Book Report: The Practice of the Presence of God

The Practice of the Presence of God in Modern English by Brother Lawrence, translated by Marshall Davis

In the gospel kingdom, there are no insignificant people. Fishermen behold the glory of God. Shepherds become kings. And cooks linger near heaven’s throne as soup simmers on the stove. Lawrence, a lay brother in 17th-century Paris, cultivated a habitual awareness of the nearness of God, even as he carried out his daily duties in the monastery kitchen. After he died, the monk’s brief but profound writings were published so that generations of believers might learn how to experience the same nearness that had so acutely affected him. Readers should come with eager anticipation: “The practice of the presence of God is the most holy, the most all-encompassing, and the most necessary practice of the spiritual life.” If you long to make the massive leap from living for God to living with God, this book is not to be missed.

Especially memorable quotes:

When God finds a soul penetrated with a living faith, He pours into it His grace and blessings plentifully. They flow like a torrent, finding a way around every obstacle, spreading out with extravagant and reckless abundance.

Hope breathes into the will a distrust of visible things.

The man who does not employ all his powers to render to this great God the worship that is due Him is not being guided by reason.

Have courage. We have little time to live.

God regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which the work is done.

The soul is intensely active. Its movements are quicker than fire, more luminous than the sun unobscured by any passing cloud.

We can take comfort in the fact that God seems to grant the greatest grace to the greatest sinners as signs of His great mercy.

Lawrence has a beautifully simple approach to failure. Unlike the world’s four options of floundering (wallowing in shame), fleeing (escaping the situation), fighting (employing self-justification), or fixing (frantic activity), this wise brother takes an entirely unique route, one that’s only available to Christians:

When he failed in his duty, he simply confessed his fault to God, saying, “I shall never do otherwise if You leave me to myself; You must stop my falling, and fix what is amiss in me.” Having prayed in this manner, he gave it no further thought.

I have squirmed beneath the weight of my spiritual failure more times than I’d care to admit. As I began contemplating the habit of staying in the Lord’s presence, my inevitable failure loomed, and all four options rose, churning, to the surface. But there’s such grace in Lawrence’s words: “We are to bring our mind back to God gently and quietly whenever we find it wandering from Him.” Not flaying it or puffing it up or any other nonsense it wasn’t designed for—just bringing it back, leaning hard on its Maker to put things right again and to start fresh (for maybe the millionth time). In taking this approach, I open myself to dependence and learn to fall toward God. My helplessness is one more gift from a good Father.

Some prompts for journaling:

  • How have I amused myself with religious devotions rather than living in faith?
  • Where has my soul fixed its gaze?
  • What might it look like to be very aware of my faults, but not discouraged by them?
  • How can I gently prompt my heart back into the Lord’s presence throughout the day?
  • Which mundane tasks can I view as a spiritual offering?
  • Where could my life use some “holy inactivity”?
  • What distracts me from simply being with God?
  • Which useless thoughts swallow up my mind?
  • Where do I live at a different pace than the Spirit, whether too fast or too slow?
  • What might change if my heart were resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but God, to do nothing but for His sake, and to love Him only?

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