Editor's note:

What a pleasure today to acquaint (or reacquaint) you with Frank Laubach. A pioneer in global literacy and an acclaimed educator and administrator, Laubach was above all (or maybe we should say “beneath all”) a man of prayer. Letters by a Modern Mystic is a collection of letters Laubach wrote while living on the Philippine island of Mindanao. It reveals a man utterly dedicated to an “experiment of filling every minute full of the thought of God.” We’ve been reading Laubach’s letters of late in the Renovaré Institute, and we’d love for you to join in.

—Carolyn Arends
Director of Education, Renovaré

Introduction to the Author

In 1915 Frank Laubach went with his wife to the Philippine Islands as a missionary. After founding churches on the island of Mindanao, he established and became dean of Union College in Manila. In 1930 he returned to Mindanao to work with the Mohammedan Moros who regarded the Christian Filipinos as their enemies. Laubach, however, went with a heart filled with the presence of God and sought only to live among them, not trying to coerce them into Christianity, but living each moment with a sense of God’s presence.

It is estimated that through his educational efforts he was responsible for teaching one-half of the ninety thousand people in that area to read and write. More than that, he has brought thousands of people to a richer experience of God. The following reading comes from the letters he wrote during his Mindanao days.

Excerpts from Letters by a Modern Mystic

1. Open Windows

January 3, 1930

To be able to look backward and say, “This, this has been the finest year of any life”—that is glorious! But anticipation! To be able to look ahead and say, “The present year can and will be better!”—that is more glorious! I have done nothing but open windows—God has done the rest. There has been a succession of marvelous experiences of the friendship of God. I resolved that I would succeed better this year with my experiment of filling every minute full of the thought of God than I succeeded last year. And I added another resolve—to be as wide open toward people and their need as I am toward God. Windows open outward as well as upward. Windows open especially downward where people need the most!

2. Submission: The First and Last Duty

January 20, 1930

Submission is the first and last duty of man. That is exactly what I have been needing in my Christian life. Two years ago a profound dissatisfaction led me to begin trying to line up my actions with the will of God about every fifteen minutes or every half hour. Other people to whom I confessed this intention said it was impossible. I judge from what I have said that few people are trying even that. But this year I have started out trying to live all my waking moments in conscious listening to the inner voice, asking without ceasing, “What, Father, do you desire said? What, Father, do you desire done this minute?”

3. Feeling God in Each Movement

January 26, 1930

For the past few days I have been experimenting in a more complete surrender than ever before. I am taking by deliberate act of will, enough time from each hour to give God much thought. Yesterday and today I have made a new adventure, which is not easy to express. I am feeling God in each movement, by an act of will—willing that He shall direct these fingers that now strike this typewriter—willing that He shall pour through my steps as I walk—willing that He shall direct my words as I speak, and my very jaws as I eat!

You will object to this intense introspection. Do not try it, unless you feel unsatisfied with your own relationship with God, but at least allow me to realize all the leadership of God I can. I am disgusted with the pettiness and futility of my unled self. If the way out is not more perfect slavery to God, then what is the way out? I am trying to be utterly free from everybody, free from my own self, but completely enslaved to the will of God every moment of this day.

4. Moment by Moment

We used to sing a song in the church in Benton which I liked, but which I never really practiced until now. It runs:

Moment by moment, I’m kept in His love;

Moment by moment I’ve life from above;

Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine;

Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.

It is exactly that “moment by moment,” every waking moment, surrender, responsiveness, obedience, sensitiveness, pliability, “lost in His love,” that I now have the mind-bent to explore with all my might. It means two burning passions: First, to be like Jesus. Second, to respond to God as a violin responds to the bow of the master. Open your soul and entertain the glory of God and after a while that glory will be reflected in the world about you and in the very clouds above your head.

5. Only One Thing Now

January 29, 1930

I feel simply carried along each hour, doing my part in a plan which is far beyond myself. This sense of cooperation with God in the little things is what astonishes me. I seem to have to make sure of only one thing now, and every other thing “takes care of itself,” or I prefer to say what is more true, God takes care of all the rest. My part is to live in this hour in continuous inner conversation with God and in perfect responsiveness to His will. To make this hour gloriously rich. This seems to be all I need to think about.

6. Undiscovered Continents of Spiritual Living

March 1, 1930

The sense of being led by an unseen hand which takes mine while another hand reaches ahead and prepares the way, grows upon me daily. I do not need to strain at all to find opportunity. Perhaps a man who has been an ordained minister since 1914 ought to be ashamed to confess that he never felt the joy of hourly, minute by minute—now what shall I call it?—more than surrender.

It is a will act. I compel my mind to open out toward God. I wait and listen with determined sensitiveness. I fix my attention there, and sometimes it requires a long time early in the morning to attain that mental state. I determine not to get out of bed until that mind set, that concentration upon God, is settled. It also requires determination to keep it there. After a while, perhaps, it will become a habit, and the sense of effort will grow less. But why do I harp on this inner experience? Because I feel convinced that for me and for you who read there lie ahead undiscovered continents of spiritual living compared with which we are infants in arms.

But how “practical” is this for the average man? It seems now to me that yonder plowman could be like Calixto Sanidad, when he was a lonesome and mistreated plowboy, “with my eyes on the furrow, and my hands on the lines, but my thoughts on God.” The millions at looms and lathes could make the hours glorious. Some hour spent by some night watchman might be the most glorious ever lived on earth.

7. How Infinitely Richer

March 15, 1930

Every waking moment of the week I have been looking toward Him, with perhaps the exception of an hour or two. How infinitely richer this direct first hand grasping of God Himself is, than the old method which I used and recommended for years, the endless reading of devotional books. Almost it seems to me now that the very Bible cannot be read as a substitute for meeting God soul to soul and face to face.

8. Can It Be Done?

March 23, 1930

We can keep two things in mind at once. Indeed we cannot keep one thing in mind more than half a second. Mind is a flowing something. It oscillates. Concentration is merely the continuous return to the same problem from a million angles. So my problem is this: Can I bring God back in my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind as an after image, shall always be one of the elements in every concept and precept? I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.

I do not invite anybody else to follow this arduous path. I wish many might. We need to know, for example, Can a laboring man successfully attain this continuous surrender to God? Can a man working at a machine pray for people all day long, and at the same time do His task efficiently? Can a mother wash dishes, care for the babies, continuously talking to God?

If you are like myself, this has been a pretty strong diet. So I will put something simpler and more attainable: “Any hour of any day may be made perfect by merely choosing. It is perfect if one looks to God that entire hour, waiting for His leadership all through the hour and trying hard to do every tiny thing exactly as God wishes it done.”

9. Difficulty and Failure

April 19, 1930

If this record of a soul [sic] struggle to find God is to be complete it must not omit the story of difficulty and failure. I have not succeeded very well so far. This week, for example, has not been one of the finest in my life, but I resolve not to give up the effort. Yet strain does not seem to do good. At this moment I feel something “let go” inside, and lo, God is here! It is a heart melting “here-ness,” a lovely whispering of father to child, and the reason I did not have it before was because I failed to let go.

10. Letting God Control

April 22, 1930

This morning I started out fresh, by finding a rich experience of God in the sunrise. Then I tried to let Him control my hands while I was shaving and dressing and eating breakfast. Now I am trying to let God control my hands as I pound the typewriter keys. There is nothing that we can do excepting to throw ourselves open to God. There is, there must be, so much more in Him than He can give us. It ought to be tremendously helpful to be able to acquire the habit of reaching out strongly after God’s thoughts, and to ask, “God, what have you to put into my mind now if only I can be large enough?” That waiting, eager attitude ought to give God the chance He needs.

Oh, this thing of keeping in constant touch with God, making Him the object of my thought and the companion of my conversations, is the most amazing thing I ever ran across. It is working. I cannot do it even half a day—not yet, but I believe I shall be doing it some day for the entire day. It is a matter of acquiring a new habit of thought. Now I like God’s presence so much that when for a half hour or so He slips out of mind—as He does many times a day, I feel as though I had deserted Him, and as though I had lost something very precious in my life.

Poetry Far More Beautiful

May 24, 1930

The day had been rich but strenuous, so I climbed “Signal Hill” back of my house talking and listening to God all the way up, all the way back, all the lovely half hour on the top. And God talked back! I let my tongue go loose and from it there flowed poetry far more beautiful than any I ever composed. It flowed without pausing and without ever a failing syllable for a half hour. I listened astonished and full of joy and gratitude. I wanted a dictaphone for I knew that I should not be able to remember it—and now I cannot. “Why,” someone may ask, “did God waste His poetry on you alone, when you could not carry it home?” You will have to ask God that question. I only know He did and I am happy in the memory.

REFLECTIONS from Richard J. Foster: 

I marvel at the prayer experiences of Frank Laubach. Here is a giant of a man, a man who developed a method of literacy training that has been used worldwide, compassionately declaring, “I want to learn how to live so that to see someone is to pray for them.” He has helped me tremendously. 

Even today, I like to thumb through his letters and journals until I encounter one of his prayer experiments that seems right for me for now. Perhaps it is an experiment in praying for people on a plane, inviting Jesus Christ to go from passenger to passenger, bringing His love into their lives. Then I’ll try it for a while and see what I learn. It’s a great adventure, this life of prayer, and Frank Laubach has pioneered the way for many of us.

Learn more about Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups.

Learn more about Frank Laubauch’s Letters by a Modern Mystic.

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