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 understanding of just what it means to practice the presence of God on a day-to-day basis.

The Essence of Christ’s Empowering Presence

            According to Brother Lawrence, it’s both possible and desirable to develop the life habit of continually conversing with God. Monsieur de Beaufort writes:

Brother Lawrence insisted that, to be constantly aware of God’s presence, it is necessary to form the habit of continually talking with Him throughout each day. To think that we must abandon conversation with Him in order to deal with the world is erroneous. Instead, as we nourish our souls by seeing God in His exaltation, we will derive great joy at being His.[1]

Thus, the pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence, in the simplest sense, involves our learning how to maintain with Jesus an ongoing internal conversation regardless of whatever else is going on around us. In de Beaufort’s account of his several interactions with Brother Lawrence, we find the following passage in which the godly monk elaborates some on the nature of such an ongoing conversation:          

Today Brother Lawrence spoke to me quite openly and with great enthusiasm about his manner of going to God. He said the most important part resides in renouncing, once and for all, whatever does not lead to God. This allows us to become involved in a continuous conversation with Him in a simple and unhindered manner.

All we have to do is to recognize God as being intimately present within us. Then we may speak directly to Him every time we need to ask for help, to know His will in moments of uncertainty, and to do whatever He wants us to do in a way that pleases Him. We should offer our work to Him before we begin and thank Him afterward for the privilege of having done it for His sake. This continuous conversation should also include praising and loving God incessantly for His infinite goodness and perfection.[2]

             Yet another glimpse into Brother Lawrence’s approach to spirituality comes to us in his own words as recorded for us by de Beaufort. The first thing we learn from the good brother’s sharing is that during his formal prayer times his habit was simply to meditate on the attributes of God and Christ rather than engage in all sorts of elaborate devotional rituals.

When I first entered the monastery, I looked upon God as the beginning and the end of all my thoughts and all the feelings of my soul. During the hours that were designated for prayer, I meditated on the truth and character of God that we must accept by the light of faith, rather than spending time in laborious meditations and readings. By meditating on Jesus Himself, I advanced in my knowledge of this lovable Person with whom I resolved to dwell always.[3]

            Brother Lawrence goes on to explain how his custom was to take this sense of Christ’s presence with him into the rest of his day:

Completely immersed in my understanding of God’s majesty, I used to shut myself up in the kitchen. Alone, after having done everything that was necessary for my work, I devoted myself to prayer in the time that was left.

            The prayer time was really taken at both the beginning and the end of my work. At the beginning of my duties, I would say to the Lord with confidence, “My God, since You are with me and since, by Your will, I must occupy myself with external things, please grant me the grace to remain with You, in Your presence. Work with me, so that my work might be the very best. Receive as an offering of love both my work and all my affections.”

            During my work, I would always continue to speak to the Lord as though He were right with me, offering Him my services and thanking Him for His assistance. Also, at the end of my work, I used to examine it carefully. If I found good in it, I thanked God. If I noticed faults, I asked His forgiveness without being discouraged, and then went on with my work, still dwelling in Him.

            Thus, continuing in the practice of conversing with God throughout each day and quickly seeking His forgiveness when I fell or strayed, His presence has become as easy and natural to me now as it once was difficult to attain.[4]

            These are foundation-forming passages that are crucial to an adequate understanding of what it meant for Brother Lawrence to practice the presence of God, as well as what it might mean for us to engage in the pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence. Among other things, these readings suggest that such an approach to Christian spirituality might involve our learning to 

  • begin each day doing our best to prayerfully recognize and appreciate God’s ongoing, intimate presence with us;
  • address ourselves to God every waking moment throughout the day, continually calling on him for wisdom, discernment, and grace (empowerment) to do his will;
  • offer absolutely everything we do as a gift to God before we act;
  • pause inwardly in order to give thanks to God for his empowering assistance after we’ve performed each action as unto him;
  • continually praise, adore, and love God even as we go about our daily business;
  • periodically evaluate how well we’ve been doing at remaining mindful of God’s presence;
  • trust in God’s forgiveness when our attempts at practicing his presence have been less than satisfactory, forgiving ourselves and pressing on with the resolve to do better in the future.

We would do well to reflect carefully upon this list of activities. As we go forward in our study, we will discover that these are the most basic themes upon which nearly all discussions of Christ’s empowering presence will focus.

In future blog postings I will present excerpts from my book that highlight Brother Lawrence’s insistence that: (a) the key motive for practicing God’s presence should be an attitude of love (rather than fear); (b) an engagement in this one practice may very well constitute the main means by which one endeavors to cultivate a healthy Christian spirituality; and (c) that this central spiritual discipline can be engaged in despite a very busy lifestyle.

Could it be that I’m on solid ground when I equate the practice of the presence of God with what I refer to as the pursuit of Christ’s empowering presence? Could it be that this particular spiritual exercise is at the heart of Christian spirituality and could, therefore, rock your walk with Christ?

 Something to think about.

[1] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (New Kingsington, PA: Whitaker House, 1982), 12.

[2] Ibid., 23.

[3] Ibid., 81–82.

[4] Ibid., 82–83.