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The Practice of the Presence of God

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series

"Invitation to the (Devotional) Classics"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

Brother Lawrence, born Nicolas Herman in Hériménil, near Lunéville in the region of Lorraine, in 1611, was a former footsoldier and valet who entered the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Paris as a lay brother, taking the name “Lawrence of the Resurrection”. His serene piety drew attention, and he was eventually interviewed in person, and through letter, as to his method of the Christian life. His conversations and letters were published a year after his death in 1691 under the title The Practice of the Presence of God.

This book has been commended by men such as Wesley and Tozer, and most Christians who have read have come away aspiring to its themes, at the very least.

The heart of the book is that “ we should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence, by continually conversing with Him. That it was a shameful thing to quit His conversation, to think of trifles and fooleries. That we should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God; which would yield us great joy in being devoted to Him.” Lawrence explains to those asking his simple mode of continually conversing with God, of learning to do the most mundane thing for the love of God.

For Brother Lawrence, this was done through continual consecration. “Being questioned by one of his own society by what means he had attained such an habitual sense of God, he told him that, since his first coming to the monastery, he had considered God as the end of all his thoughts and desires, as the mark to which they should tend, and in which they should terminate.”

Gladly, the book is filled with Lawrence’s descriptions of how difficult it was to form this habit, and of his frequent failures. However, Lawrence had a robust view of forgiveness that was quite uncharacteristic of the Catholicism of his day. “That when he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God, I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself; it is You who must hinder my falling, and mend what is amiss. That after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”“That, without being discouraged on account of our sins, we should pray for His grace with a perfect confidence, as relying upon the infinite merits of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Lawrence wished to convince his readers and listeners that a habitual sense of living in God’s presence is possible, if we endure the initial struggle, confess our failures frequently, and continue to commune with God in ease and simplicity. “He requires no great matters of us; a little remembrance of Him 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.”

Here and there, Lawrence’s Catholic errors pop up, but are mostly submerged by the wealth of helpful thoughts. Taken wrongly, this book would be an exhortation to a neurotic, obsessive kind of continuous prayer, a burden no one could bear. Understood in light of the last quote, it is a warm exhortation to a grace-enabled continual prayer life: living life in His presence, often returning to Him thanks, requests, praise and other contemplations.

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About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

3 Responses to The Practice of the Presence of God

  1. I am becoming very disturbed by this website's direction toward contemplative mysticism. First, I see that the store offers the book "On Loving God" by mystic Bernard of Clairvaux. Now you publish this article promoting Brother Lawrence. I used to recommend this site. Now I'm afraid I'll have to start warning people against it. Here's an article on Brother Lawrence that you should read:… And if you Google Bernard of Clairvaux you'll find all kinds of reasons not to promote his writings. Please, stop leading people astray with this stuff. They could easily become involved in occult practices – very dangerous!

  2. Lori,

    I appreciate your desire to protect believers from error. I also share your concern regarding much of the modern contemplative movement. However, here are a few things to think about, which might explain why I would recommend reading Brother Lawrence.

    First, don't make the mistake of collapsing all distinctions between mystics. Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley represent a kind of mysticism. A healthy experiential Christianity has been persistently sought through the ages. Perhaps Dr. Bauder's article may help on this: point :

    Second, the writer of the article you linked seems to base his/her argument on guilt by association: which order Lawrence came from. (He also has some inaccuracies regarding Lawrence's 'ecstatic' experiences – none of this appears in his own writings.) I would encourage you, if you haven't done so, to read Lawrence's work for yourself. If you find him encouraging the notion of emptying our minds so as to enter into non-rational union with God's essence, then we have a problem. Instead, we find Lawrence calling for a life of rational love for God, expressed in continual (not continuous) prayer.

    Third, just as false teachers quote the Bible for their own purposes, we should not be surprised if the contemplative movement happily quotes Bernard, Brother Lawrence, or Francois Fenelon in support of their teachings. This should not blackball these writers; we should take them on their own merits. Richard Foster likes Lawrence for one reason; I find value in him for (mostly) different reasons. Where we find error, such as we will also find in Owen, Torrey, and Chafer, we recognise and reject it. Where there is more wheat than chaff, a work becomes of interest to Christians in general.

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