The Practice of the Presence of God


Brother Lawrence

The Practice of the Presence of God

“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God.”

Brother Lawrence

That, in a nutshell, is the powerful theme of this treasure, a classic book worthy of consideration for Christians today. It is a short book–my copy is only 39 pages.

The full title:

Practicing the Presence of God: Being Conversations and Letters of Nicholas Herman of Lorraine, Brother Lawrence.

It was translated from French into English in 1895, but the work is much older.

This short volume contains a transcription of some brief interviews (“Conversations”) which Cardinal Noailles had with Brother Lawrence, as well as a series of 15 letters which Bro. Lawrence sent to various people.

Here is an opening tidbit; I hope it whets your appetite for more!

“He (Bro. Lawrence) told me that the foundation of the spiritual life in him had been a high notion and esteem of God in faith; which when he had once well conceived, he had not other care at first, but faithfully to reject every other thought, that he might perform all his actions for the love of God.

That when sometimes he had not thought of God for a good while, he did not disquiet himself for it; but after having acknowledged his wretchedness to God, he returned to Him with so much the greater trust in Him, as he had found himself wretched through forgetting Him.

That the trust we put in God, honors Him much, and draws down great graces.

That it was impossible, not only that God should deceive, but also that He should long let a soul suffer which is perfectly resigned to Him, and resolved to endure everything for His sake.”

Lawrence, Practicing the Presence, p 11.

Brother Lawrence was born Nicholas Herman, in the mid-1600’s. Until his 18th year, we know that he had been a footman and a soldier. He was a “lowly and unlearned man”, and in his own words, “a great awkward fellow who broke everything”. He was admitted into the barefooted Carmelites at Paris in 1668.

This followed his conversion at 18 years of age, which was a remarkably simple, lovely type of conversion experience. He describes it briefly in the book.

Bro. Lawrence regarded himself very little. Rather, he was supremely interested in spending all of his waking moments thinking about, and communing with, God. He called it: “Practicing the Presence of God.” And practice, he did. All the time.

The short work has many profound statements, ideas that to us moderns, may be unfamiliar. Here are some:

“Pray remember what I have recommended to you, which is, to think often on God, by day, by night, in your business, and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you: leave Him not alone. You would think it rude to leave a friend alone who came to visit you: why then must God be neglected? Do not then forget Him, but think on Him often, adore Him continually, live and die with Him; this is the glorious employment of a Christian.

In a word, this our profession; if we do not know it, we must learn it.”

Brother Lawrence, Tenth Letter, p 33

The first quote, which opened this article, is found in its context here. Just wrap your mind around this version of living!

“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it; yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive. It is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise;

but let us do it from a principle of love, and because God would have us.

Were I a preacher, I should, above all things, preach the practice of the presence of God; and, were I director, I should advise all the world to do it, so necessary do I think it, and so easy too.

Ah! knew we but the want we have of the grace and assistance of God, we should never lose sight of Him, no, not for a moment. Believe me, make immediately a holy and firm resolution never more willfully to forget Him, and to spend the rest of your days in His sacred presence, deprived for the love of Him, if He thinks fit, of all consolations. Set heartily about this work, and if you do it as you ought, be assured that you will soon find the effects of it.”

Lawrence, p 27.

So well said; articulate, invitational, inspirational. The whole volume is like that. One can easily read it in only a few hours. Yet, it might do us well to ingest it slowly!

Take a look at this exhortation from nearly four centuries ago. Have you heard of the concept of “backsliding”? I remember hearing it discussed some decades ago. I don’t seem to hear a lot about it today.

The idea, is that if we are not growing in our Christian journey, if we are not marching forward, then we are sliding back. We can’t just stay still. Maybe like learning a language? Weak analogy, but the concept is there: you use it, or lose it. You practice it, develop it, or you no longer have it. However, the stakes in the spiritual life are much higher.

The spiritual warfare the believer has to grapple with, the temptations that abound in this world, the numerous pits into which we can fall: we Christians must remain vigilant!

(More treatment on this topic is found in the Book Review: Live No Lies: Recognize and Resist the Three Enemies That Sabotage Your Peace.)

So is the idea of “backsliding” a modern American Evangelical Christian concept? Nope! Not even. Here we find 17th century Frenchman Brother Lawrence expounding on the topic.

Yet, he notice how doesn’t scold, peddle in guilt/shame, and cry out: “Stop backsliding! Act like a Christian, will you? Read your Bible! Get to church!” Nope. Brother Lawrence’s deep communion for so many years, (he died at 80!) and His nearly continual connection to the Lord, speaks the language of love. Of compassion. Of invitation. He merely bids us: “awaken”.

“We must, nevertheless, always work at it, because not to advance in the spiritual life is to go back.

But those who have the gale of the Holy Spirit go forward, even in sleep.

If the vessel of our soul is still tossed with winds and storms, let us awake to the Lord, who reposes it, and He will quickly calm the sea.”

Lawrence, p 25.

May we all awaken to Him! And then, find our repose in Him, as well.

Perhaps you will consider going out and finding this little treasure, still in print.

May God help us all, enabling each one of us to practice the Presence of our Lord.