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Review: The Practice of the Presence of God

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….”

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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Reviews


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Practicing Prayer?

I’ve written before about the phenomenon of practicing.

You may or may not have noticed the list of “Recent Reads” down towards the bottom of the right sidebar. Current reading projects include: The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Enthroned on Our Praise, and The House of the Seven Gables, which my wife and I are reading aloud together.

But a few weeks ago, I read through a Christian classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. The book is routinely cited in support of the notion that whatever we’re doing in the course of our day can be an outworking of prayer. In the midst of whatever we’re doing, we can be in continual conversation with God.

Nice idea, perhaps, but I’m not so certain that this way of living is the spiritual ideal that we all need to shoot for.

I’ve had people suggest that I try praying and walking, praying and gardening, praying and doing laundry, praying and doing dishes, praying and driving, praying and reading emails. For me, each of those has been complete “failures.”

I’m a one-track-mind kind of guy. I’m really terrible at multitasking when it means having to absorb multiple streams of input at once. If I’m on the phone and my wife tries to tell me something, forget it; either I have to ignore the person on the phone or I have to ignore my wife–I can’t process both at the same time.

When I was in graduate school, I used to put a movie on in the background while studying or writing a paper. Before I knew it, the credits were rolling and I had no idea what happened in the movie. As a result, I learned to only put on movies that I was very familiar with and which didn’t require me to invest any attention.

Nonetheless, we’re encouraged to multitask when it comes to prayer. “All of life should be prayer.” If that were true for me, I literally think that I wouldn’t do anything else at all. Not even eating. For me, it’s one thing at a time; it may not be efficient, but slow and steady wins the race.

So, the question is: do I need to attain this state described by Brother Lawrence in his book? Must I master the skill of doing two things at once, of talking (and listening) to God and…walking/driving/doing chores? Do I need to invest the energy in disciplining my mind, body, and spirit so that I can achieve this state of ethereal efficiency?

So far, I’m not convinced that I do.

Don’t get me wrong: I pray, regularly, daily, and make a significant investment of time in doing so. But I can’t do anything else during those minutes. It’s just prayer. It’s just dialogue with God. Talking and listening, with undivided attention–and even that’s difficult enough, because the mind certainly has a tendency to wander.

Perhaps for some people (A.D.D. types?) the extra stimulation of an additional activity helps to give focus and maintain attention. But not me. GOD + ANYTHING = ONE OR THE OTHER, not both. And I don’t feel bad about it, though sometimes I think I should.

Prayer does take practice. It is a skill of communication that can be developed. All of life can be lived for God, but for me, every moment cannot be lived in continual conversation with Him. Sure, I can be available, ready for Him to speak, for Him to interrupt my day and activity at any time. But to think that I can achieve a state in which I do everything that I’m planning to while also talking to Him is impossible. And frankly, potentially irreverent as well.

My wife usually isn’t too excited when I decide to ignore her words as she speaks up while I’m on the phone with someone. And rightly so: I’m not honoring her or valuing her when I ignore her in those situations. But I don’t know how else to handle the multiple streams of input, and I make my choice of who’s going to get ignored.

The thought of placing myself into a situation where I will have to continually choose to either ignore God or the work that He’s given me to do seems like a bad idea for me. I want to honor Him, to be fully present and engaging in our times together. Giving Him half my attention (as if that were even possible for me) really doesn’t seem like a good idea, and since it’s basically all or nothing with me, I think I’m best to give Him my all, and not try to setup a competition between Him and the day’s errands.

Brother Lawrence may think me unspiritual, undisciplined, falsely segmented in my approach to life.

Oh well. It’s not His relationship with God, it’s mine. And I don’t have a sense from God that He’s displeased about the choices I’m making in this area. And if He is, I’ll make sure that He’s got my undivided attention for a portion of each day so that we can talk about it.


Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Life, Prayer


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