WHO IS THIS BROTHER LAWRENCE? And, why should I care about what a monk, who lived over 300 years ago, said about creating a closer relationship with God? Afterall, I’m not a monk. I don’t live in a monastery blocked off from the harsh realities of the real world. Things are different today. Times have changed. I cannot sit around all day reading my Bible and chanting some nonsense. I live in the here and now with responsibilities and people that count on me.
At least this is the way it sounded in my head as I made excuses for and questioned whether a book that has been read, studied, and adored by countless Christians over centuries had any validity for a Christ follower today.
So, I committed to read The Practice of the Presence of God—a collection of notes, letters, and interviews given by Lawrence to show how to develop a conversational relationship with God. Then I reread it. It’s not a long book and is easily digestible so it was not a hard read. But each time I read it, I did so under the pre-conceived notions mentioned above. In other words, I came loaded for bear. It did not stand a chance! Sure, if I were a monk with nothing to do all day but a few chores in the confines of a peaceful monastery, I too could spend all day in the presence of God!
But after further reflection, maybe I was being too harsh. The only way I was really going to understand the value of this classic piece of literature was to set aside any judgement and analyze it honestly.
That’s exactly what I did. And in doing so, I felt a growing awareness of just how wrong I was. All my pre-conceived notions were an oversimplification of Brother Lawrence’s life and how he developed a conversational relationship with God right in the middle of an ordinary life. Who was I to judge whether his life was any more ordinary than mine!
Yes, Brother Lawrence was a monk, but he was not born in a monastery. Prior to taking his vow, he was a poor peasant who became a soldier in a brutal war and probably saw more carnage and death than we could imagine. He was not immune to the sufferings of life and had many scars, both physical and spiritual, to prove it.
Regarding his faith, he was not overly righteous. Like the Apostle Paul, he considered himself the worst of sinners. Ironically, he never sought to publish a book with instructions for the Christian community, rather he was simply corresponding by letters and interviews with a friend about the depth of his love for God. In fact, he even requested that this information not be shared. He probably would have been mortified to know that his friends published his story and the workings of his spiritual practice after his death in 1691.
And finally, I don’t believe Brother Lawrence was providing prescriptive instructions to the Christian believer. It’s not a one size fits all. He was simply stating to his friend some tried and true practices that helped him create a deep, abiding connection with his Creator.
You will find most of his methods rooted in Scripture although he does not quote one verse. And although you might disagree with him on some finer points, overall, I think you will find his ways fairly accurate and timeless. In the very least, it worked for him.
If you really want to save time, I can summarize the book for you like this: To really know, understand, and love God, you must spend time with Him…a lot of time!
However, I think my summary cheapens the deep spiritual wisdom that Brother Lawrence offers to his dear friend. It’s one thing to understand a spiritual concept, but a whole other thing to practice it. Like any sport, if you want to get better, you must practice with people who are better than you, and Brother Lawrence was an all-star!
The Practice of the Presence of God is a public domain work and not hard to find. A quick search on the Internet will pull up many downloadable copies with a ton of commentary to boot.
What you will not find are many devotionals based on the content of this classic. Therefore, I’ve laid out a 40-day devotional format with related Scripture passages that will hopefully provide a better understanding of Brother Lawrence’s message and overall book. Why 40 days? Well, it’s biblical, but more importantly, it fit very well when I laid out the book! Each devotion contains an excerpt from Brother Lawrence, a Scripture reference to read, and a short reflection on the passage. I’ve also included the entire book of The Practice of the Presence of God in the back. I would encourage you to read it each day alongside your devotions.
You might have noticed that this book is offered for free. Well, at least the e-book is on most platforms. For some time, I’ve wanted to provide a free book as a gift to everyone who has participated in any of my studies. For those who prefer print, I’ve kept the price as low as possible, but there are printing and retailer costs that must be covered. However, I still think you’ll find it an excellent value!
You will also find a free Bible study supplement online. The supplement includes a discussion guide for individual and small group use, Spiritual Maxims (or life lessons) by Brother Lawrence, and a more detailed biography titled The Life of Brother Lawrence written by his friend Joseph de Beaufort.
Now for my normal disclaimer. I’m not an expert on the life of Brother Lawrence nor his work, I will leave that to well apt scholars. However, I hope this work will help you set aside any pre-conceived notions you might have about this timeless Christian classic as you meditate over Brother Lawrence’s work, life, and related Scriptures in the midst of the challenges you face today.
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Based on this timeless classic, The Practice of the Presence of God: A 40-Day Devotion guides readers on a 40-day journey through the wisdom of Brother Lawrence, related Scripture passages, and devotional thoughts that bring you into a more conversational relationship with God.
Also available in affordable paperback and hardback versions!