It’s been a long time since I’ve written a review of anything. I’ve been busy reading, but don’t always stop to collect my thoughts and reflect after completing a book.
One of the Christian classics on prayer is The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. Originally written by a monk in the 17th century, it has continually been referred to as encouragement to engage in a lifestyle of prayer and continual awareness of the existence and love of God–both when we’re engaged in “religious” activities as well as when we’re tending to our usual work in life (even our chores).
I read this book twice this year (in June & Sept)–which means it must be a quick read as I’m a slow reader. 🙂 It is indeed a very short book (only about 30 pgs), and very approachable: it’s not full of theological jargon or esoteric platitudes.
The message of the book is often summarized as “all of life should be prayer.”
Honestly, I think that’s a misstatement. While the idea of “pray continually” is certainly a biblical one (1 Thess 5:17), I think Brother Lawrence’s recommendation is to engage in life with a mindfulness of the reality of God. He tells us that it will take some training of our awareness and will in order to achieve that, but that it is achievable, and engaging in this practice leads to an incredible sense of delight, even amidst the most humdrum chores or the most uncomfortable suffering.
Half of the book is related as notes of conversations from a friend of Brother Lawrence’s, and the second half of the book is letters written by Brother Lawrence. In my style of re-view, I’ll capture here just a few of the quotes that spoke to me; if you’d like to read the complete list (rather lengthy) you can check it out here. My own thoughts indicated in bold.
* “[Brother Lawrence related] that he had placed his sins betwixt himself and GOD, as it were, to tell Him that he did not deserve His favors, but that GOD still continued to bestow them in abundance.” Even we cannot use our sin to separate us from the love of God!
* “[Brother Lawrence related] that we ought to act with GOD in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs, just as they happen. That GOD never failed to grant it, as he had often experienced.” Desperate honesty before the Lord, and assurance of His goodness.
* “[Brother Lawrence related] that the most excellent method he had found of going to GOD, was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men, and (as far as we are capable) purely for the love of GOD.” Can I do my math homework “purely for the love of God?”
* “[Brother Lawrence related] that all things are possible to him who believes–that they are less difficult to him who hopes–that they are more easy to him who loves, and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues.” It comes back to faith, hope, and love.
* “[Brother Lawrence related that] when he had finished [with a task], he examined himself how he had discharged his duty; if he found well, he returned thanks to GOD; if otherwise, he asked pardon; and without being discouraged, he set his mind right again, and continued his exercise of the presence of GOD, as if he had never deviated from it.”
* “…not to advance in the spiritual life is to go back.”
* “He requires no great matters of us; a little remembrance from time to time; a little adoration; sometimes to pray for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, and sometimes to return Him thanks for the favors He has given you, and still gives you, in the midst of your troubles, and to console yourself with Him the oftenest you can…the least little remembrance will always be acceptable to Him. You need not cry very loud; He is nearer to us than we are aware of.” It doesn’t have to be an elaborate, lengthy seeking; just encounter God in the moments throughout the day.
* “She seems to me full of good will, but she would go faster than grace. One does not become holy all at once.” It takes time to grow.
* “We must know before we can love. In order to know GOD, we must often think of Him; and when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure. This is an argument which well deserves your consideration.”
* “Let all our employment be to know GOD: the more one knows Him, the more one desires to know Him. And as knowledge is commonly the measure of love, the deeper and more extensive our knowledge shall be, the greater will be our love….”