Armand J. Azamar
“The most holy and necessary practice in our spiritual life is the presence of God.”
- Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection
This quote from The Practice of the Presence of God (1982) summarizes the Christian classic perfectly. Based on the life of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection at the end of the 17th century, Practice is a collection of conversations, letters and maxims from the Carmelite lay brother. The abbot Joseph de Beaufort originally collected and published these items in 1692 (after Brother Lawrence’s death in 1691), under the title Spiritual Maxims.
Brother Lawrence, originally named Nicholas Herman, was born in Lorraine, France around 1614. He fought in the Thirty Years’ War as a youth, a devastating string of wars between the Catholic and Protestant countries in Central Europe. At the age of eighteen, Nicholas experienced a strong conversion, leading him to seek God deeper. He eventually joined the Discalced Carmelite Priory in Paris, France and became a layman. There, Nicholas took on the name Brother Lawrence.
Brother Lawrence remained in the monastery for the rest of his life. He worked in the kitchen and repaired sandals later in life. Despite his humble work, Brother Lawrence advanced in intimacy with God through prayer throughout the day. He called this “the practice of the presence of God.” This spiritually changed Brother Lawrence so greatly, that visitors came to seek insights on how to practice the presence of God themselves.
Considering the busy nature of this generation, Practice is a breathe of fresh air. Brother Lawrence named practicing the presence of God as key to spiritual growth. This means speaking with God throughout the day, even when occupied with a “non-spiritual” tasks. Thus, the goal is not overloading with church activities. Instead, the goal becomes doing all things for God rather than self.
“That means finding constant pleasure in his divine company, speaking humbly and lovingly with Him in all seasons, at every moment, without limiting the conversation in any way,” Brother Lawrence said. “This is especially important in times of temptation, sorrow, separation from God, and even in times of unfaithfulness and sin.”
The term practice is used because of the diligence against distraction; this exercise of faith is not an easy task. But, if this becomes habit for the Christian, the end result is a faith that comes close to sight and experience, according to Brother Lawrence. Other topics include confession of sin and complete surrender. Considering the compromise that has infiltrated the Modern Church, practicing acknowledging the presence of God can solve many issues. It is interesting to note that Practice has transcended its original Carmelite audience, being recommended by Protestant ministers throughout the centuries, such as John Wesley and A.W. Tozer.
I can imagine this read frustrating this generation. Brother Lawrence repeats many of his points over and over again (and rightly so). This is exemplified by his statement, “If I were a preacher, I would preach nothing but practicing the presence of God.” This might bother the impatient reader. As this book is mainly a collection of separate letters, this repetition is understandable. The repetition also carries a unintentional benefit: the reinforcing of practicing His presence in the reader’s mind.
This article does not do the book justice. It is a short and humble read, but highly recommended. Practice serves as a practical reminder of what David said of the Lord in Psalm 16:11, You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore (NKJV).