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.” 

—Carolyn Arends
Director of Education, Renovaré

Excerpt from Letters by a Modern Mystic

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 31930

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 201930

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 261930

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 291930

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 11930

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 151930

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 231930

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 191930

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 221930

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 241930

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.


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

Originally published December 1936

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