Sometimes there are changes in our prayer lives. We might go from praying for a pleasant afternoon or an easier workload to praying for another day of mortal life, or an easing of unbearable pain. At such times we might long to hear God, to see God or to understand God in clear, unmistakable terms.
Rather than longing for the presence of God, Brother Lawrence challenges us to practice the presence of God:
That practice which is alike the most holy, the most general, and the most needful in the spiritual life is the practice of the presence of God. It is the schooling of the soul to find its joy in his divine companionship, holding with him at all times and at every moment humble and loving conversation, without set rule or stated method, in all time of our temptation or tribulation, in all time of our dryness of soul and disrelish of God, yes, and even when we fall into unfaithfulness and actual sin. The Practice of the Presence of God (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers) 2004, page 71.
This is thought provoking. It appears to mean that all of our doubts, questions, aspirations, needs and fears are put into perspective simply through the acknowledgement of God's presence. Even our unfaithfulness can be solved in this way. For example we might complain or confess to God that we are losing our faith; yet in so doing we are acknowledging his presence and therefore demonstrating faith. We have an insight into the mysterious workings of grace; the dynamics of an ongoing relationship with God.
Lest we agonize or think too much about this, Brother Lawrence also urges that:
We should apply ourselves unceasingly to this one end, to so rule all our actions that they be little acts of communion with God; but they must not be studied, they must come naturally, from the purity and simplicity of the heart (p.71).
Brother Lawrence lived in the seventeenth century as a lay brother in France. He is famous not as a learned theologian but as one who found himself in the presence of God while working in the kitchen, peeling potatoes, as easily as anywhere else. He did not lead a sheltered life. He was a soldier at first, accused of espionage and sentenced to hang. He somehow established his innocence, but was later wounded. As a monk, his vocation was prayer and manual labour (see Preface, xi-xii).
While Brother Lawrence's writings do not cite scripture, we know that the psalms are an important part of the life of a monk. He might well have been influenced by Psalm 139:1-6:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it. (ESV).
This is a beautiful and humble psalm. It reminds us that we are not expected to understand everything.
Contemporary writer Max Lucado also explores the ongoing presence of God. In his book, Traveling Light, he discusses the entirety of the well-known Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (ESV).
You do not need to be a theologian to realize there is something special about this psalm. If you are feeling down, read this aloud! If you are feeling fearful; read this aloud! If you are feeling thankful, read this aloud! It is a gift from God, and it is all about the direction, protection, and presence of God.
Lucado suggests that there are many ways we might sense the presence of God:
Through the kindness of a stranger. The majesty of a sunset. The mystery of romance. Through the question of a child or the commitment of a spouse. Through a word well-spoken or a touch well-timed, have you sensed his presence? If so, then release your doubts. Traveling Light, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson), 2001. Page 146.
Perhaps five of the most comforting and meaningful words we can utter are in Psalm 23:4 "for you are with me." (ESV).
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