Practicing God’s Presence
“God does not ask much of us. Remembering Him, praising Him, asking for His grace, offering Him your troubles, or thanking Him for what He has given you. Lift up your heart. Little remembrances please Him.”
… Brother Lawrence
The Holy Habit
The Holy Habit
1. “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. Only those can comprehend it who practice and experience it. Yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive. It is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise. Let us do it from a principle of love, and because it is God’s will for us.”
… Brother Lawrence
What if, by simply following Brother Lawrence’s example, we could continually dwell in the kingdom of God’s presence? What if we could be certain, deep inside our heart, that God loves us more than anything humanly imaginable?
What if we realized that all God desires is our faithful attention so He can share Himself with us? What if we discovered that we love because God first loved us? This and more comes from practicing God’s presence.
These are the essentials of the practice of the presence of God, what Brother Lawrence called the holy habit: We engage in a continual, silent, and affectionate conversation with Our Father. We walk with God in faith, love, humility, and simplicity. Out of love, we strive to do nothing and think nothing which may displease Him. Calling God to mind at every possible moment, every opportunity, we focus our attention on Him and silently say, “Thank You, Father” throughout each day.
Over time, we become single in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Our will begins to conform to God’s will. Through practice, we develop a habit of thinking, saying, and acting with simplicity, humility, faith, and love.
As we become established in the practice of the presence of God, we begin to experience great peace and tranquility that comes from the actual indwelling of God Himself. Brother Lawrence called this holy freedom.
We exercise this holy freedom by engaging in a continual conversation with God. This is known by many other names such as prayer without ceasing, inner prayer, interior prayer, prayer of the heart, mental prayer, the inward gaze. Each of these terms, though sometimes presented in slightly different ways, all share the essentials of the practice of the presence of God: simplicity, humility, faith, and love. Each is a characteristic of a personal, dynamic relationship with Our Almighty Father.
In our continual conversation with God, Brother Lawrence said that “outside distraction spoils all” and that “perhaps all else is but folly and vanity”. We struggle with this, especially in the beginning. Our thoughts wander. The outside world intrudes and interferes. Our patience and persistence are tried and, through Our Father’s strength, we become stronger. Our faith and love grows and deepens.
In time the holy habit becomes so delightful, so nourishing to the heart, that all else, even self, begins to melt away. In time and with practice, we are naturally and gently drawn into our conversation with God. He actually colors our every thought, word, and deed with light. His light fills us. His light pours over, covers, and eventually extinguishes everything in us but God, Himself.
A life in the practice of the presence of God, the holy habit, is not one continual rapture or ecstasy; although we may, from time to time, experience some of these moments. The holy habit and our continual conversation with God is best described as a life of practicality and balance because God dwells in His proper place at the center of our being. Through the practice of the presence of God we learn to walk before Him in simplicity, humility, faith, and love.
2. “Sometimes I consider myself as a stone before a carver, whereof He is to make a statue. Presenting myself thus before God, I desire Him to make His perfect image in my soul and render me entirely like Himself.” … Brother Lawrence
Lord, chip away.
Remove the sharp edges that are offensive in your sight. Humble me and bring me low. Take off the rough spots of mind and tongue.
Lord, chip away.
I need Your hammer. If left to myself, I see faults and flaws as specks of dust that I would try to brush or blow off. Only You can see them as they are. Only You can chip them out where I would flick them off only to have them quickly return.
Lord, chip away.
I long for a pure heart, a heart like Yours. Take Your chisel to any hard spots. Tap out the blemishes and flaws and impurities. Shape it into a heart that is pleasing in Your sight.
Lord, chip away.
3. “People seek methods of learning to know God. Is it not much shorter and more direct to simply do everything for the love of Him? There is no finesse about it. One only has to do it generously and simply.” … Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence’s ‘The Practice Of The Presence Of God’ has been called the methodless method to living in God’s constant presence. Yet that is not entirely true. Brother Lawrence does not present a structured method for us to follow. Instead, he demonstrates the method God will work in us as we turn over our will, our whole heart to Him.
As we prayerfully read and re-read the conversations and letters, the keys to Brother Lawrence’s way of practicing God’s presence begin to imprint themselves in our consciousness. Perhaps it is not too much to say, we begin to take on God’s consciousness.
Instead of a method, we begin to see how God wants to work with us and in us. We discover that it is God who will show us and provide a way to remove the obstacles that block the path to Him. He will encourage our conversation with Him by making that time sweet, gentle, and a comfort beyond words.
God will share all kinds of secrets with us. Some will be deep mysteries that we will not be able to explain. Some will be solutions and practical applications for daily living. Some secrets, once He points them out, will be obvious. As we wonder why we never thought of them ourselves, God will share a good laugh with us. We’ll share this loving laughter because what He really makes obvious is that, of all the things in heaven and on earth, His companionship is the only thing we cannot do without.
Through daily, even hourly reading of Brother Lawrence’s ‘The Practice Of The Presence Of God’ we also come to see our part which can be summarized in this way: The Practice of the Presence of God is a way of life where we engage in continual conversation with God; walk with Him in love, humility, simplicity, and faith; and think, say, and do what is most pleasing to Him; because that is God’s will for us.
1. Brother Lawrence “was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.”
Throughout Brother Lawrence’s conversations and letters are suggestions for establishing ourselves in the holy habit of the practice of the presence of God. Some of these suggestions are subtle and some of them, at first, seem quite unusual to ordinary spiritual practices.
Brother Lawrence recognized that some of the suggestions were exceptional and cautioned against allowing ourselves to be concerned. In a letter, he said not to be afraid of the natural repugnance we experience. We will be uncomfortable because we are breaking the ties with our old familiar worldly ways. Brother Lawrence’s approach to having a relationship with God is very direct and personal.
One example, a vitally important suggestion, is to “think nothing which may displease God”. Dear One, that certainly goes against conventional thinking and worldly ways. The ingrained idea that we can think whatever we want, that our thoughts are private and harmless, crumbles under the weight of God’s presence.
This one small but very profound notion has the power to transform our whole attitude. What we think matters a great deal to God. Our thoughts are not as private as we, perhaps, once considered them to be. Suddenly we are confronted with a suggestion that becomes very difficult to ignore.
If we are motivated by love and our need for God’s constant presence, we will, in God’s way and time, be moved from not doing, saying, or thinking that which displeases Him to only doing, saying, and thinking that which pleases Him.
In the New Testament Letter to the Philippians we find some excellent advice: “Whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
2. Brother Lawrence said, “there needed neither art nor science for going to God, but only a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but God and to love Him only.”
There is much about pleasing God that is an act of the will. Brother Lawrence calls it resolute determination. This comes of a decision we make maybe only once but apply over and over and over again. It grows, like our faith, out of small, tentative steps. Then the small steps become a habit. Soon we are taking larger steps.
God will not take us farther or faster than He sees fit. Sometimes, especially during the early stages of our growing determination, He will have us take a mis-step. He may try our determination in order to strengthen our dependence on Him and so we do not fall into the trap of thinking we are doing something in our own strength. He may do this at different times along the way so we do not become complacent or self-satisfied.
We can take a closer look at God’s will from two human perspectives: God’s time and God’s way. The former, God’s time, immediately suggests to us the need for faith and patience. We may not always like the timing aspect of God’s will, but, without a great deal of effort, most of us can usually grasp its meaning.
The latter, God’s way, is much more difficult for us. On the one hand we hear that God’s ways are strange and mysterious. On the other hand our vision is bound by our own worldly expectations and limited human imagination. In other words, we are faced with superstition, misconceptions, and selfishness.
If we begin to replace the superstition, misconceptions, and selfishness with acceptance, then gratitude; we finally come to determination, then resolute determination. We surrender our ways to God’s ways. We replace our doubts with trust in Him.
Over time, as we continue to apply our determination to pleasing God, He begins to show us that His way is always the practical, direct, and simple way. To our limited way of seeing, we might call His way the ultimate common sense.
If we truly want to please God and do His will, we have a wonderful pattern to follow in The Gospel, which is the very foundation of Brother Lawrence’s ‘The Practice Of The Presence Of God’. We need only look to The Gospel where Our Father says, “This is My Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased. Hear Him.”
3. “In continuing 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.” … Brother Lawrence
What is it that keeps us from starting over? Is it our own selfish pride, our false humility, our unwillingness to admit to God we made a mistake? Why are we so insistent on trying to hide anything from God when we know He sees it all? Brother Lawrence wrote these words at almost eighty years old having practiced the holy habit for about forty years:
“I am sometimes filled with shame and confusion when I reflect on the great favors God has done for me and on the ill use I have made of them … Since He gives us yet a little time, let us begin in earnest … Let us return with full assurance to that Father of mercies who is always ready to receive us affectionately.”
God wants us to start over. He is delighted each time we begin anew. He doesn’t keep score. In fact, He encourages us to start over at every opportunity we get, minute by minute, hour by hour. At the very least, we can accustom ourselves to waking with words such as, “Ah, Father, a new day, a fresh beginning! Thank you. You have my heart.”
A second, but more deeply ingrained reason that keeps us from not only starting over but from ever starting at all is our fear of change. This is a basic, fundamental fear that can only be calmed through the trust that comes from a personal and private relationship with God.
Jesus referred to this fear of change when He explained to His disciples the fulfillment of the words of the prophet, Isaiah. With regard to His own teachings, Jesus said that the reason many people look but do not see and listen but do not hear is because, if they did, they might come to believe and be healed. For many people, believing and being made whole strikes at the fear of change.
It is well worth our spending time with God reading the thirteenth chapter of Matthew because there is a great deal to discover in addition to Our Lord’s explanation of the words of the prophet, Isaiah, and of our fear of change.
Without faith and a personal relationship with God, change is terrifying. Most people would rather cling to their familiar worldly ways than switch to the unfamiliar ways of God’s kingdom. The most important point here is that we are all “most people” until and unless God, through His grace and at His will, intervenes. If we come to understand this, we are well on our way to the compassionate love God wants us to have for others because it is the compassionate love He has for each of us.
4. Little pleases God more than a contrite heart. Like the other aspects of practicing God’s presence, a contrite heart is the result of the regular practice of admitting our faults and offenses and asking God for His grace and forgiveness. We learn to do this just as they happen or as soon as we are aware of them.
Like the other aspects of practicing God’s presence, a contrite heart is not our natural way. Our worldly hearts are proud hearts, full of self-praise, self-justification, and self-righteousness. Many of us have become experts at ignoring, excusing, rationalizing, and defending our mistakes.
Brother Lawrence was well aware of this and emphasized this regular exercise: “We must honestly consider and thoroughly examine ourselves. When we directly confront ourselves we will understand that we deserve all God sends to humble us.”
When our conversation, our very relationship with God, matures to this level of understanding, we will thank Him with full gratitude for everything He has ever done to humble us. We will welcome whatever God may do to help bring our hearts into conformity with His heart.
But we cannot do this alone. Of ourselves, we are completely and totally incapable of recognizing, let alone overcoming, our proud hearts. The only way we can “honestly consider and thoroughly examine ourselves” and “directly confront ourselves” is through the very presence of God. We are completely dependent on Him to show us.
Only God can open our eyes to the truth. Without Him, we quickly become preoccupied with others. We start to look outside ourselves and weigh and measure by what we see there. These are worldly standards that are not God’s standards.
Only God, in the personal and private conversation, the special relationship we have with Him, can tell us what we so desperately need to hear. For, as we practice the holy habit of living in God’s presence, we develop a desperate need, an overwhelming desire for the blessed relief of the humility of a contrite heart. Only God can do this and He will. All we need to do is ask and keep asking for His cleansing light and grace.
5. One of the most difficult things for us to do, yet most important to Our Father, is to let God be God. This sounds silly, doesn’t it? How can we, mere humans, do anything else? The more we know of God’s divine unchanging nature, the more obvious it becomes that we cannot change God. He always was, is now, and ever will be constant and unchanging.
So, then, why do we try? The problem for us and for God lies in the trying. We interfere. We meddle. We not only tell God what to do but how to do it. We try to give Him the benefit of our expertise, especially when it comes to others. We may sometimes take advantage of our special relationship with Him to advise Him on worldly matters. After all, we have His attention and are in His presence, so why not? Perhaps this will help:
“He (Brother Lawrence) said that as far as the miseries and sins he heard of daily in the world, he was so far from wondering at them, that, on the contrary, he was surprised there were not more considering the malice sinners were capable of. For his part, he prayed for them. But knowing that God could remedy the mischief they did when He pleased, he gave himself no further trouble.”
Quite simply it all comes down to a matter of faith. It is a matter of faith in a special form called holy indifference. Unlike worldly indifference, holy indifference is an expression of our high regard and esteem for Our Father.
Worldly indifference does not care and has no compassion. Worldly indifference lacks faith in an all-caring and compassionate God. Holy indifference is the special form of faith that is certain of an all-caring and compassionate God. In our relationship with God, this faith expresses our great love and respect for His superiority over us and His total capability of handling all of His creation.
Early in our practice of the presence of God we see that Our Father really does know us better than we know ourselves. From this realization we then also see that God know others, no matter how close to us, much better than we know them.
Out of this realization, our continual conversation with God, and in the faith of holy indifference, we, like Brother Lawrence, can humbly say, “I do not pray that you may be delivered from your pains; but I pray earnestly that God gives you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases.”
Our prayers for others become the same as our own prayerful converstion with God: to lovingly embrace His will and way. Now as a result of this and our practice of the presence of God, the holy habit, we come to understand how to let God be God.
1. The Practice of the Presence of God is a rare gift. Brother Lawrence was hand-picked by Our Father to exemplify it to those who had eyes to see. God continues to hand-pick those who will follow Brother Lawrence’s example the same way He has hand-picked His Own from the very beginning.
God’s chosen are those who are willing to live the way of Our Lord, answer the call of “Follow Me”, and see the cross as the ultimate symbol of victory, rather than the worldly sign of suffering and defeat.
Brother Lawrence demonstrated this way of life through the practice of the presence of God, a way that is available to anyone who seeks to know God’s peace and presence; that anyone, regardless of age or circumstance, can practice -anywhere, anytime.
You may think that if God has drawn you to Him, you have a specific mission to fulfill, a special purpose. Indeed, God does have a plan for each of us. His plan is as individual as we are each individual. He has given each of us talents, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses and, as Brother Lawrence wrote: “some more, some less”. When we learn to surrender ourselves to His will and way, God gently guides us according to His plan.
However, when God calls you to practice His presence, make no mistake about it, He has called you for one purpose and He has given you one very special gift. His one purpose is to love Him; to love Him in a way that surpasses all worldly expression and understanding because it is a most uncommon and exquisite love. His one very special gift to you is a loving heart, a heart for Him. His gift is a heart that longs to be filled with His grace and light.
If you have read this far, you cannot help but be touched by the simplicity of God’s request of us. Maybe it’s time to give yourself in absolute surrender to Him. Withhold nothing. Give ‘the all for the All’. Nothing more, yet nothing less for His gentle presence.
2. “We need to beg His assistance for knowing His will in things doubtful and for rightly performing those which we plainly see He requires of us, offering them to Him before we do them, and giving Him thanks when we have completed them.”
… Brother Lawrence
It takes only a reading or two of Brother Lawrence’s ‘The Practice Of The Presence Of God’ to realize there are no halfway measures in practicing God’s presence, following Our Lord, and living the First and Great Commandment. No matter how we try to dismiss it, explain why it was different (easier) for Brother Lawrence and even different for Christ (He was God!); once we really read ‘The Practice Of The Presence Of God’ we come to the same conclusion we arrive at when we really read The Gospel:
This is the true and simple Christian profession. If we are called to the holy habit of practicing God’s presence we can never again settle for anything less than total participation. Anything less is to turn away from God’s perfect will for us.
We may be overjoyed, we may be dumbfounded, we may be amazed. We may be angry, even furious. We may be terrified. We may be perfectly calm. But the fact remains that we will, inevitably conclude that a life in God’s peace and presence really does require giving our all for The All.
3. Brother Lawrence knew that, for the right practice of the presence of God, the heart must be empty of all other things. It is God’s will to possess the heart alone. He tells us that God cannot possess the heart alone without first emptying it. Only when our hearts are left vacant to God can He begin to mold us into the vessel that most pleases Him.
How often God brings us closer and closer to Him by removing worldly attachments. How often He creates a void of discontent, dissatisfaction, and disappointment in our hearts.
A.B.Simpson, who also knew the surrendered life, explained it this way, “God has to break our hearts to pieces by the slow process of His discipline, and grind every particle to powder, and then to mellow us and saturate us with His blessed Spirit, until we are open for the blessing He has to give us.”
Dear One, the value of that blessing He has to give us is beyond earthly measure and far more than our limited words can possibly describe. The great favor of a personal relationship with God, Our Father and Creator, and the great favor of being able to love the One Most Loving is priceless and precious.
If God has put you in circumstances where you feel you have no choice, all else has failed, all is lost, there is nothing to do but submit; do not waste one moment feeling guilty for not having freely chosen this path. If you do not already know it, in time, you will come to see that God has had His eye on you all along. God didn’t act on a whim when He knocked down and blinded Paul on the road to Damascus!
God allows crises in order to draw us close to Him. God, the Creator of All and from whose hand all is delivered, creates those situations where we have no choice. These situations are called necessity. Out of necessity He gives us the chance to make a virtue, the greatest virtue of all: the humble and sincere acceptance of His holy will. All we need to do can be expressed by a silently spoken, “Thank You, Father”.
4. Brother Lawrence spoke of the potential for anyone to practice God’s presence. Our Lord spoke of the potential for anyone to follow Him. However, Our Lord also said that many are called to step forward but few are chosen to walk the path. Brother Lawrence understood that. And we should understand it also.
We should understand it because, when we realize that we are to walk the path, we will become even more painfully aware of the gulf that separates us from many others. As an illustration, in this lament spoken by Our Lord over two thousand years ago, we feel the crushing disappointment, anguish and despair He feels because of the hardness of heart of His own, His people, His family:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killed the prophets, and stoned those sent to thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not have it! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. Ye shall not see me again until ye shall say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Our Lord tells us that we will grieve. Grief is a very appropriate response. However, our joy is forthcoming. When we become established in our true profession of the practice of the presence of God, the holy habit, we will find that peace, that quiet joy that lasts and lasts and is everlasting.
When we become fully aware of our call to the profession, the practice of the presence of God, we must get very low. We must humbly bow down and get lower than the ground itself because we have done nothing to earn or deserve this calling.
As soon as we understand that we are to be in the world but not of the world, we must begin to look for and welcome ways that humble us and keep us humble. Now we see that even the slightest act of spiritual arrogance greatly offends Our Father, the Giver of the gift of His presence.
5. “Pay little attention to the beautiful words and subtle discourse of the wise of the earth. Woe to those who look to human knowledge to satisfy their curiosity. It is the Creator who teaches the truth and instructs the heart of the humble.”
… Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence “noted that there was a great difference between the acts of the intellect and those of the will. Acts of the intellect were comparatively of little value. Acts of the will were all important. Our only business was to love and delight ourselves in God.”
Are you willing to put God first?
Are you willing to put God first
in every area of your life?
in every thought, word, and deed?
in everything and before all else?
Are you willing to put God first
to be the special child He wants you to be?
Are you willing to be raised above the petty and mundane
to dwell in His gentle kingdom today?
Are you willing to put God first?
Are you willing to be willing?
6. “It was observed, that in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen, Brother Lawrence still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season with an even uninterrupted composure and tranquillity of spirit.”
The art of moving in God’s time and way is something we acquire through the practice of God’s presence. Through faith and living to please Our Father, we gradually come to be in tune with a holy rhythm that is beautifully synchronized with the earthly time of clock and calendar. In God, the Creator of time, we learn to follow and let Him lead.
Faith is movement; though not always physical movement. It is a stirring, a humming, and dynamic motion of the spirit. When nurtured through a personal relationship with God and the practice of His presence, faith’s motion is like a heartbeat going in the direction of divine love.
At first, faith seems separate from love. Yet faith and love move on parallel paths where the end of faith is a merging into one holy love, the Grand Love that is God.
7. “One does not become holy all at once.”… Brother Lawrence
Patience and persistence are the chief ingredients in developing and sustaining the practice of the presence of God. These two virtues go hand-in-hand. They support each other. Without understanding the importance of this to our faith and practice, when we become impatient then our effort to persist crumbles; when we become lax or doubtful then our patience crumbles.
Brother Lawrence wrote: “I well know that … the beginning is very difficult because we must act purely on faith. But, though it is difficult, God … never refuses those who ask earnestly. Knock. Persevere in knocking. He will open His graces to you.”
Though in the beginning we act purely on faith, our patience and persistence in engaging in continual conversation with God and repeating a silent, ‘Thank You, Father’ develops into a habit that establishes us in practicing God’s presence and simply living His perfect will and way. When we become established in the holy habit and experience the gentle joy and peace of God’s presence, we come to see that this truly is God’s rare gift and we can never thank Him enough.
“What comforts me in this life is that I now see God by faith. I feel what faith teaches us, and, in that assurance and that practice of faith, I live and die with Him.” … Brother Lawrence
On this day...
- Elijah and the Secret of His Power - Chapter 4 - 2011
- Elijah and the Secret of His Power - Chapter 3 - 2011
- Elijah and the Secret of His Power - Chapter 2 - 2011
- Elijah and the Secret of His Power - Chapter 1 - 2011
- Emerging Church - Part 3 - 2011
- Emerging Church - Part 2 - 2011
- Emerging church - Part 1 - 2011
- Apologize sincerely - 2011
- A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels - 2011
- Pearls of Wisdom - 2011