gradually we learn to distinguish the strivings of the Spirit from the motions of our flesh. (pp. 130-131)

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12 thoughts on “Practicing the Presence of the Holy Spirit”

  1. Matti says:

    Thanks for posting. It’s a confirmation of what I’ve been pondering for a long time.

    It seems to me that we are not “Pneumatic” enough in our spirituality. Too often I am just content in my deistic Christian life. But that falls so much short of the spirituality that I read in the letters of Paul.

  2. Anna says:

    I was lost at the thought of practicing the presence of God…sounds like Brother Lawrence and subjective, mystical, experiencial “practice” of the presence becoming evidence of relationship with God. The Holy Spirit IS God, not something that we can practice. Many religions, including the New Age, practice communing with Spirit, and falsely believe they are communing with God. There are many good commentaries about the concept of Practicing the Presence and the dangers of doing so outside the clear boundaries of Scripture. I would encourage you to study the issue further.

    1. Rachael Starke says:


      I was about to comment that it’s an unfortunate consequence of of the (necessarily) fierce push back against Charismaticism in the seventies and eighties that so many evangelicals are either ignorant of, or suspicious of, the genuine work of the Holy Spirit as He literally indwells us.

      Challies has a great post today at his blog reviewing a book on delighting in the Trinity which sounds like it complements this one well as it regards to how we must by nature fellowship with God in His triunity. IOW, communing with the Holy Spirit, as with the Father and the Son, is indeed communing with God.

      The kind of discipline Lovelace is describing isn’t dangerous to God’s children, but instead is dangerous to the world, the flesh, and the devil.

      Speaking personally, this post gets to the heart of some real stuggles I’ve had recently, and I’m thankful for it.

    2. Mark says:

      I would advise you to calm down, Anna. How could it possibly be wrong to mentally acknowledge that God the Holy Spirit, as Rachael notes, is literally within us? In fact, isn’t it wrong to ignore Him (i.e., isn’t it wrong not to “practice,” or be mindful of, His presence)?

      1. Anna says:


        Nothing I said was in any way said with a lack of calm. I am simply acknowledging that “practicing the presence” is a topic of great interest of the last several years, as much of the Postmodern church teeters over the edge back toward “experience” as the test of Truth vs. Scripture as the Truth by which we test all experiences we believe may be from God.

        I have studied this topic with great interest for the last several years and am in constant conversations with both New Age practitioners (Non-Christians) and some Christians with more of an experiential bent, on this very topic. What I have seen is that many Christians, in following the idea of Practicing the Presence (as promoted by Brother Lawrence and some of his contemporaries), is that all things have a spark of the holy or that most experiences can cause one to subjectively “feel” they are either the result of being in tune with the Spirit, a direct a work of the Holy Spirit, or a sign that the Holy Spirit is directing a specific action/decision. My New Age friend experiences something I can assure you is not the Holy Spirit, yet the “feeling” she gets that she attributes to “Holy Spirit” without knowing Christ is the exact feeling that prevents her from seeking God through the Scriptures.

        I appreciate Justin Taylor more than you know and find him very discerning on many topics. So this comment was not a slam on him. It is simply a caution that while it IS important to walk in the Spirit and to acknowledge and appeciate the Holy Spirit as part of the Godhead (and to your point, something many neglect to do), I feel it is also important to warn believers to “test the Spirit” and all experiences we believe are of or from Him against the clear Truth of Scripture and to ensure that we are acknowledging and communing with Him in a way that is within the clear instruction from the Word of God…Worshipping in Spirit AND in Truth.

        With all this said, I have not read Lovelace, so I was simply reacting to the idea of “practicing the presence” that originated from Brother Lawrence and as is currently in vogue within the modern church. There is a difference in acknowledging and “walking in the Spirit” and in “practicing” Him.

        1. Anna says:

          Here is some further reading on the concerns I raised:

  3. Geoff says:

    Jeremy Walker recently wrote a post on this same topic that is good and helpful.

  4. Ray Ortlund says:

    Lovelace’s book was/is a major landmark in my pilgrimage. Thanks.

  5. Dubai Church says:

    The Holy Spirit is the comforter that Jesus promised and He is ever present to counsel, comfort and help us. He helps us to pray according to the will of the father and a relationship with the Holy Spirit is something that we need to consciously desire and nurture.

  6. loo says:

    “They may have occasional experiences of his reality on a hit-and-run basis, but the fact that the pronoun “it” is so frequently used to refer to him is not accidental.”

    Basic original language texts will explain why the Holy Spirit is often called “it”. The simple answer is, and always has been, the Holy Spirit, if given a gendered word in the Bible is always Female. In Hebrew, the Holy Spirit (mentioned here and there) is used with the feminine word for Spirit. In the Greek, it is neutral – neither male nor female can be assigned, as Greek has both forms in its language and neither is applied. Assigning the Spirit of God a gender is awkward in the first place. But, as God created us male and female, in his image, the Spirit of God is revealed in the feminine. I know almost all have never heard this, but it was only a few years ago most people heard Junia was a female apostle – so something is up in the church when it comes to honesty about gender.

  7. Bill Combs says:

    I have been wanting to comment on this, but hesitated to do so. This is basically theological nonsense to talk about practicing the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Ps 139 says nothing at about this. There is no such thing as getting to know the Holy Spirit personally. Sure we come to know God more intimately through his Word. But that is it. I don’t carry on a personal conversation with the Holy Spirit. In fact Jesus said the Holy Spirit will not speak on his own (John 16:13). We communicate to God in prayer and He speaks through his Word. If it were possible to get to know the Holy Spirit personally in the same way i know my wife, then why doesn’t someone tell us how to do it?

  8. Justin Taylor says:

    Thanks for commenting, Bill. The quote does not say we get to know the Holy Spirit in the same way one gets to know one’s wife. “Personally” means in relationship to a person; there are analogous elements but not identity. I would recommend John Owen’s magisterial work on Communion with God for exegetical and theological evidence for personally communing with the Spirit.

    I suspect some people are reading my blog post title into the content of Lovelace’s quote.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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