What Does It Mean to Live “Coram Deo”?

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What does it mean to be “in the presence of God”?

This past Sunday at White Fields we studied Isaiah 6 as part of our series, Remember the Prophets

You can listen to the audio of the message here: A Vision of God

In Isaiah chapter 6, Isaiah gives an account of his call to ministry, which took place through a vision he had of God. In our community groups, one of the discussion questions had to do with what it means to be in the “presence” of God.

Coram Deo

Coram Deo is a Latin phrase which literally means “before God”. For Christians, throughout history, the phrase has been used to describe a life that is lived before God, i.e. in constant awareness of His presence, and seeking to experience communion with Him – not just at church or in dedicated times of prayer (although those are not to be neglected!), but as you go throughout your day.

An Uber Driver and a Stay-at-Home Mom

This past week I had two conversations which illustrated the importance of this:

The first was with a lady in community group who drives Uber several hours a day. She described how, sitting in her car, she is able to commune with God; she listens to sermons and even as she’s driving, she converses with God in her soul.

The second was a stay-at-home mom who called in to Calvary Live, the weekly call-in radio show I host on Mondays on GraceFM. She described how she struggles to find time to pray because she is so busy with her toddler, so she has developed a system where she will set timers throughout the day, and when they go off she will pray for 3 minutes uninterrupted. I suggested that perhaps it would be helpful for her to learn instead the practice of “Coram Deo”: living your whole life before the face of God, and conversing with Him throughout the day, not only in dedicated stints.

Pray Without Ceasing & The Practice of the Presence of God

Paul the Apostle wrote to the Thessalonians that they ought to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). It was in heeding this call that some throughout history were drawn to monastic movements: they became monks and nuns, went away to Bible colleges and the like, so they could truly pray without ceasing. But how can you do that if you have a job or a toddler? For most of the population, retreating from the duties and responsibilities of life in order to pray without ceasing is not feasible, and we must ask the question: even if it were feasible, would it actually be the right thing to do? I would say, No! God has given us a mission in this world, and in order to fulfill that mission, we are not called to retreat from the world, otherwise we cannot be salt and light; a city on a hill is not meant to be hidden (cf. Matthew 5:13-16)

A famous book written in the 17th Century by a monk who called himself Brother Lawrence, is: The Practice of the Presence of God. In it, Brother Lawrence describes his practice of ongoing conversation with God as he went about the duties of his day, which included dishwashing and other chores. Throughout his day, he was living Coram Deo: before the face of God.

An Integrated, Rather than Compartmentalized Life

The principle of Coram Deo is important, because it reminds us that our lives as the people of God are to be integrated, not compartmentalized. In other words: it isn’t that our lives are compartmentalized into different areas: work, family, faith, etc… – but that our faith is integrated into every aspect of our lives: we do our work before the face of God, and unto God’s glory! Our family life is lived before the face of God, and unto His glory!

In other words, to live Coram Deo means to seek to be constantly aware of God’s presence (which is there whether you realize it or not), seeking to live in constant communion with God, and integrating your relationship with God into every aspect of your life.

This means that you don’t have to be a monk or a nun in order to pray without ceasing. It means that you don’t have to be in vocational ministry (working for a church or Christian organization) in order to serve God through your work!

For more on this, read: Vocation and Calling According to the Reformers

I invite you to join me in seeking to live Coram Deo today and everyday moving forward!

For more on Isaiah’s vision of God, check out this video discussion I had with Worship Pastor Mike Payne:

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Longmont Pastor Video Blog – Episode 2: Calling and Vocation

Every week on Wednesdays we are releasing new episodes of the Longmont Pastor Video series. This week is we discuss the topics of calling and vocation and how the two are related.

You can help us spread the word by giving the video a like and sharing it on your social media or sending it directly to some friends. Follow us on YouTube or Vimeo and Soundcloud.

For email and WordPress subscribers, click here to see the video.

Vocation and Calling According to the Reformers

One question I am sometimes asked is how a person can know what their “calling” in life is. The Reformers had a lot to say on this topic, which is helpful for us in how we think about “calling” in our lives.

The words “occupation,” “job” and “vocation” are used more or less interchangeably by people today. “Vocational training,” for example, refers to training specific to a particular line of work. However, for the Reformers, the word “vocation” had a distinct meaning.

The word vocation comes from the Latin word vocare, literally: calling.

For the Reformers, to speak of work as vocation, reflected their view that “secular” work is actually a calling from God to do his work in the world and to serve your neighbor.
This was in contrast to the view which was held by the medieval Roman Catholic Church, which made a strong distinction between sacred and secular realms of life, the sacred realm being reserved for things directly related to the church and its work, and the secular realm being that of all non church-related activity. This view, however, is still very common – and the language of “secular” vs “sacred” is still very prominent. Think about all the times you have heard people talk about “secular music” as opposed to “Christian music”, or if you have heard people talk about “secular jobs” as opposed to “ministry jobs.”

To this, Luther wrote:

“What seem to be secular works are actually the praise of God and represent an obedience which is well-pleasing to him.” Housework may have “no obvious appearance of holiness, yet those household chores are to be more valued than all the works of monks and nuns.” (From Luther’s commentary on Genesis)

To the person struggling to find their calling, Luther would say, “How is it possible that you are not called? Are you a husband or a wife? Are you a mother or a father or a child or an employee?” (See Colossians 3:17-24)

The Reformers would have pushed back against the concept of “finding your calling.” Your calling, they would have said, is not something mysterious or difficult to discern. It is the current circumstances of your life. If you are a mother, then your calling is to be a mother. If you are an office worker, then it is to be an office worker. There is a freedom to change what you do, but whatever you do, you are to view it as a calling from God to serve him by serving your neighbor in that context.

What transforms a job into a calling is faith. By faith we see our daily activities as tasks given to us by God to be done for his glory and for the benefit of others.

One bit of feedback I received via social media was from a person who works in a convenience store, and who questioned how selling cigarettes, beer and junk food could possibly be service to God or others. While I’m sure that there is some redeeming value in working in a convenience store, this brings up a great point: if you do not believe that what you are doing is honoring to God or contributing to the flourishing of others, or is actually detrimental to others, then the right thing to do might be to find another job.

This teaching should not be taken to mean that you must not leave your job if, for example, the working climate or culture is unhealthy, or if you would simply like to pursue another career. It simply means that you should view whatever you do as a way to glorify God and do his work in the world by serving others.

For more on this topic see: “We Who Cut Mere Stones…”