Editor's note:

Brother Lawrence’s little manual has become such a guide for me in the celebration of my ordinary life. In this passage, two guiding insights stand out to me:

1) Love is the measure of our work.

2) Right habits increase our capacity to love.

When so much of our world is geared toward measurement; grades, promotions, making the team, getting the part, college acceptances, neighborhoods we live in, schools our kids attend, we end up bearing the cost—in our bodies, minds, and spirit, of a perpetual cycle of never measuring up. We are overcome by what I call “comparison fatigue” as we carry the weight of comparison. We are prone to judgment, participate in bitter resentment, and become perpetuators of a divided world—winners and losers, those who make it and those who don’t.

With this reading, I’m reminded of the simplicity of God’s desire for the fullness of our lives, “Is love expressed and experienced?” Brother Lawrence also brings to mind the necessity of building right habits if our love is to expand and delight.

—Kai Nilsen
Writer, Lutheran pastor, and Renovaré Ministry Team member

Excerpt from Devotional Classics

The Practice of the Presence of God

1. An Habitual Sense of God’s Presence

I write this only because you have so earnestly requested that I explain to you the method by which I have learned how to develop an habitual sense of God’s presence which our Lord, in his mercy, has been pleased to grant to me.

I must tell you that it is with great difficulty that I am obliged to share this with you, and I share it only with the agreement that you show this letter to no one. If I knew that you would let it be seen, all the desire I have for your advancement would not force me to send it. Nonetheless, the account I can give to you is as follows….

2. My All for God’s All

I have found in many books many different ways of going to God and many different practices in living the spiritual life. I began to see that this was only confusing me, as the only thing I was seeking was to become wholly God’s.

Thus, I resolved to give my all for God’s all. After having given myself wholly to God that he might take away my sin, I renounced, for the love of God, everything that was not God, and I began to live as if there was none but God and I in the world.

Sometimes I imagined myself standing before him as a poor criminal at the feet of the judge. At other times I beheld him in my heart as my Father and as my God. I worshiped him as often as I could, keeping my mind in his holy presence and recalling it back to God as often as I found it had wandered from him.

3. The Difficulties That Occurred

I found a great deal of pain in this exercise, and yet I continued it even in the midst of all the difficulties that occurred, trying not to trouble myself or get angry when my mind had wandered involuntarily. I made this my business throughout the entire day in addition to my appointed times of prayer.

At all times, every hour, every minute, even at my busiest times, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of God.

This has been my practice since the first days I entered into religion. Though I have done it imperfectly, I have found great advantages in this practice. I am aware, however, that all of these advantages are to be attributed to the mercy and goodness of God, because we can do nothing without him—especially me!

4. A Familiarity with God

But when we are faithful in keeping ourselves in his holy presence, keeping him always before us, this not only prevents our offending him or doing something displeasing in his sight (at least willfully), but it also brings to us a holy freedom, and if I may say so, a familiarity with God wherein we may ask and receive the graces we are so desperately in need of.

In short, by often repeating these acts they become habitual, and the presence of God becomes something that comes naturally to us. Give God thanks with me for his great goodness toward me, which I can never sufficiently admire, and for the many favors he has done for so miserable a sinner as I am.

5. The Very Best Return

I have never found this method I am describing in any books, and yet I seem to have no difficulty with it. I had a conversation a few days ago with a very devout person who told me the spiritual life was a life of grace. He said it begins with a holy fear, is increased by the hope of eternal life, and is consummated by the pure love of God. He said that each of these states has different stages and different methods by which one arrives at that blessed consummation.

I have not followed all of these methods he describes. On the contrary, I found that they discouraged me. This was the reason why I made this resolution to give myself wholly to God as the very best return I could to him for his love. Because of my love for God, I then renounced all.

6. Faith Alone Was Enough

For the first year I spent much of the time set apart for devotions thinking about death, judgment, hell, heaven, and my sins. I continued this for a few.years, applying my mind to these thoughts in the morning and then spending the rest of the day, even in the midst of all my work, in the presence of God. I considered that he was always with me, that he was even within me.

After a while I accidentally began doing the same thing in my set times of devotion as I had been doing the rest of the day. This produced great delight and consolation. This practice produced in me so high an esteem for God that faith alone was enough to satisfy all my needs.

7. The Source and Substance of My Suffering

This was how I began. And yet, I must tell you that for the first ten years I suffered a great deal. The awareness that I was not as devoted to God as I wanted to be, the awareness of my past sins which were always present in my mind, and the great yet unmerited favors God did for me were the source and substance of my suffering.

During this time I sinned often only to rise again soon. It seemed to me that all the creatures of the world, all reason, and even God were against me. All that was in my favor was faith. I was troubled and sometimes with the thought that all of my blessings in this endeavor were merely my own presumption, pretending to have arrived at this state so easily while others arrive with great difficulty. At other times I thought that this was all merely a willful delusion and that, in attempting this, I had lost my hope of salvation.

8. An Habitual, Silent, and Secret Conversation

When I finally reached a point where I wanted to quit, I found myself changed all at once. In my soul, which until that time was in distress, I suddenly felt a profound inward peace as if it were in its true place of rest.

Ever since that time I have walked before God in simple faith, with humility and with love, and I apply myself diligently to do nothing and think nothing which might displease him. I hope that when I have done what I can, he will do with me what he pleases.

As for what happens to me these days, I cannot express it. I no longer have any pain or difficulty because I have no will except that of God’s, which I endeavor to do in all things, and to which I am so resigned that I would not pick up a straw from the ground against his will, or for any other motive than out of pure love for God.

I have since given up all forms of devotions and set prayers except those which are suitable to this practice. I make it my business only to persevere in his holy presence wherein I keep myself by a simple attention and a general fond regard to God, which I refer to as an actual presence of God. Or, to put it another way, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God. This often causes me to have feelings of inward rapture—and sometimes outward ones! They are so great that I am forced to have to moderate them and conceal them from others.

9. Full of Mercy and Goodness

In short, I am assured beyond any doubt that my soul has been with God for nearly thirty years. I have not shared it all so as not to bore you, but I think it is proper that I tell you what manner I imagine myself before God whom I behold as king.

I imagine myself as the most wretched of all, full of sores and sins, and one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his king. Felling a deep sorrow, I confess to him all of my sins, I ask his forgiveness, and I abandon myself into his hands so that he may do with me what he pleases.

This king, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastening me, embraces me with love, invites me to feast at his table, serves me with his own hands, and gives me the key to his treasures. He converses with me, and takes delight in me, and treats me as if I were his favorite. This is how I imagine myself from time to time in his holy presence.

10. The Inexpressible Sweetness

My most useful method is this simple attention, done with a passionate regard toward God to whom I find myself often attached with greater sweetness and delight than that of an infant at its mother’s breast. So much so that—if I dare use this expression—I choose to call this state the bosom of God because of the inexpressible sweetness which I taste and experience there.

If sometimes my thoughts wander from God because of necessity, I am recalled back to God soon after by inward sensations so charming and delicious that I am afraid to speak of them. I desire you to see and know my great wretchedness rather than the great favors which God does for me, unworthy and ungrateful as I am.

11. A Stone Before a Sculptor

As for my set hours of prayer, they are only a continuation of the same exercise. Sometimes I imagine myself as a stone before a sculptor from which he will carve a beautiful statue. Presenting myself before God, I ask him to form his perfect image in my soul and make me entirely like himself.

At other times when I apply myself to prayer, I feel all of my spirit and all of my soul lift itself up without any care or any effort on my part. It continues as if it were suspended and firmly fixed in God, as in its center and place of rest.

I know that some will accuse me of inactivity, of delusion, and of self-love. I confess that it is a holy inactivity, and would be a happy self-love if the soul in that state were capable of it, because in reality, while I am in this state of repose, I cannot be disturbed by such emotions which were formerly my strength and support, but which in that state hinder rather than assist.

I cannot allow this state to be called a delusion because the soul which enjoys God in this manner desire nothing except God. If this is a delusion in me, it belongs to God to remedy it. Let him do what he pleases with me; I desire only him and to be wholly devoted to him.

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Excerpts taken from Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups (Richard J. Foster & James Bryan Smith, Editors. HarperCollins, 1993.) and used with permission.