Brother Lawrence Biography
Nicholas Herman was born in eastern France in 1611. Not much is known about his life. He grew up so poor that as a young adult he served as a soldier so he could eat and provide for himself. Then after becoming injured he left the army and got a job as a footman, opening carriage doors for travelers and waiting on tables.
Nicholas became a follower of Christ at age eighteen and at about the age of forty he seems to have had a deeper experience with Christ that moved him to become a lay brother with the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelites and joined their monastery community in Paris. There he took the name “Lawrence of the Resurrection.”
For most of the rest of his life he worked in the monastery kitchen until his last years in which he repaired sandals. It’s ironic that this barefoot lame monk fixed broken sandals so that other people could walk with more comfort! But that’s exactly the kind of humble and generous-spirited man that Brother Lawrence was.
How Did Brother Lawrence’s Story Become So Famous?
Nobody would’ve imagined that this poor, humble man would become famous, known to the world as “Brother Lawrence.” How did this happen?
He developed a simple way of praying from his heart which he called “practicing the presence of God.” And he learned to commune with God continuously, not only in church or personal devotions, but also as he worked in the kitchen, ran errands, or listened to people.
His genuine spirit, cheerfulness, and peace attracted people within his community to share with him and seek his counsel and prayers. Eventually people from other parts of France, common people and church leaders alike, wrote to him or visited him for spiritual guidance.
Brother Lawrence died in 1691. Father Joseph de Beaufort gathered as many of the monk’s letters of spiritual direction that he could find, along with four conversations that people recalled from their meetings with him, and in 1692 these were published as The Practice of the Presence of God.
In his preface to the first edition Beaufort wrote, “All readers, whatever your occupation, will find profit in this book for in it you will meet a brother busy as you are in outward activity… but a brother who, in the middle of all the demanding tasks, had learned how to wed contemplation to activity. For the past forty years our brother has hardly ever turned from the Presence of God.”
In the last four centuries untold millions of people have been drawn into a life of practicing God’s presence through Brother Lawrence’s warm-hearted letters of spiritual direction. These letters are so precious! Reading them opens us to experience God’s loving presence!
(The biographical material above is summarized from Wikipedia and the introduction to Practicing His Presence published by The SeedSowers in 1985.)
Drawn to Brother Lawrence Writings
Many times I’ve turned to Practicing the Presence of God to cultivate my own intimacy with God through Jesus Christ. I long to have a relationship with the Lord more like Brother Lawrence’s so I keep taking heart from him!
I’ve been especially drawn to Brother Lawrence’s story of growing closeness with God. In all of his life experiences, including his trials and pain, he experiences God’s presence in refreshing and profound ways. The grace and wisdom that he passes onto others comes not as a theology lecture, but an overflow from his own personal experience with God.
Brother Lawrence’s personal story in Practicing the Presence of God is my favorite part of his classic devotional book so I’ve excerpted these portions to tell Brother Lawrence’s story in his own words.
Brother Lawrence Writings (His Personal Story in Excerpts From Practicing His Presence)
God did me a glorious favor in bringing me to a conversion at the age of eighteen.
In the winter I saw a tree stripped of its leaves and I knew that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and that afterwards the flowers and the fruit would appear. From this I received a high view of the power and providence of God which has never since departed from my soul. The view I grasped that day set me completely loose from the world and kindled in me such a love for God that I cannot tell whether it has increased during the more than forty years since that time.
I was a footman to M. Fieubert, the treasurer, but I am a very awkward fellow and seemed to break everything.
I decided, instead of continuing as a footman, to be received into a monastery… I decided to sacrifice my life with all its pleasures to God. But he greatly disappointed me in this idea, for I have met with nothing but satisfaction in giving my life over to Him.
I have found that we can establish ourselves in a sense of the presence of God by continually talking with Him. It is simply a shameful thing to quit conversing with Him to think of trifles and foolish things. We should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God which will yield great joy…
(Practicing His Presence, pp. 41-42)
Forming the Habit of Conversing with God
I have… resolved to make the love of God the end of all my actions. I have been well satisfied with this single motive…
[However,] I was long troubled by the belief that perhaps I would be damned. All [people] in the world could not have persuaded me to the contrary…
But since the time I saw this trouble arose from lack of faith, I have passed my life in perfect liberty and continual joy. I even placed my sins between myself and the Lord to tell Him that I did not deserve His favors, but He continued to bestow His favors upon me, in abundance anyway!…
When it has been my opportunity to exercise some virtue, I have turned to God confessing, “Lord, I cannot do this unless You enable me.” I then received strength that was more than sufficient.
When I fail in my duty I simply admit my faults, saying to God, “…It is You who must stop my falling and it is You who must amend that which is amiss.” After such praying I allow myself no further uneasiness about my faults…
Recently I went to Burgundy to buy the wine provisions for the society which I have joined. This was a very unwelcome task for me. I have no natural business ability and, being lame, I cannot get around the boat except by rolling myself over the casks. Nonetheless, this matter gave me no uneasiness, nor did the purchase of wine. I told the Lord that it was His business that I was about. Afterwards, I found the whole thing well performed.
And so it is the same in the kitchen (a place to which I have a great natural aversion). I have accustomed myself to doing everything there for the love of God. On all occasions, with prayer, I have found [my work] easy during the fifteen years in which I have been employed here…
My set times of prayer are not different from other times of the day. Although I do retire to pray (because it is the direction of my superior) I do not need such retirement nor do I ask for it because my greatest business does not divert me from God…
(Practicing His Presence, pp. 45-47)
The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I posses God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.
(Practicing His Presence, p. 103)
[In summary] how can we pray to [God] without being with Him? And how can we be with Him without thinking of Him often? And how can we think of Him often without forming the holy habit of being in His presence?
(Practicing His Presence, p. 84)
A High Esteem of God
The foundation of the spiritual life, for me, has been a high image of God and a high esteem of God — both of which I arrive at by faith.
Once this has been well conceived I have had no other care but to faithfully reject every other thought in order to perform all my actions for the love of God. If sometimes I have not thought of God for a good while, I do not become disquieted because of it. But, after having acknowledged my failure to God, I return to Him with even greater trust since I was so miserable in having forgotten Him.
The simple trust we put in God honors Him much and draws down His great graces…
I have very often experienced the ready help of divine grace upon all occasions. When I have business to do, I do not [worry] about it beforehand. When the time comes to do it, I see in God, as clearly as in a mirror, all that is needed for me to do.
When outward business diverts me a while from the thought of God, a fresh remembrance coming from Him invests itself into my soul, and I am so inflamed and transported that it is sometimes difficult for me to contain myself…
(Practicing His Presence, pp. 51-52)
Oh! If we but knew the need we have of God’s presence. If we could only see how greatly we need the Lord’s assistance in everything. If we could really see how helpless we are without Him, we would never lose sight of Him, not even for a moment…
(Practicing His Presence, pp. 66-67)
I have read many accounts in different books on how to go to God and how to practice the spiritual life. It seems these methods serve more to puzzle me than to help, for what I sought after was simply how to become wholly God’s. So I resolved to give… myself wholly to God; I renounced everything that was not His. I did this to deal with my sins, and because of my love for Him. I began to live as if there was nothing, absolutely nothing but Him…
Sometimes I would simply consider myself before Him… I beheld Him as being in my heart — as my Father, as my God. I worshipped Him as often as I could. I kept my mind in His holy presence. I recalled His presence as often as I found my mind wandering from Him…
(Practicing His Presence, pp. 59)
[This is] the most excellent method I have found of going to God… doing common business without any view to pleasing [people], and as far as I am capable, doing it purely for the love of God.
It is a great delusion to think that the time of prayer ought to be different from other times. We are strictly obliged to adhere to God in the time of action, just as we are to adhere to prayer during the season of prayer.
My prayers are nothing other than a sense of the presence of God. My soul is simply insensible, at that time, to anything but divine love. When the appointed time of prayer has passed, I find no difference because I still continue with God, praising and blessing Him with all my might, so that I might pass my life in continual joy…
(Practicing His Presence, pp. 56-57)
Recalling God in Your Thoughts
Nearly everyone has problems with wandering thoughts. The mind is a true rover. But since the will is master of all our other faculties, it can recall the mind and carry out thoughts to God.
When I first began, my mind was also undisciplined. Because of this lack, my first efforts at devotion were hampered by the wandering and dissipation of my mind. Such habits are difficult to overcome. They even draw us away from the Lord and to the earth against our very will.
(Practicing His Presence, p. 81)
Whenever we find our minds wandering from Him, we must recall them to His presence with tranquility.
In order to do this you will find it necessary to put your whole trust in God, to lay aside all other cares. You will also find it necessary to lay aside some forms of devotion, even if they are good ones. Such devotions are only the means to the end. They were given to you to bring you to Christ’s presence. Once you are in His presence, the forms are meaningless…
You may continue with Him in an exchange of love simply by an act of praise, or adoration, or just by desire… [or] by an attitude of simple waiting, or by thanksgiving…
Do not be discouraged at the outset of this exercise. Your own nature may rebel at this holding and stillness before God. Do it violence; deny it. For instance, you may have the thought that this communion is a waste of valuable time. Pay that thought no attention. Go on with the Lord…
(Practicing His Presence, p. 70)
Praying for a Friend in Pain
I am in pain to see you suffer so long. What gives me some ease is that your suffering is proof of God’s love for you. When you really see your suffering from that view, you can bear your pains more easily…
(Practicing His Presence, p. 93)
If we were all completely accustomed to being constantly in the presence of Christ, all our disease would be much alleviated by that presence. The Lord does very often allow us to suffer a little. He does so for two reasons: to purify the soul and to oblige us to continue in His presence…
What shall you do in your present straits? Constantly, incessantly offer your pains to the Lord. Ask Him for strength to endure the pain. But above all else, get into the habit of entertaining yourself with God…
During your pain, just adore Him…
God seems to have endless ways of drawing us to Himself. Perhaps His most unusual way is to hide Himself from you… At a time like that, when God seems to have forsaken you, you must exercise your faith in Him.
You ask about me. I am always happy. The whole world suffers, and here am I, the one person who deserves the severest discipline, feeling joys so continual and so great that I can scarce contain them!
I would willingly ask God for a part of your suffering, yet I know that I am so weak that if the Lord left me one moment to myself I would be the most wretched man alive…
I sense His presence continually. But if I should lose that sense, my faith that He is with me would be as strong as the sense had been.
[I] have but one fear… to leave Him… Let us live in His presence. Let us die in His presence.
(Practicing His Presence, pp. 91-92)
In Paradise While Dying (One of his Final Letters Before he Died)
Many times I have been at the point of death, and I have never been so content as at that time. Consequently, I did not pray for relief. Rather, I asked the Lord for strength to suffer with courage, humility, and love.
Oh, how sweet it is to suffer with God! However great the sufferings may be, receive them all with love. Dear Christian friend, it is paradise to suffer with the Lord. It is possible to be with Him under any conditions! It is possible for us to live in the very sense of the Lord’s presence, under even the most difficult circumstances.
If you and I are going to enjoy the peace of paradise during this life we must become accustomed to a familiar, humble and very affectionate conversation with the Lord Jesus. You must stop your spirit from wandering from the Lord no matter what the circumstances are.
(Practicing His Presence, pp. 95-96)