You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever. (Psalm 16:11)
An important book that addresses a Christian’s daily relationship with God was written more than 300 years ago by a man we have come to know as Brother Lawrence. The book was written posthumously and captured the essence of his pursuit of a joyous walk with God. That book was “The Practice of the Presence of the Lord – The Best Rule of Holy Life” and that relationship centered on the recognition of God’s personal love for him.
He began life as Nicholas Herman, born to peasant parents in Lorraine, France (1611-1691). As a young man, his poverty forced him into joining the army, and thus he was guaranteed meals and a small stipend. During this period, Herman had an experience that set him on a unique spiritual journey; it wasn’t, characteristically, a supernatural vision, but a supernatural clarity into a common sight.
In the deep of winter, Herman looked at a barren tree, stripped of leaves and fruit, waiting silently and patiently for the sure hope of summer abundance. Gazing at the tree, Herman grasped for the first time the extravagance of God’s grace and the unfailing sovereignty of divine providence. Like the tree, he himself was seemingly dead, but God had life waiting for him, and the turn of seasons would bring fullness. At that moment, he said, that leafless tree “first flashed in upon my soul the fact of God,” and a love for God that never after ceased to burn. Sometime later, an injury forced his retirement from the army, and after a stint as a footman, he sought a place where he could suffer for his failures. He thus entered the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Paris as Brother Lawrence.
I began to live as if there were no one save God and me in the world.
Lawrence cultivated a simple way of communing with God in his everyday duties of cooking, cleaning pots and pans, and whatever else he was called upon to do, which he termed “practicing the presence of God.” Everything he did, whether it was spiritual devotions, church worship, running errands, counseling and listening to people, no matter how mundane or tedious, Lawrence saw it as a way of expressing God’s love.
That since that time he had passed his life in perfect liberty and continual joy. That he placed his sins betwixt him and GOD, as it were, to tell Him that he did not deserve His favours, but that GOD still continued to bestow them in abundance.
Lawrence began to view every little detail of his life as vitally important in his relationship with God. His exuberance, genuine humility, inner joy, and peace attracted people from near and far. Both leaders of the church and common folk sought Lawrence for spiritual guidance and prayer. Lawrence understood that the attitude and motivation of the heart were keys to experiencing the fullness of God’s presence at all times.
That as he knew his obligation to love GOD in all things, and as he endeavored so to do, he had no need of a director to advise him, but that he needed much a confessor to absolve him. That he was very sensible of his faults, but not discouraged by them; that he confessed them to GOD and did not plead against Him to excuse them. When he had so done, he peaceably resumed his usual practice of love and adoration.
That in his trouble of mind, he had consulted nobody, but knowing only by the light of faith that GOD was present, he contented himself with directing all his actions to Him, i.e., doing them with a desire to please Him, let what would come of it.
Man has a natural tendency to hide from God after failing as is the testimony of Adam and Eve given in Genesis 3:8: They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Their first son, Cain was banished from the presence of the Lord for his act of murder against his brother (Genesis 4:16). It takes courage to face failure and to trust God for His willingness to accept man in spite of his weaknesses.
God would address this matter in Numbers 15:37-41 by introducing tassels to be added to the corners of the peoples’ garments as a reminder to keep their focus on God and His Word. In verses 39-40, “It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God.” They were a reminder of both their wicked hearts as well as the victory that comes from keeping His commandments so as to be holy to your God.
That useless thoughts spoil all: that the mischief began there; but that we ought to reject them, as soon as we perceived their impertinence to the matter in hand, or our salvation; and return to our communion with GOD.
That in order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.
Jesus taught the masses at the Sermon on the Mount that “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). This purity of heart is all about honesty and transparency, nothing withheld. According to Brother Lawrence, “that we ought to act with GOD in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs, just as they happen. That GOD never failed to grant it, as he had often experienced.”
King David recognized the value of living in God’s presence, in His sanctuary as a place of not only worship, but also sweet fellowship around His Word and wonder. In Psalm 27:4-5, “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple. For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent, He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.” This place is his secret place and his place of protection.
We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.
Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?
3 You have tried my heart; You have visited me by night; You have tested me, and You find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress. 4 As for the deeds of men, by the word of Your lips I have kept from the paths of the violent. 5 My steps have held fast to Your paths. My feet have not slipped. 6 I have called upon You, for You will answer me, O God; Incline Your ear to me, hear my speech. 7 Wondrously show Your lovingkindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at Your right hand from those who rise up against them. 8 Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings 9 From the wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me. 10 They have closed their unfeeling heart; with their mouth they speak proudly. 11 They have now surrounded us in our steps; they set their eyes to cast us down to the ground. 12 He is like a lion that is eager to tear, and as a young lion lurking in hiding places. 13 Arise, O Lord, confront him, bring him low; deliver my soul from the wicked with Your sword, 14 From men with Your hand, O Lord, from men of the world, whose portion is in this life, and whose belly You fill with Your treasure; they are satisfied with children, and leave their abundance to their babes. 15 As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.
David uttered this prayer in the midst of some present danger as a means of thankfulness to God’s testings to establish and confirm David’s integrity. He says it is his own willingness to purpose to avoid transgressions and to “hold fast to Your paths” that gave him his confidence. When he called upon the Lord, He would answer and show Himself faithful. Practicing the presence of God produced in David the sense that he was the apple of God’s eye and that he was hid in God’s shadow. In Colossians 3:3-4, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory”. As David declares in verse 15 above, “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake”.