The Practice of the Presence of God, and the included addition of Spiritual Maxims, is a slim volume, clocking in at barely more than a hundred pages, all of them honed around a single, simple purpose, aiding the reader in entering and remaining in the presence of God.
This is a book of spiritual help—a collection of conversations, letters, and then of the aforementioned maxims—and an aid to obedience.
“Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” — I Thessalonians 5:17-18
“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord…” — Colossians 3:23
The discipline of following after Christ demands far more than occasional devotions to God, but rather a constant focus and an eye single to His glory. This book lays aside all distractions from this focus and lays out such words as these:
“But when we are faithful to keep ourselves in His holy presence, and set Him always before us, this not only hinders our offending Him and doing anything that may displease Him, at least wilfully, but it also begets in us a holy freedom, and, if I may so speak, a familiarity with God, wherewith we ask, and that successfully, the graces we stand in need of. In fine, by often repeating these acts, they become habitual, and the presence of God rendered as if it were natural to us.” — “First Letter,” The Practice of the Presence of God
This book came in my life when I had just begun to experience the busyness of life that so often distracts God’s children from His presence and keeps our minds on the daily stresses of our responsibilities. What struck me about it was the vivid image it opens with, that of a monk singing to the Lord while doing the dishes, right in the center of his own busyness, who declared “That with him the set times of prayer were not different from other times…because his greatest business did not divert him from God.”
This is something I constantly hunger for because, as the book rightly states, to acquire a habit of truly unceasing prayer and praise, a focus on God’s presence and glory ‘whatsoever ye do‘ requires discipline to establish and some amount of initial effort while everything around us continues to try to distract.
The book includes information on not only how to enter God’s presence but how to continually return to it regardless of what distractions draw us away and spends a little time on appropriate repentance toward God when we fail. Rather than drawn out guilt and penance, we are admonished to pray forgiveness and return at once to the presence of God.
“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” — Hebrews 4:16
What strikes me as most important about this book is not a great wealth of theological ideas, nor would the author have been pleased had that been the case. It is a book to help us focus and gain a habit of prayer unceasing and joy in the presence of the Lord. Its simplicity is what gives it power, in stripping away both distractions and excuses and in providing practical advice in the face of lives that are not ideal for our goal.
But if our goal is obedience to God and these commandments and promises of Scripture, then it does not matter what is going on in our lives. And that is the book’s greatest strength. The discipline in this book is just that, discipline, and requires commitment and patience and effort, but it removes the browbeating and the guilt and focuses on the spiritual concepts outlined in Scripture for what God desires of us.
The Bible often describes the joy we will find in the presence of God, and yet I come away from this book struck with the idea of the joy He finds in ours. What God asks of us is simple:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” — Matthew 11:28
From the Cover:
The Practice of the Presence of God is a collection of documented conversations and letters that reveal the heart of this humble man. He wrote, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen…I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”
Brother Lawrence’s wisdom and spiritual insights have helped bring people closer to God for more than three centuries. The Spiritual Maxims of Brother Lawrence, a lesser known but equally outstanding work, is a summary of his teachings. Throughout, he develops one great theme, best expressed by the psalmist, “In Thy Presence is fulness of joy.”
— Megan Payne