In my book, Christ’s Empowering Presence: The Pursuit of God through the Ages, I include a chapter early on that’s titled “Brother Lawrence: A Most Popular Practitioner of ‘The Pursuit.’” It seemed appropriate to devote a chapter to the 17th century French monk known as Brother Lawrence since he did so much to make famous the spiritual exercise that has come to be known as “the practice of the presence of God,” an exercise that I equate with the pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence.

In the following excerpt from my treatment of Brother Lawrence’s engagement in “the pursuit,” I reflect some on the venerable monk’s indication of how important the practice of God’s presence was to his spiritual life.

The Heart of Christian Spirituality

        Another dominant theme that seems to run throughout the documents that serve as our resources for understanding the thought and practice of Brother Lawrence is the idea that practicing God’s presence is at the very heart of Christian spirituality. Indeed, there are places in these writings where it appears that Brother Lawrence was suggesting that this one spiritual discipline is all that is necessary in order for the sincere Christ-follower to grow in his or her walk with God! For example, Brother Lawrence said, according to de Beaufort, that “he was more united to God in his outward employments than when he left them for devotion and retirement.”[1] At the very least, this brief statement implies that the godly monk’s private devotional practices offered him no more of a sense of intimacy with God than when he was engaged in more mundane matters.

This same idea finds expression in another passage in which de Beaufort records Brother Lawrence as insisting that our sanctification does not depend so much upon our engaging in special spiritual exercises but in simply making sure that what we normally do each day is performed for God’s sake rather than our own. Indeed, the good brother goes on to critique those Christians who mistake the means for the end—literally becoming addicted to the performance of “certain works,” convinced they are serving God when, in reality, they are really serving themselves![2]   

        By “certain works” Brother Lawrence seemed to have the idea of special devotional activities in mind. This is indicated by the fact that in yet another place Monsieur de Beaufort describes Brother Lawrence as follows:

He believed it was a serious mistake to think of our prayer time as being different from any other. Our actions should unite us with God when we are involved in our daily activities, just as our prayers unite us with Him in our quiet devotions.

            He said his prayers consisted totally and simply of God’s presence. His soul was resting in God, having lost its awareness of everything but love of Him. When he wasn’t in prayer, he felt practically the same way. Remaining near to God, he praised and blessed Him with all his strength. Because of this, his life was full of continual joy.[3]

        This is actually one of several passages where we seem to find Brother Lawrence suggesting that practicing the presence of God was for him the main manner in which he cultivated his spirituality. Yet another example of this type of passage is one located in his Spiritual Maxims. In that work, written by Brother Lawrence’s own hand, we find this bold statement:

The most holy and necessary practice in our spiritual life is the presence of God.[4]

        Indeed, in some passages we almost hear Brother Lawrence saying that the only reason he would ever engage in any other form of spiritual devotion was because doing so was mandated by the rule of the order to which he belonged. For example, in his one of his letters to de Beaufort, Brother Lawrence confesses:

I have given up all but my intercessory prayers to focus my attention on remaining in His holy presence. I keep my attention on God in a simple, loving way. This is my soul’s secret experience of the actual, unceasing presence of God. It gives me such contentment and joy that I sometimes feel compelled to do rather childish things to control it.[5]

        Similarly, in The Character (or Life) of Brother Lawrence de Beaufort includes a descriptive paragraph which suggests that, since Brother Lawrence’s secular activities as well as those activities traditionally considered more sacred involved his pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence, his spiritual mentor saw no real difference between them. Monsieur de Beaufort writes:

Everything was the same to him—every place, every job. The good brother found God everywhere, as much while he was repairing shoes as while he was praying with the community. He was in no hurry to go on retreats because he found the same God to love and adore in his ordinary work as in the depth of the desert.[6]

        It should be apparent to us by now that Brother Lawrence had a high view of the practice of God’s presence as the very center of Christian spirituality. His engagement in “the pursuit” was at the very heart of his approach to spiritual formation. Thus, it’s fitting to conclude this section with one final quote:

Brother Lawrence called the practice of the presence of God the easiest and shortest way to attain Christian perfection and to be protected from sin.[7]

Wow! This is a pretty strong endorsement of a particular spiritual exercise! Of course, as I go on to point out in Christ’s Empowering Presence, Brother Lawrence was not the only spiritual master to hold “the pursuit” in particularly high regard. Throughout Christian history some pretty smart and godly people have made it their goal to pursue a moment-by-moment mentoring relationship with the risen Christ. Do those of us living in such a hectic, hurried, spiritually and morally confused post-Christian culture really have a good reason not to follow suit?

 Something to think about.

[1] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1967), 23.

[2] Ibid., 26.

[3] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (New Kingsington, PA: Whitaker House, 1982), 24–25.

[4] Ibid., 61.

[5] Ibid., 41.

[6] Ibid., 90.

[7] Ibid., 83.