Saturday, May 03, 2008

Practicing the Presence of God

I remember how influenced I was when I first read Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God.” It was close to 20 years ago and I still refer to the concept in my messages and in my personal devotions. I came across them again while reading “Exiles” by Michael Frost and thought I would post them here – both for your reference and for mine. A website has been established that has collected some of Brother Lawrence’s letters has been set up here.

Brother Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman around 1610 in Herimenil, Lorraine, a Duchy of France. At mid-life he entered a newly established monastery in Paris (called the Order of the Dicalced [barefoot] Carmelites) where he became the cook for the community which grew to over one hundred members.

A gentle man of joyful spirit, Brother Lawrence shunned attention and the limelight. It was not until after his death in 1691 that a few of his letters were collected. Joseph de Beaufort, counsel to the Paris archbishop, first published the letters in a small pamphlet. The following year, in a second publication which he titled, 'The Practice of the Presence of God', de Beaufort included, as introductory material, the content of four conversations he had with Brother Lawrence. 
In this small book, through letters and conversations, Brother Lawrence simply and beautifully explains how to continually walk with God - not from the head but from the heart.

Practicing the presence of God is to be done continually – especially in public where the wonderful aroma of Jesus can be sensed. Brother Lawrence’s practice involved five simple skills that lead to a deep awareness of God’s presence. They are simple to explain but not always simple to master.

1. Seek God’s Presence – guarding your heart with care to retain purity.
Brother Lawrence understood that it is impossible to seek God’s presence while also seeking after sinful human desires. So in order to experience the presence of God we must regularly confess our sin and recognize that His presence is available in spite of it. In order for us to fully experience this presence, we need to be ruthlessly honest about our sinfulness, keeping short accounts with God, while being sharply aware of the constant availability of God’s tender and unearned grace and mercy.

2. See God’s Presence – keep the soul’s gaze fixed on God by faith.
This step is about cultivating a capacity to see God’s presence shining through even the most mundane or profane of life’s activities. This sacralizing of the everyday allows us to see that God doesn’t live in church buildings or cathedrals but he can be seen in every element of the world. We are thus freed to see God in distinctly nonreligious categories and to help not-yet-Christians to connect to a God who can be encountered even if they have never been to church.

3. Live God’s Presence – do all for the love of God.
The practice of Christian spirituality does not demand isolation or retreat. All of our everyday activities hold the potential to become what Brother Lawrence called “little acts of communion with God.” Every single activity of our lives is a chance to glorify God – it charges all our activities with glory. Sanctification isn’t based on the actual activities we perform, but on our preparedness to do them for God rather than for ourselves. For him, performing the ordinary task of cooking, was as wondrous and beautiful an opportunity to experience God as was prayer or the Eucharist. He said: “We must never tire of doing little things for the love of God, who considers not the magnitude of the work, but the love.” So our daily lives, whether as lawyers or labourers, doctors or domestic workers, CEO’s or secretaries, ministers or mechanics, are opportunities to serve God.

4. Speak in the Presence of God – offer short prayers to God.
Brother Lawrence offered these suggestions: “To those who set out upon this practice, let me suggest a few words, such as “My God I am wholly Yours,” or “O God of love, I love You with all my heart,” or, “Lord, make my heart even as Your own,” or other such words as love prompts at the moment. Before beginning any task I would say to God with childlike trust: “My God since You are with me and since I must apply myself to these duties by Your order, I beg You to give me the grace to remain with You and keep You company. Even better, my Lord, work with me, accept my efforts and take possession of all my affections.” Moreover as I worked, I would continue to hold familiar conversation, offering to Him my little acts of service and entreating the unfailing assistance of His grace.”

5. Treasure God’s Presence – value the presence of God more than anything.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
When we value the presence of God more than anything, we will set our minds and our hearts on pursuing this one thing above all else. But our primary motivation for pursuing God is not our own pleasure but because that is what God wants more than anything else! It is God who desires our attention and who derives such pleasure from it. It is God who initiates relationship and intimacy and desires it in the most regular and everyday activities of our lives.

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