This podcast is based on The Practice of the Presence of God, a record of the life and words of Brother Lawrence (Whitaker House, 1982). Includes the biography of his life by Joseph de Beaufort, written shortly after his death (in 1691). For clarity, I have put Brother Lawrence's words in blue. The other words, when in quotes, are Joseph de Beaufort's. Click on the arrow to hear the podcast (34 mins) or see instructions to download below.
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We may be tempted to conceive of Christian history as a vast wasteland stretching from the post-apostolic period till fairly modern times; yet this is not quite accurate.
Even in centuries when devotion to God was the exception rather than the rule, there were numerous men and women of faith whose light shone, offering a strong contrast to the carelessness of the age. Brother Lawrence was one of these.
- Born Nicholas Herman in France, early 17th century, into a poor family.
- Army life
- Poverty drove him into the army, where he was fed and received a small stipend.
- Most of Europe was at war. (This was the time of the Thirty Years' War.)
- Taken prisoner by the Germans.
- When there was talk of hanging him as a spy, he replied that since he'd never done anything to give him a bad conscience, he was not afraid of death.
- There on he was released.
- Back to parents' home
- Humility: determined to accept the gospel
- Enters a Paris monastery
- Insight from a tree [age 18]: "In the deep of winter, Herman looked at a barren tree, stripped of leaves and fruit, waiting silently and patiently for the sure hope of summer abundance. Gazing at the tree, Herman grasped for the first time the extravagance of God's grace and the unfailing sovereignty of divine providence. Like the tree, he himself was seemingly dead, but God had life waiting for him, and the turn of seasons would bring fullness. At that moment, he said, that leafless tree 'first flashed in upon my soul the fact of God,' and a love for God that never after ceased to burn." -- Christian History article
- Becomes a Carmelite lay brother (in a barefoot monastic order), taking the name Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection.
- He did not have the education required to become a cleric, so he became a lay monk.
- Cook (in later life, repairs sandals). He cooked and cleaned and did what he was told.
- Relationship with God, especially prayer
- Gracious behavior and speech
- Wise counsel
- Lived well and died well.
Example and counsel
1. Surrender (control issues)
- "Before he had experienced God's swift help in his affairs, he had attempted to plan every detail, doing the job in his own strength. But now, acting with childlike simplicity in God's sight, he did everything for the love of God, thanking Him for His guidance" (p.16).
- Referring to one who had not learned this lesson, Lawrence wrote, "She seems so full of good will, but she wants to go faster than race allows. It is not possible to become spiritually mature all at once" (p.45).
- "We must do everything with great care, avoiding impetuous actions, which are evidence of a disordered spirit. God wishes us to work gently, calmly, and lovingly with Him, asking Him to accept our work. By this continual attention to God, we will resist the devil and cause him to flee (Jas 4:7)" (pp.59-60).
- Quotation from Robert McGee, The Search for Significance: Seeing your True Worth through God's Eyes (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), ix-x.
- Question to self: Do I have a disordered spirit?
2. Prayer (general)
- "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. This could easily be seen in their actions and explained why they possessed so little solid virtue" (p.18).
- "It isn't necessary to be too verbose in prayer, because lengthy prayers encourage wandering thoughts" (p.43).
- "... It would not be wrong to offer short phrases that are inspired by love, such as 'Lord, I am all Yours,' 'God of love, I love You with all my heart,' or 'Lord, use me according to Your will.' But remember to keep the mind from wandering or returning to the world. Hold your attention on God alone by exercising your will to remain in God's presence" (p.70).
- "Simply present yourself to God as if you were a poor man knocking on the door of a rich man, and fix your attention on His presence. If your mind wanders at times, don't be upset, because being upset will only distract you more. Allow your will to recall your attention gently to God. Such perseverance will please Him" (p.43).
- [Extended quotation (p.38)]
- Question to self: How focused am I in prayer?
3. Prayer (throughout the day)
- "It isn't necessary that we stay in church in order to remain in God's presence. We can make our heart a chapel where we can go anytime to talk to God privately... Because we have such a short time to live, we should spend our remaining time with God. Even suffering will be easier when we are with Him, but without Him, even the greatest pleasures will be joyless... Offer your heart to him at every moment. Don't restrict your love of Him with rules or special devotions. Go out in faith, with love and humility" (pp.33-34).
- "We must try to converse with God in little ways while we do our work; not in memorized prayer, not trying to recite previously formed thoughts. Rather, we should purely and simply reveal our hearts as the words come to us" (p.59).
- "Whatever we do, even if we are reading the Word or praying, we should stop for a few minutes -- as often as possible -- to praise God from the depths of our hearts, to enjoy Him there in secret. Since you believe that God is always with you, no matter what you may be doing, why shouldn't you stop for a while to adore Him, to praise Him, to petition Him, to offer Him your heart, and to thank Him?" (p.60).
- [Extended quotation (p.81)]
4. Sin and confession
- "Brother Lawrence was aware of his sins and not at all surprised by them."
- "'That is my nature,' he would say, 'the only thing I know how to do.' He simply confessed his sins to God, without pleading with Him or making excuses" (pp.12-13).
- Question to self: Do I insist on making a fuss when I fall short? (Two opposite reactions in Heb 12:1-10.)
5. Dry spells and darkness
- We should remain faithful, since God may be testing us. Jer17
- We should take advantage these times (p.9).
- Darkness: [Extended quotation from pp. 79-80]
- Question to self: During a dry spell, or even in an extended season of darkness, am I determined to remain faithful?
6. Priorities, boldness, character
- "... [Faith] gave him a profound respect and love for the Word of God. Our brother believed that the books of even the most famous academies taught very little in comparison with God's great book" (p.88).
- "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 lay in renouncing, once and for all, whatever does not lead to God" (p.19).
- "Brother Lawrence's principal virtue was his faith. As the just man lives by faith, so it was the life and nourishment of his soul. His spiritual life progressed visibly because of the way his faith quickened his soul. This great faith led him to God, elevating him above the world..." (pp.87-88).
- "He coveted nothing; nothing astonished him; he feared nothing" (p.91).
- When he suffered, said Lawrence, "I did not pray for any relief, but I prayed for strength to suffer with courage, humility and love" (Letter 14).
- Question to self: What are my priorities? Am I as serious as Brother Lawrence at practicing the presence of God?
- "He believed it was a serious mistake to think of our prayer time as being different from any other... 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... Because of this, his life was full of continual joy" (pp.20-21).
- "Brother Lawrence's only means of going to God was to do everything for the love of Him. He was therefore indifferent about what he did. All that mattered was that he did it for God. It was He, and not the activity, that he considered" (p.90).
- "He often did the work that two usually did, but he was never seen to bustle. Rather, he gave each chore the time that it required, always preserving his modest and tranquil air, working neither slowly nor swiftly, dwelling in calmness of soul and unalterable peace" (p.84).
8. Relations with others
- We might think that one who spent so much time in prayer might be a recluse, spiritually proud, or perhaps aloof. In the case of Brother Lawrence, nothing could be further from the truth!
- "In this intimate union with the Lord, our brother's passions grew so calm that he scarcely felt them anymore. He developed a gentle disposition, complete honesty, and the most charitable heart in the world. His kind face, his gracious and affable air, his simple and modest manner immediately won him the esteem and good will of everyone who saw him. The more familiar with him they became, the more they became aware of how profoundly upright and reverent he was. Despite his simple and common life in the monastery, he did not pretend to be austere or melancholy, which only serves to rebuff people. On the contrary, he fraternized with everyone..." (p.84).
- "... he carefully avoided answering those curious questions which lead nowhere, and which serve only to burden the spirit and dry up the heart. But when he was required by his superiors to declare his thoughts on the difficult questions that were proposed in conferences, his answers were always so clear and to the point that they needed no further comment. This remarkable ability was noted by many learned men" (p.86).
- "He assisted the poor in their needs, as much as was in his power. He consoled them when they had problems, offering them his advice. To sum it up in a few words, he did all he could for his neighbor, and tried never to harm anyone. He did everything he possibly could to win men to God" (p.93).
- Question to self: Am I doing all I can to win people to God? Am I even connected with my brothers and sisters in Christ?
- Brother Lawrence lived until well into his eighth decade -- and he did not fizzle out!
- "On his deathbed, he displayed marks of a stability, a resignation, and a joy that were quite extraordinary... [His faith] became particularly vigorous, penetrating him with its grandeur and enlightening him by its radiance... He was given some final time alone to reflect on the great grace God had given him during his life. When asked how he spent that time, he replied that he had been doing what he would be doing for all eternity: 'Blessing God, praising God, adoring Him, and loving Him with all my heart. That is our whole purpose, brothers, to adore God and to love Him, without worrying about the rest'" (p.94).
- His parting words:
- "Regretting the early years before he dwelt in the love of God, Brother Lawrence would speak of this to his fellow brothers: "O goodness, so ancient and so new, too late have I loved Thee! Do not act this way, my brothers. You are young; profit by the sincere confession I make to you of the little care I took to consecrate my first years to God. Consecrate all of yours to His love; for, as for me, if I had known sooner, and if anyone had told me the things that I am telling you now, I would not have waited so long to love Him..." (pp.92-93).
- "Let us look to God with these eyes of faith. He is within us; we don't need to seek Him elsewhere. We have only ourselves to blame if we turn from God, occupying ourselves instead with the trifles of life. In the Lord's patience, He endures our weaknesses. But just think of the price we pay by being separated from His presence! Once and for all, let us begin to be His entirely! Let us banish from our heart and soul all that does not reflect Jesus. Let us ask Him for the grace to do this, so that He alone might rule in our hearts" (p.54).
- "I must confide in you, dear friend, that I hope, in His grace, that I will see Him in a few days. Let us pray to Him for one another" (p.54). (He actually passed away the very next day, 12 February 1691.)
- He "[died] in relative obscurity and pain and perfect joy." -- Christian History
- Brother Lawrence shows us how to die, because he shows us how to live: practicing the presence of God.