Practicing the Presence of God

This is an updated and edited version of a post that appeared originally in October 2015.


“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” - Brother Lawrence

I sometimes grow weary of the mundane. Dishes in need of washing appear day after day on my counter. The dirty laundry bin stays empty for only a few hours at most. There are bills to be paid, doctor appointments to keep, trash to be carried away week after week. No matter how hard I scrub, the shower will once again collect soap scum, the toilet bowl that mysterious water line. It’s easy to wish away the monotony of ever-accumulating chores. It’s easy to find them drudgery.

Then I remember our friend Brother Lawrence.

Brother Lawrence was a lay brother in a Carmelite monastary in 17th-century Paris. After his death, a fellow monk compiled a short book of Brother Lawrence’s letters and recorded conversations. If you have never read this delightful little book, The Practice of the Presence of God, you really must.

Brother Lawrence has been made famous by scrubbing greasy pots “for the love of God.” While serving as a lowly monastic kitchen aide, he “resolved to make the love of God the end of all his actions.” He developed a spiritual practice of remaining in constant communion with God through a continual conversation in prayer. Every act became a way to glorify God. Through his daily practice of “abiding” in God’s presence, the mundane became a place Brother Lawrence could serve God and experience His presence.

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He teaches me a simple lesson, one I need to remember when I bend over the kitchen sink or stand folding the laundry: what makes an action glorify God is not the nature of the action itself but the attitude with which we do it.

Brother Lawrence says to me, Go do life and recognize that every little piece of it is from the Lord. Everything you do can be for His glory and out of love for Him. He cares about the details and the daily menial tasks. He can meet with you in them.

In my work, my chores, my play—all those moments of normal life—God is there. Glorifying God does not require me to fill my time with a litany of explicitly “spiritual” activities. It simply requires an everyday life surrendered to Him. He is glorified in His children being fully alive. He is served as I live each moment to His glory, out of love and gratitude for Him.

There are times when a life of this continual surrender and constant attendance to God’s presence does result in a drastic life change. It may lead some of us to move somewhere we wouldn’t chose on our own. It may lead to a career change. It may lead to radical actions with our time or our money. But most often, it means “doing life” in a rather non-extraordinary way, but with the eyes of our heart on the Lord, seeking to serve Him in the everyday, 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 meaningfully and worshipfully scrubbing pots for God?

“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. According to our friend, Brother Lawrence, this practice eventually makes abiding in God’s presence our default mode.

So wherever you are today, friend, 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.


On Days I Don't Know What to Write

There are days when I don’t know what to write. There are days when it feels like my words and ideas have dried up, leaving a parched brain and a cracked Muse.

Some have commented on my ability to churn out new content in a seemingly endless stream. Their eyes grow wide when I tell them how often I write here and of the other projects I have spinning. Many times I just shrug and smile. Most of the time I don’t feel the weight of it all.

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But there are times when the well seems to run dry.

I stare at a blank page, and the emptiness mocks me. I find other things to do—anything but sit down and feel the mental drought. I wonder if there will come a day when I run out of words for good.

Then I pick up my pen—and I write. I sit at my keyboard, and I squeeze out a few paragraphs.

This is the point when I embrace the reality that this is my job. It is not a fun artsy hobby. It is work, and sometimes work feels uninspiring. We pick ourselves up by sheer self-discipline, and we do our work anyway. It may not be our best day. It may not be the most fulfilling day—but we do it. And that is enough.

I know I’m not alone here. I hope that you, as I do, typically find your work enjoyable and fulfilling. I hope you see purpose in it. But even in the best of jobs, there are days when we’d much rather stay in bed, much rather curl up on the couch and watch Netflix, much rather do anything but go to work.

We wonder how we can possibly teach another lesson or calmly manage that disruptive student. We wonder how we can sit at the same desk, running tests, sorting through data, engineering solutions. We wonder how we can deal with the same problematic employee, the rude customer, the lunchroom drama. We wonder if the string of diapers that need changing, the sticky hands that need wiped, the petty squabbles that need soothed will ever end.

But each morning, you get up. You get up…and you go to work. And that is enough.

There is something in the discipline, something in the steadfastness that works something in us. It builds strength. It exercises the muscles of our faithfulness. It calls us to dependence. It invites us to step out once more—when we feel that we have no strength—and find that God’s grace is sufficient for our routine, daily existence. And finding Him there—that is enough.
 

Work and Worship: Porter's Gate Project

The purpose of my Everyday Disciple series is to draw our attention to opportunities for discipleship and mission in everyday life. My heart's desire is to see the Church living into a lively vision of our call as disciples of Christ, to see how each part of life is under His Hand, His Lordship, His sanctifying Power. The whole of our lives is touched by His call to "come follow Me."

When I see others engaging this same vision, I get excited. That is why, this week, I've decided to take a break from our Everyday Disciple stories in order to share a related project.  

Last June, a diverse group of worship leaders gathered for the first collaboration of the Porter's Gate Worship Project. They discussed ways worship can engage culture, particularly how worship relates to work - and work to worship. 

The fruit of this gathering is the Porter's Gate Worship Project: Work Songs. It's a beautiful collection of new worship songs written to speak to the reality of the work and vocations in which we find ourselves outside of a designated Sunday "worship time." It's a powerful project. And it's a delight to listen to and worship with. 

There are several gems on this album, but my favorite thus far is "Your Labor Is Not In Vain":  

Your labor is not unknown
Though the rocks they cry out and the sea it may groan
The place of your toil may not seem like a home
But Your labor is not unknown

The houses you labored to build
Will finally with laughter and joy be filled
The serpent that hurts and destroys will be killed
And all that is broken be healed

I am with you, I am with you
I am with you, I am with you
For I have called you, called you by name
Your labor is not in vain

There's such hope here in the promise that the seeds we plant are not in vain, that our toil is not without fruit.

How would our lives, our worship, our work, and our churches be affected if we sang songs like this regularly?

I'd encourage you to take a look at Porter's Gate. You can find out more on their website and in the video below. You can find the album through their website and on iTunes

I Should Be Writing

I should be writing. 

Instead, I’m standing in the dim light of our basement, transferring articles of our dirty clothing from the wicker hamper to the washing machine. The smell of damp and mildew surrounds me, and I wonder at the haze of cobwebs catching the thin rays of light coming through the window. I am suddenly inspired to scrub minor stains and change the sheets. 

I should be writing. 

Instead, I’m planning our meals and making a list for the store. I’m clipping coupons and browsing through sale ads. I will save us money while still filling our house with the smell of fresh baked bread and homemade chili bubbling in my teal Le Creuset. I will have extra on hand for when others join our table, planning in advance for spontaneity. 

I should be writing. 

Instead, I’m bent over the sink, hands coated in soap suds, scrubbing the pots and pans of past meals, scraping the few leftover cornbread crumbs into the trashcan. These dishes will not wash themselves. I pile up the dripping utensils of my culinary adventures, slowly revealing the table’s wooden surface. It’s dirty. I wash it. The stove is speckled with crumbs and grease splatter. I wipe it down, gently lifting the burners and drip plates. As I rinse my cloth in the sink, I notice the drain is developing a dark film. No time like the present. 

I should be writing. Instead, I’m scrubbing the drain of my kitchen sink. 

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Anne Lamott says the key to writing success is to keep your butt in the chair. Day in, day out, keep your butt in the chair and write. 

This is perhaps one of the most challenging parts of the job. To stay in the chair, to stay typing out words, whether I feel “inspired” or not, whether there are dishes in my sink or not. I can’t—and don’t—wait to sit down at my writing desk until I feel struck by an idea or moved by the Muses. I sit down every day, and I write. 

Some days it comes easy. Other days, I can barely eek out a paragraph that satisfies me. It’s on these days that I feel the incessant urge to do household chores, to do anything to flee from the cursor mocking me with its steady blinking.

The truth is, there is something powerful and strengthening in just showing up every day in obedient discipline. It works the muscles of my resolve. There is something hard won in bearing the weight of days with little creativity, with a raging inner critic, with the challenging work in what I’ve been called to. But there’s only one way to do this: butt in chair…and write.

Reformation Reflections: Your Work Matters

In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, I'm taking some time to reflect on what the Reformation means today. If you'd like to learn more about the Reformation, see my post "Protestant Amnesia: What's So Important About the Reformation?"


At the time of the Reformation, there was a strong divide the “religious” and the “secular” person. There were those who had experienced the call (or been forced into it), and there were regular folks. There were priests and monks and nuns—and then there were the butchers, the bakers, and the candlestick makers.

There was a shared belief that those in the religious life were doing important spiritual work and had their entire existence set apart for God’s service. Everyone else was bogged down by responsibilities, shackled to earthly things like family and work. They could never aspire to be as holy as those in the religious life, and they were dependent on them, as people who were closer to God than they could ever be.

The Reformation turned this paradigm on its head. Monks and nuns were being called to leave their cloistered lives—and to marry. (Please do not underestimate how scandalous this was.) The early leader of the Reformation, Martin Luther, a former monk, married Katherina von Bora, a former nun, who escaped her convent hidden amidst old fish barrels. They were “tied down” with family life, with children, with guest lodgers, with scraping together an income. Instead of a lesser station, the Reformers saw family life, particularly the raising of children, as a godly and noble undertaking.

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The same was true of our work. At the time, “vocation” was used to describe the sacred calling of monks and nuns. But Luther extended it to include normal, ordinary people, who also had a vocation—a calling—in their work. The work of the every day Christian—the plowing, the diaper-changing, the shoe making—matters.

The commonplace details of our lives aren’t to be escaped or retreated from. They are sanctified as we use them to better love and serve our neighbors. This love of neighbor is what glorifies God—not whether or not our work is explicitly religious.

Luther would say:

“The prince should think: Christ has served me and made everything to follow him; therefore, I should also serve my neighbor, protect him and everything that belongs to him. That is why God has given me this office, and I have it that I might serve him. That would be a good prince and ruler. When a prince sees his neighbor oppressed, he should think: That concerns me! I must protect and shield my neighbor....The same is true for shoemaker, tailor, scribe, or reader. If he is a Christian tailor, he will say: I make these clothes because God has bidden me do so, so that I can earn a living, so that I can help and serve my neighbor.”

So, my friend, if you go to work today with an awareness that your work is a calling, that through your normal life you can glorify God, you have the Reformation to thank. 

If you find yourself subtly thinking that your “secular” work is less-than or a distraction, that the most important work is the explicitly “sacred” work in full-time ministry—I invite you to embrace what the Reformers reclaimed for us. That our God is one of the ordinary. That our work matters. That work is a sacred opportunity to fulfill the greatest commandment to love God and love our neighbor. That all of our existence is worship and an opportunity for ministry. That all of it can be made holy. 

Soli Deo Gloria.