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 insistence that we must be careful to practice the presence of God for the right reason.   

Love: The Only Motive

            Reading through The Practice of the Presence of God, one cannot help but notice how insistent Brother Lawrence was that the ultimate motive for this spiritual discipline must only be a sincere desire to commune with and serve a good God. The implication of this is that Brother Lawrence was very concerned that someone might succumb to the temptation to turn the pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence into a fear-based religious work or engage in it in merely to impress his or her peers. It’s easy to see how this could happen in a religious community such as that housed in a monastery. But I think it’s possible for us noncloistered followers of Christ to be tempted in these ways as well. Sometimes it’s easy to allow our embrace of grace to falter, or to care a bit too much about appearing spiritual before our family and friends. Thus, I’m suggesting that it is these kinds of concerns that best explain the following passages drawn from the records of Brother Lawrence’s conversations and letters—passages which in one way or another refer to the godly monk’s love for the Lord.

            In reference to his observations of Brother Lawrence, de Beaufort writes:

Brother Lawrence confided to me that the foundation of his spiritual life was the faith that revealed to him the exalted position of God. Once this became secure in the depths of his heart, he was easily able to do all his actions for the love of God.[1]

Our brother remarked that some people go only as far as their regular devotions, stopping there and neglecting love, which is the purpose of those devotions.[2] This could easily be seen in their actions and explained why they possessed so little solid virtue.

            Neither skill nor knowledge is needed to go to God, he added. All that is necessary is a heart dedicated entirely and solely to Him out of love for Him above all others.[3]

The most effective way Brother Lawrence had for communicating with God was to simply do his ordinary work. He did this obediently, out of a pure love for God.[4]

          The next two excerpts are presented in the first person, coming from Brother Lawrence himself. They too emphasize the good brother’s motive of love.

There is no sweeter manner of living in the world than continuous communion with God. Only those who have experienced it can understand. However, I don’t advise you to practice it for the sole purpose of gaining consolation for your problems. Seek it, rather, because God wills it and out of love for Him.[5]

I feel unable to express what is going on inside me right now. I’m not anxious about my purpose in life because I only want to do God’s will. I wouldn’t even lift a straw from the ground against His order or for any other motive than love for Him. Pure love of Him is all that keeps me going.[6]

            According to Proverbs 16:2, our motives matter to God. I trust that in this section I’ve succeeded in helping you recognize how important it was to Brother Lawrence that the practice of the presence of God be engaged in with the right motive in place. We must not turn this holy habit into a legalistic attempt to mollify the wrath of an angry God. Neither should we pursue this practice in an attempt to have our peers notice our superlative piety. In a word, the only appropriate motive for pursuing Christ’s empowering presence is love—our love for him and a quiet confidence in his love for us.

Going a bit further in this posting, I want to further suggest that that there’s a dialectical or paradoxical relationship of sorts between the pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence and the sense that we are loved by him. On the one hand, knowing how much we are loved by God inspires us to enage in “the pursuit.” On the other hand, the more we experience Christ’s presence in our lives, the greater is our ability to know, from the heart, that we are loved by God.

Don’t we all need all the help we can get in truly knowing, down deep inside, how valued we are by God?  Isn’t this the heart of the Gospel and key to just about everything else in the Christian life?

Something to think about.

[1] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (New Kingsington, PA: Whitaker House, 1982), 19.

[2] Actually, the original English translation reads: “That many do not advance in the Christian progress because they stick in penances and particular exercises, while they neglect the love of God, which is the end.” See Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1967), 24.

[3] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (New Kingsington, PA: Whitaker House, 1982), 21–22.

[4] Ibid., 24.

[5] Ibid., 33–34.

[6] Ibid., 41.