By Watchman Nee Preface

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Launching Out and Retreating

Once the outward man is broken, man’s spirit very naturally abides in the presence of God without ceasing. Two years after a certain brother trusted in the Lord, he read The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. After reading it, he felt grieved at his failure to abide unceasingly in the presence of God like Brother Lawrence. At that time he had hourly appointments to pray with someone. Why? Well, the Bible says, “Pray unceasingly,” so they changed it to “Pray every hour.” Every time they heard the clock strike the hour, they would pray. They exerted their utmost effort to retreat into God because they felt they could not maintain themselves in the continuous presence of God. It was as if they had slipped away while working and thus needed to retreat quickly back to God. Or they had projected themselves out while studying, and now they must withdraw swiftly to God. Otherwise they would find themselves away the whole day. They prayed often, spending whole days in prayer on the Lord’s Day and half-days on Saturday. Thus they continued for two or three years. Nevertheless, the trouble remained: in withdrawing they enjoyed God’s presence, but in going forth they lost it. Of course this is not their problem alone; such is the experience of many Christians. It indicates we are trying to maintain God’s presence by our memory. The sense of His presence fluctuates according to our memory. When we remember, there is the consciousness of His presence; otherwise, there is none. This is sheer foolishness, for God’s presence is in the spirit and not the memory.

To solve this problem, we must first settle the question of the breaking of the outward man. Since neither our emotion nor our thought has the same nature as God, it cannot be joined with Him. The Gospel of John chapter 4 shows us the nature of God. God is a Spirit. Our spirit alone is of the same nature as God; therefore, it can be eternally united with Him. If we try to get the presence of God by directing our thought, then when we are not concentrating, His presence seems to be lost. Again, if we seek to use our emotion to summon the presence of God, then as soon as our emotion relaxes, His presence seems to be gone. Sometimes we are happy, and we take this as having the presence of God. So when happiness ceases, the presence flees! Or we may assume that His presence is with us while we mourn and weep. Alas, we cannot shed tears all our life. Soon our tears will be dry, and then God’s presence disappears. Both our thoughts and our emotions are human energies. All activity must come to an end. If we try to maintain God’s presence with activity, then when the activity ceases, His presence ends. God’s presence requires the sameness of nature. Only the inward man is of the same nature as God. Through it alone can His presence be manifested. When the outward man lives in activities, they can disturb the inward man. Thus the outward man is not a helper but a disturber. When the outward man is broken, the inward man enjoys peace before God.

Our spirit is given to us by God to enable us to respond to Him. But the outward man is ever responding to things without, hence depriving us of the presence of God. We cannot destroy all the things without, but we can break down the outward man. We cannot put a stop to all the things without; these millions and billions of things in the world are utterly beyond our control. Whenever anything happens, our outward man will respond; thus we are not able to enjoy God’s presence in peace. We conclude, therefore, that experiencing the presence of God is contingent upon the breaking of our outward man.

If, through the mercy of God, our outward man has been broken, we may be characterized as follows: Yesterday we were full of curiosity, but today it is impossible to be curious. Formerly our emotions could be easily aroused, either stirring our love, the most delicate emotion, or provoking our temper, the crudest. But now no matter how many things crowd upon us, our inward man remains unmoved, the presence of God unchanged, and our inner peace unruffled.

It becomes evident that the breaking of the outward man is the basis for enjoying God’s presence. Brother Lawrence was engaged in kitchen work. People were clamoring for things they wanted. Though there was the constant clatter of dishes and utensils, his inward man was not disturbed. He could sense God’s presence in the hustle and bustle of a kitchen as much as in quiet prayer. Why? He was impervious to external noises. He had learned to commune in his spirit and ignore his soul life.

Some feel that to have God’s presence their environment must be free of such distractions as the clatter of dishes. The farther away they are from mankind, the better they will be able to sense the presence of God. What a mistake! The trouble lies not in the dishes, nor in other people, but in themselves. God is not going to deliver us from the dishes; He will deliver us from our responses! No matter how noisy it is outside, the inside does not need to respond. Since the Lord has broken our outward man, we simply react as if we had not heard. Praise the Lord, we may possess very keen hearing, but due to the work of grace in our lives we are not at all influenced by the things pressing on our outward man. We can be before God on such occasions as much as when praying alone.

Once the outward man is broken, one no longer needs to retreat Godward, for he is always in the presence of God. Not so with one whose outward man is still intact. After running an errand he needs to return, for he assumes he has moved away from God. Even in doing the work of the Lord, he slips away from the One he serves. So it seems the best thing for him is not to make any move. Nevertheless, those that know God do not need to return, for they have never been away. They enjoy the presence of God when they set aside a day for prayer, and they enjoy the same presence in much the same degree when they are busily engaged in the menial tasks of life. Perhaps it is our common experience that in drawing near to God, we sense His presence; while if we are engaged in some activity, in spite of our vigilance, we feel that somehow we have drifted away. Suppose, for example, we are preaching the gospel or trying to edify people. After a while we feel like kneeling down to pray. But we have a sense that we must first retreat into God. Somehow our conversation with people has led us a little away from God, so in prayer we must first draw closer to Him. We have lost God’s presence, so now we must have it restored to us. Or we may be occupied with some menial task such as scrubbing the floor. Upon completing our job, we decide to pray. Once again we feel we have taken a long trip and must return. What is the answer? The breaking of the outward man makes such returns unnecessary. We sense the presence of God in our conversation as much as in kneeling in prayer. Performing our menial tasks does not draw us away from God, hence we need not return.

Now let us consider an extreme case to illustrate this. Anger is the most. violent of human feelings. But the Bible does not forbid us to be angry, for some anger is not related to sin. “Be angry but sin not,” the Bible says. Nonetheless, anger of any kind is so strong it borders on sin. We do not find “Love but do not sin” nor “Be meek but do not sin” in God’s word, because love and meekness are far removed from sin. But anger is close to sin.

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