Practicing the Presence of God

I can’t remember a time I didn’t know about praying to God and singing hymns and worshipping. But the first Spiritual Discipline I was introduced to back in college as a “way to grow your soul” is called “Practicing the Presence of God.” And it is deceptively simple. It comes from Little Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth-century monk. Brother Lawrence wasn’t good at any of the tasks the other monks gave him, and so he was finally put to work in the monastery kitchen as a dishwasher; later in life he repaired the sandals of the other monks. But after a while, the other monks discovered that in Brother Lawrence a genuine piety and devotion to God had come to full bloom. No, he wasn’t a theologian or a liturgist. He hadn’t developed new talents. He wasn’t a priest. But to be around him was almost to be in the presence of God, and as a result, many came to him for spiritual guidance.

 He gained a reputation for carrying the constant sense of profound peace, and the wisdom he passed on to those who sought him out became the basis of the book The Practice of the Presence of God. This book was put together by his Superior after he died and has deeply affected both Protestants and Catholics. 

It all began for him one winter day as he looked at a tree — without leaves or fruit. He looked at this barren tree and realized the tree was waiting with sure hope for springtime and the abundance of summer. At that moment, that leafless tree “flashed in upon [his] soul the fact of God” and a love for God and a hope that God had life waiting for him. From that moment on, he did his daily work wholly for the love of God. If a tree could wait through winter in absolute hope for God’s grace, so could he.

 There in the monastery kitchen, as he scrubbed floors, washed dishes, and was constantly doing the bidding of other people, he developed his rule of spirituality. What Brother Lawrence discovered is that what matters is not the worldly importance of the job we are doing. What matters is what motivates us to do it. We don’t have to be doing great and important things; we can do little things for God. He said: “It is enough for me to pick up a straw from the ground if I do it for the love of God.” So Brother Lawrence felt that he washed dishes, scrubbed floors and ran errands for God. He tried to maintain an ongoing awareness of God’s presence alongside him in everything he did. He turned his heart to God in every task. For him, this constant awareness that God was with him wasn’t about strategy or technique. It was simply a way to love Jesus and stay connected to him throughout the day. That’s all there is to it: love Jesus and stay connected with him — in traffic, when you’re busy and you get interrupted, when the kids are crazy and demanding. It’s deceptively simple — and it takes a lifetime to learn.

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