If you are searching for the perfect gift book for the holiday season (other than Help Wanted: Devotions for Job Seekers, of course!) my recommendation is the somewhat obscure, but classic, The Practice of the Presence of God. It has the potential to impact the spiritual life of any careful reader with its startlingly simple, yet profound, message.
Practice of the Presence is an odd book – maybe book isn’t even the right word. It is really a collection of conversations with a 17th Century monk named Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, along with a collection of his letters. It is a short book – one you could easily read in a few hours. But don’t, or you will miss fully absorbing the amazing treasure that Brother Lawrence offers us.
As the book tells us, Brother Lawrence was a failed footman for a noble. He was so poor at his job, he planned to punish himself by committing to a life of deprivation in a monastary. But God, in Brother Lawrence’s words, “outwitted him.” Instead of a life of penance and want, God showed him the secret of true joy – constant communion with God. As he went about his duties, Brother Lawrence cultivated the habit of always speaking with God, of abandoning all other concerns to God’s hands, and focusing only on completing his normal duties for the love of God.
Brother Lawrence offers us a fascinating vision of a person who made this kind of conversation with God the center of his entire life. Most of us have read Paul’s admonition to “pray continually,” from I Thessalonians. From most people, it would sound like pious church talk – nice to say, but not truly realistic. But with Brother Lawrence we see it actually lived out. He tells us how he speaks directly and simply to God, and how he gives no thought to the things he had finished doing and very little even to what he was doing at the moment. He counsels us to reject any distracting thought that is not about our immediate action or our salvation and return to conversing with God.
Nearly every sentence of Practice of the Presence contains a gem that will startle you. You have to read it slowly, a paragraph or two a day works best for me. As I read it, I am consistently challenged to consider whether in our modern Christian practices we have missed our true source of joy – God Himself.
Think about this as you go through the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. We look forward to so many activities, but we also know the sense of disappointment as each awaited event passes and we go back to normal life. What if our anticipation was for God’s presence each day as we woke? What if a constant conversation with God was the main thing for us?
If you have the opportunity, read The Practice of the Presence of God, savor it and let it inspire you to begin a conversation that could change your life.