“What might my life look like if I believed – really, truly believed – that God was ‘lovingly present’ with me each and every moment of the day?” That question has been bothering me for some time now, but in the waning weeks of 2013 this issue really “burst forth into flower,” so to speak, as I finished up a class on spiritual and ministry formation and simultaneously tried to perform an objective assessment of the various sins and failings that still tend to trip me up.

As Christians, we all can acknowledge the biblical truth that our God is omnipresent, that He simultaneously inhabits all places at all times and is intensely interested and involved in His creation, particularly the fate of His greatest creation, humankind. Certainly King David was aware of God’s total presence, as evidenced by his authorship of Psalm 139. Verses 7 and 8 state it quite plainly: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”

God is everywhere, all the time. The fact that my mind can’t quite grasp this truth does not make it any less true.

And yet, somehow, David was able to commit horrific sins against God, including adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11). How, then, does it come to pass that a man so spiritually strong that God declares him to be “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:21-22) comes to “forget” that God is with him in each and every second of his life? Surely if we know for certain that God is with us at all times, this knowledge will keep us from sinning, right?

Well, obviously, “No.” Intellectual assent to the doctrine of omnipresence does not necessarily lead to spiritual transformation.

The Practice of the
Presence of God by
Brother Lawrence

This time of year, the air is rife with a desire to change and improve. Even those of us who have forever sworn off the making of New Year’s resolutions tend to look backward at the year gone by and wonder if maybe we could do a little bit better over the next 12 months to come. While going to the gym and doing a better job with our finances are admirable goals, for example, I’d like to suggest that maybe they are secondary to becoming increasingly aware of God’s presence in our lives.

Happily, I was paying sufficient attention to my instructor’s remarks this past semester that I latched onto the title of a small volume of devotional material entitled “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite monk from the 17th century. Often referred to as “Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection” within Roman Catholic tradition, Brother Lawrence caught my attention simply because my professor happened to mention that Lawrence and I shared a simple, “common” act of worship, namely washing the dishes and attending to the business of kitchen clean-up…with quiet, settled joy.

How did a tedious task become an act of worship? I mostly blame Rick Warren, whose Daily Hope e-mails started this sort of insanity breaking loose in my life. In months gone by, Pastor Rick has been steadily encouraging his readers to commit every action of their days to God, to trust Him to take the meager efforts of our hands and bless others with them. Over time – not all at once, it must be said – the lowly task of clearing plates for people and cleaning them well has taken on an aspect of silent worship to the Lord that I would be hard-pressed to fully articulate. As I was writing this, though, I called to mind a small wooden plaque that hung over my mother’s kitchen sink as I grew up:

Thank God for dirty dishes!
They have a tale to tell.
While other folks are hungry,
we’re eating very well.

“Lord, teach my heart
sincere gratitude for
Your daily provision.”

As a teenager growing up in an affluent suburb of Detroit, I always found this plaque a bit cheesy, but it seems as though this humble message of gratitude eventually hit home. Forty years later, this simple poem rings true with the ever-present worship style of Brother Lawrence: “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” Dishes need to be cleaned; we might as well love God and others as we enter into our needful chores.

Like most people, I also hope to do a better job taking care of my body and my finances in 2014. However, one of several lasting gifts given to me by Brother Lawrence will be to remind myself continually that God is less interested in my “performance” than He is in my heart, and my ever-increasing awareness of Him and a correlating desire to please Him with all my thoughts, words and deeds. Brother Lawrence was able to labor joyfully in the kitchen of his monastery because, in addition to knowing that God was always with him, he was aware that God was not a harsh taskmaster, as we tend to think, but rather a loving Friend Who glories in our consistent invitations to enter into the messiness of our lives, certain of His love for us.

So I only have one New Year’s resolution, really, and that is to continue practicing the presence of God in all things. I share Brother Lawrence’s confidence that a more fully surrendered lifestyle will be the most powerful means of doing better in every other category.

He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

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