Monday, November 16, 2009

Book Review: The Practice of the Presence of God

The Practice of the Presence of God cover

The Practice of the Presence of God
with Spiritual Maxims
by Brother Lawrence

Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Spire Books
First Released: 1958, 1967

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Description (slightly modified):
At any moment and in any circumstance, the soul that seeks God may find Him, and practice the presence of God.

Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth-century French monk, learned to constantly seek God. His wisdom and spiritual insights have helped bring people closer to God for more than three centuries.

The Practice of the Presence of God is a collection of documented conversations with and letters by this humble monk on how he found such joy in the Lord at all times. He wrote, "The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen...I posses God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament."

The Spiritual Maxims of Brother Lawrence, a lesser known but equally outstanding work, is a summary of his teachings. Throughout, he develops one great theme, best expressed by the psalmist, "In Thy Presence is fulness of joy."

Brother Lawrence was a Catholic monk, so he did some things that I don't agree are Biblical (like suppressing his outward expression of the joy he felt in God and deliberately increasing his suffering from a physical problem so that he could suffer for his sins). He also never quoted Scripture to support his points (though often there was Scripture he could have used). However, overall, the book was God-focused and had some good insights.

Due to the style of writing, it often took some thought for me to work out what he meant. The Spiritual Maxims were the more organized and easier to read of the two.

The book also contained "The Character of Brother Lawrence," written by someone who knew him, which seemed more focused on and worshipful of Brother Lawrence than of God.

Overall, this book may help people who are seeking insight on gaining a constant awareness of God and finding joy in His presence.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

[From the "Conversations" section on pages 18-19. Brother Lawrence told the writer...]

That he had been long troubled in mind from a certain belief that he should be damned....That this trouble of mind had lasted four years, during which time he had suffered much; but that at last he had seen that this trouble arose from want of faith....That he had placed his sins betwixt him and God, as it were, to tell Him that he did not deserve His favors, but that God still continued to bestow them in abundance.

That in order to form a habit of conversing with God continually, and referring all we do to Him, we must first apply to [focus on] Him with some diligence; but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.

That he expected, after the pleasant days God had given him, he should have his turn of pain and suffering; but that he was not uneasy about it, knowing very well that as he could do nothing of himself, God would not fail to give Him the strength to bear it.

That when an occasion of practicing some virtue offered, he addressed himself to God, saying, Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enables me; and that then he received strength more than sufficient.

That when he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God, I shall never do otherwise if You leave me to myself; it is You who must hinder my falling and mend what is amiss. That after this he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.

[From the "Conversations" section on pages 21-22. Brother Lawrence told the writer...]

That all bodily mortifications and other exercises are useless, except as they serve to arrive at the union with God by love; that he had well considered this, and found it the shortest way to go straight to Him by a continual exercise of love and doing all things for His sake.

....That all possible kinds of mortification, if they were void of the love of God, could not efface a single sin. That we ought, without anxiety, to expect the pardon of our sins from the blood of Jesus Christ, only endeavoring to love Him with all our hearts. That God seemed to have granted the greatest favors to the greatest sinners, as more signal monuments of His mercy.

[From the "Spiritual Maxims" section on pages 74. Brother Lawrence wrote:]

To worship [God] in truth is to acknowledge with heart-felt sincerity what God in truth is,--that is to say, infinitely perfect, worthy of infinite adoration, infinitely removed from sin, and so of all the Divine attributes. That man is little guided by reason, who does not employ all his powers to render to this great God the worship that is His due.

[From "The Character of Brother Lawrence" section on pages 92. Someone recalled how Brother Lawrence said:]

In God we shall see more clearly what we lack than we could in ourselves by all our introspection; which in reality is but the remnant, unexpelled, of self-love, which, under the guise of zeal for our own perfection, keeps our gaze down on self instead of raised to God.

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