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.

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

Starting Soon: The 2020-21 Renovaré Book Club

An inten­tion­al way to read for trans­for­ma­tion not just infor­ma­tion. Runs Sep­tem­ber 2020 through May 2021.

Learn More >