Practice the Presence of God

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If you have never read the delightful little book The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence, you really must. This short book of letters and recorded conversations of Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite monk, was compiled by a fellow monk after his death in 1691. In it, Brother Lawrence explains how he remains constantly in communion with God, continually in a conversation of prayer, doing every act for the glory of God. He “resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions.” Some would call this attitude of living “abiding” in God’s presence. Perhaps one of the best known pictures from the book is of Brother Lawrence scrubbing greasy pots in the monastery kitchen to the glory of God and for the love of God.

Part of what I love about this is that it’s not “heady” or intellectual. It’s not being able to provide a theological explanation or defense. It’s about loving God on a very basic heart-level. It’s about trusting that God is constantly with us—and within us through the Holy Spirit—and that truly whatever we do can be done for his glory and out of love for him.

It strikes me that the heart of Brother Lawrence’s message is this—what makes an action glorify God is not the nature of the action itself but the attitude with which we do it. This means that a stay-at-home mom can live a life more focused on glorifying God than someone in full time ministry with the wrong heart-attitude. You can be a janitor, a bus-driver, a financial expert, a business executive, a teacher…and your work can be done to glorify God and out of love for him. It comes down to the orientation of our hearts. It’s a message saying—go do life and recognize that every little piece of it is from the Lord; he cares about the details and the daily menial tasks; he can meet with you in them. I think this is the secret to being able to rejoice in all things.

Many monks and nuns over the centuries have left us writings of how they achieved communion with God. They detail the various levels drawing them in closer and the means through which they were mystically united with God. While we can learn from them, I also find them to be a bit of a challenge. I can’t sit for most of my day in solitude, in meditation, in fasting, in prayer. These things were their full time job—and they aren’t mine.

For many years, these monks and nuns were considered closer to God because they could devote their whole lives to nothing else than prayer and studying the Scriptures. This is part of what Martin Luther reacted against during the Reformation. He argued for the “priesthood of all believers,” namely every believer has direct access to God and every believer can worship him and bring glory to him, even as a carpenter, a barber, a cobbler, etc. He elevated the status of the “every man’s” work, saying that all of us, in full time ministry or no, can glorify God.

But this message is easily forgotten. When we think of what we’re doing to “follow Jesus” or to serve/glorify God, the conversation quickly turns to our church activities, our mission trips, the length and quality of our quiet times and meditation, the number of times we’ve shared our faith. While these things without a doubt are important and should be a part of a believer’s life, by equating glorifying God or following Jesus with these “spiritual” activities, we cut God out from the rest of our lives. He doesn’t just want our spiritual activities—he wants all of us, which includes our work, our chores, our play. Hyper-spiritualizing these things is not the answer—I think the lifestyle of Brother Lawrence is the answer. In our work, chores, and play, we remember that God is there, that he is glorified by his children being fully alive, and that he is in the every day. He became a human—he ate, he slept, he laughed, he travelled, he cried. He never taught us to escape our bodies or escape this world, but rather to turn our hearts to following him while we’re in the world. For some of us, that does mean a drastic life change, perhaps a move to somewhere we wouldn’t chose on our own. But for most of us, it means “doing life,” but with the eyes of our heart on the Lord, seeking to serve him in the every day, seeking to walk continually in his presence, as if he were physically with us as we go through our daily tasks.

So how do we do this? How do we follow the lessons our friend Brother Lawrence taught centuries ago? What is the secret that brought Brother Lawrence to the point of scrubbing pots for God—in a literal meaningful and worshipful sense, not a facetious way?

“That in order to form a habit of conversing with God continually, and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.”

In other words—practice. We practice keeping up a constant conversation with God as we go through the day. We practice considering how we can do the simple work before us to His glory. And, according to our friend Brother Lawrence, this practice makes abiding in God’s presence our default mode.

So wherever you are today, remember that God is there with you, no matter how trivial it might feel. Look for him there, practice his presence, and do all for the love of God.