4 ways to place yourself in the presence of God

February 20, 2011 | 15 comments

As part of our year with St. Francis de Sales, I wanted to excerpt the section from Introduction to the Devout Life where he offers four practical tips for putting yourself in God’s presence. This is an extremely important first step of prayer, he explains, since all too often we pray as if God were off in the far distance somewhere. With Lent approaching, I thought this might be a  good section to cover since many of us are thinking about how we can improve our prayer lives. (All the text below is directly quoted from the book.)


St. Francis de Sales’ four steps for putting yourself in the presence of God

1. [Cultivate] a lively, attentive realization of God’s absolute presence, that is, that God is in all things and all places. There is no place or thing in this world where he in not truly present…Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore do not show him the respect they do after being told of his presence. However, because they do not actually see him they easily forget his presence, and haven forgotten it, they still more easily lose the respect and reverence owed to him. Unfortunately, Philothea, we do not see God who is present with us. Although faith assures us of his presence, because we do not see him with our eyes we often forget about him and behave as if God were far distance from us…This is why before praying we must always arouse our souls to explicit thought and consideration of God’s presence…When you prepare to pray you must say with your whole heart and in your heart, “O my heart, my heart, God is truly here!”

2. Remember that God is not only in the place where you are but also that he is present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit. He enlivens and animates it by his divine presence, for he is there as the heart of your heart and the spirit of your spirit. Just as the soul is diffused throughout the entire body and is therefore present in every part of the body but resides in a special manner in the heart, so also God is present in all things but always resides in a special manner in our spirit. For this reason David calls him “the God of his heart, ” and St. Paul says that “we live, and move, and are in God.” Therefore in consideration of this truth excite in your heart great reverence toward God who is so intimately present in us.

3. Consider how our Savior in his humanity gazes down from heaven on all mankind and particularly on Christians, who are his children, and most especially on those who are at prayer, whose actions and conduct he observes. This is by no means a mere figment of the imagination but the very truth. Although we do not see him, it remains true that from on high he beholds us.

4. The fourth method consists in the use of simple imagination when we represent to ourselves the Savior in his sacred humanity as if he were near us, just as we sometimes imagine a friend to be present and say, “I imagine that I see such a one who is doing this or that, ” or “I seem to see him” or something similar. If the most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is present, the Christ’s presence is real and not purely imaginary. The species and appearance of bread and like a tapestry behind which our Lord is really present and sees and observes us, although we do not see him in his own form.

Do not use [these techniques] all at once, but only one at a time and that briefly and simply.


I am definitely guilty of praying as if God were “out there” somewhere. I think that putting these suggestions will really help me gain more intimacy with the Lord in my prayer life. I hope it’s the same for you!


  1. Margo

    This is a really good post! There are some people in my life who would really benefit from reading this and I’m going to pass it along. In fact, I have an atheist friend (he says he’s agnostic) who couldn’t help but take something away from this. Thank you!

  2. Leah @ Unequally Yoked

    Great post, Jen. It reminds me of Screwtape’s advice that devils should trick people into fixing their prayer and reverence on either an extremely distant, abstract, almost absence God or a physical representation, taking the representation as the whole.

    A nice positive counterpoint to Lewis’s cautionary tale.

  3. CM

    I really like that it gives these great tips, but also says to only do them one at a time, and then only briefly and simply. I’m good about making things too difficult.

  4. Mary

    Thank you, Jennifer!

    Just as I started to read this, looking forward to being in God’s peaceful Presence, I had to run upstairs and tell our teenagers to turn their music down! They have school today, the rest of us don’t. GRRRRRR! But #1 reminded me that God is here in the middle of the noise of our family. Therefore, I KINDLY reminded them to turn the music down.

    Also, I stumbled upon and read some athiest blogs (I was voting for the Bloggies). YIKES!!!!! It was truly depressing~the anger they spew forth and hatred they reap…I had to stop reading after about 15 minutes….depressing stuff. And the language!

    Life in the Light in so much better!

  5. Elisa

    I am loving St. Francis de Sales. I keep reading excerpts of his in “The Hidden Power of Kindness”. So much wisdom from the Saints, that for some reason (for the past 10 years!) I’ve not been paying attention to.

  6. Kelly

    This was one of the best books I ever read–thank you for reminding me! Now I have to go get it out of my bedside drawer-where it is held together with a rubber band 🙂 It is so simple and practical, I just want to smack myself in the head for forgetting this stuff sometimes.

  7. Elizabeth Esther

    This reminds me of when I was growing up in a fundamentalist church and we practiced spontaneous, “popcorn style” prayer. The men, especially, were fond of booming out these grand, flowery prayers which were more ABOUT God than TO God. The affect this had on me was to view God as distant, abstract, impersonal and tempermental. I very rarely prayed aloud because I was ashamed of the way I prayed. I wasn’t fancy enough. I thought I needed to pepper my prayer with a bunch of Scripture references in order for it to be a “good” prayer. I really love St. Francis’ thoughts on prayer. Thank you for sharing them with us.

  8. azerty(from France)

    God is very close and wants nothing but to make us “partakers of the divine nature”.(CCC art 460)
    He is both transcendant and immanent. He is present in the spirit (the “noûs” of the orthodox) that is the highest part of the soul (“the inmost being of the soul”, the “abditum mentis” of St Augustin).
    As St Augustin writes “Thou wast more inward to me than the most inward part of me; and higher than my highest reach.” (Conf III, VI)

    Here is an article on “theosis” (deification/union with God), a traditional doctrine that catholics tend to forget and even mistake for mormonism.

    St John of the Cross writes in the Spiritual Canticles of the Soul :

    “We must remember that the Word, the Son of God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is hidden in essence and in presence, in the inmost being of the soul. That soul, therefore, that will find Him, must go out from all things in will and affection, and enter into the profoundest self-recollection, and all things must be to it as if they existed not. Hence, St. Augustine says: “I found You not without, O Lord; I sought You without in vain, for You are within,” God is therefore hidden within the soul, and the true contemplative will seek Him there in love, saying,
    “Where have You hidden Yourself?”

    The same doctrine is taught by Doctors of the church like St Athanasius, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Theresa Avila, St Bernard, St Bonaventure (the “Mind’s road to God” http://www.catholictreasury.info/books/road_to_God/index.php)

  9. Jennifer@GDWJ

    As I read this, I think of the Greek word: kardia. It means the very center of one’s being. God is *that* close.

    Strong’s says that kardia is mentioned more than 800 times in Scripture, but never referring to the actual muscle that pumps blood through us. It’s the center of who we are — very Temple of God.

    Thank you for the reminder of how deeply He is woven in.

  10. Gary Ludlam

    I have recently discovered Introduction to the Devout Life, and I wish I had read it years ago. I am forming the opinion that it should be required reading at RCIA. I know that I will make sure my kids read it when they are old enough.
    This is quickly becoming one of my top three “keep at my fingertips” books, along with Imitation of Christ and True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. (Scripture, of course occupies a place of its own.)
    On the topic of the presence of God, I am sure you have read Brother Lawrence, but if you haven’t, it is more than worth it.
    May the peace of Christ be with you!

  11. Alyson

    Super post, Jen. I am going to take a closer look at St Francis de Sales. Thanks for the post.

  12. Mel

    Great thoughts on getting our minds ready for prayer. Thank you for posting this.

  13. kim speirs

    St. Francis de Sales is the patron saint of journalists. Would you all be offended if I asked you to pray for journalists across the world to open their hearts to God’s will? Mass media truly plays such an important role in the world’s culture and we need journalists to recognize the role of GOD in that culture. Thank you and God bless!

  14. Judy @ Learning To Let Go

    St. Francis de Sales is so practical in his teaching, but probably what really draws me is his kindness. And how many works of devotion can you read that are addressed to a woman? What a man! I wish I had known him, and I hope to meet him in Heaven!

  15. Michigan_Pat

    Just came across a comment I made recently regarding graphic images….

    If we really believed we could end abortion next year, what support systems will we have in place? Perhaps we need to invest more in our local crisis pregnancy centers? Perhaps we need to get out the “success story” message about the abortions that don’t happen? Perhaps a positive message of hope and options would lead women away from the hopeless message that abortionists offer?

    I do think that the graphic images are necessary.

    I think that some people will never be turned away from having an abortion. But I do think that most people who are informed about what an abortion really is would look for other options first, instead of first going to the places that offer abortions, hoping for options.

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