When I first started thinking of ideas for this blog, I knew I wanted to write about Brother Lawrence. I think he is a prayer hero. He is such an example of what I want my prayer life to be like, ideally. Like we talked about last week, I know I can’t just jump to his level right away, but it’s something to aspire to.
Brother Lawrence was a monk who lived in France in the seventeenth century. The crazy thing about him is that he wasn’t all that remarkable. He lived in a monastery and was the cook for the other monks. In fact, when I read about Brother Lawrence, I can’t help but think about one of my favorite comedies, Nacho Libre. Like Nacho, the monk in the movie, Brother Lawrence had about the least glamorous job. He wasn’t out winning souls. He wasn’t translating the bible, he wasn’t giving advice to people. He was the cook.
Unlike Nacho Libre, Lawrence did not think that was a problem. He viewed his job as a cook as a way to serve God, and he did it joyfully and prayerfully, understanding it as God’s calling on his life. This is what Brother Lawrence said about his work in the kitchen:
“The time of business…does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”
So you can already begin to see that the great thing about him, and the thing that people remember him for, is his crazy awesome prayer life. You see, Brother Lawrence had this uncanny ability to always be praying. He lived his life in the presence of God, no matter what he was doing. That’s why the book that’s about him is called The Practice of the Presence of God (If you click on the link, you’ll be directed to Project Gutenberg, where you can download the e-version of the book for free in a number of different formats, if you’re interested in reading more about this remarkable man)
I want to be a person who practices the presence of God. I want to be the kind of person who has an ongoing conversation with God all day long. I want to be a Brother Lawrence. But it is so difficult for me. I get so distracted, and completely forget about God for large swaths of time. Here’s what I learned from reading The Practice of the Presence of God, and how I’m beginning to learn what his secret was.
- Brother Lawrence had a high view of God. This high view of the power, majesty, and goodness of God kept Brother Lawrence in a mindset of worship. Here’s what the author of the book said about him:
“He received a high view of the Providence and the Power of God, which has never since been effaced from his soul. That this view had perfectly set him loose from the world, and kindled in him such a love for God, that he could not tell whether it had increased during the more than forty years he had lived since.”
To him, God was so good, and so worthy that everything else just kind of seemed terrible. It couldn’t compare to God. He had this right idea about how wonderful God is, and compared to that, all distractions seemed trivial.
- Brother Lawrence had an accurate view of himself. If he found that he had failed God in some way, if he forgot about God for a while, or sinned against somebody else, he didn’t beat himself up over it. He knew that he was a lowly sinner, who by nature did bad things. He felt that the only way he could succeed in doing any good at all was by the grace of God. So, he knew how prone he was to sinning and messing up, and confessed his sins before God, and moved on. He didn’t let his shortcomings separate him from God, rather he accepted that he was a sinner in need of grace at all times. His high view of God, and his low view of his humanity helped him to always remember just how much he needed God at all times.
- Brother Lawrence trusted God. He knew God was high and he was low. But he also knew that God loved him anyway. It was that trust in the love and kindness of God that is the secret sauce of Brother Lawrence’s prayer life. He knew that God wasn’t out to get him. He knew that God wanted him to succeed and be close to him. He so trusted God and his intentions that he was able to keep that constant prayer up. Even when things got busy in the kitchen, even when he got asked to do things he didn’t want to do, he didn’t complain or worry about that stuff; he took it to God instead. He trusted God with the big things as well as the small things. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had his best interests at heart. He trusted that he could confess the bad stuff to God, and God would love him anyway. He trusted that God had helped him do every good thing he had ever done. His intimacy with God was directly related to his trust in the goodness of God.
Brother Lawrence practiced the presence of God. Lastly, he had to practice it. He didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be constantly praying. Like any good habit, he worked on it until it became second nature to him. Here’s what the book says,
“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 do it without any difficulty”
We can’t expect a good prayer life to just happen to us one day. We have to work at it. We have to practice the good attitudes and good habits that will one day bring us into effortless communication with God. But it takes dedication, patience, and a fresh sense of awe at how wonderful of a God we serve.