As I am now putting the finishing touches of the third draft of my manuscript on the theology of work, I was impressed to go back and page through one of my key references – Brother Lawrence’s powerful classic, The Practice of the Presence of God.
In this short post, I want to consolidate the ten quotes I used from this book. They are foundational to what I believe about God’s presence at work.
In chapter 5, where I define the term Immanuel labor, I introduce this man of God:
I absolutely must mention Brother Lawrence, and the classic book of conversations and letters written about him and by him in 1691, The Practice of the Presence of God.
He is described as having “a heart that had learned the most essential ingredient of the Christian life: how to remain in the presence of God daily.” In one recorded conversation, he had stated quite simply “All we have to do is to recognize God as being intimately present within us. Then we may speak directly to Him every time we need to ask for help, to know His will in moments of uncertainty, and to do whatever He wants us to do in a way that pleases Him.”
After he had walked with God for over forty years, it was said that he “had become so accustomed to God’s divine presence that he relies on it for help on all sorts of occasions. His soul has been filled with a constant inner joy that is sometimes so overwhelming.” A friend stated, “by dwelling in the presence of God he has established such a sweet communion with the Lord that His spirit abides, without much effort, in the restful peace of God. In this rest, he is filled with a faith that equips him to handle anything that comes to him.” What a guy!
Later in this same chapter, I discuss the idea of losing and regaining our sense of God’s presence. Contemplate this beautiful statement written by his friend:
It was said of Brother Lawrence, “When he sinned, he confessed it to God with these words: ‘I can do nothing better without You. Please keep me from falling and correct the mistakes I make.’ After that he did not feel guilty about the sin.”
At the end of this chapter, I share one more quote:
Let me close with an astute observation from a friend: “The good brother found God everywhere, as much while he was repairing shoes as while he was praying with the community. He was in no hurry to go on retreats, because he found the same God to love and adore in his ordinary work as in the depth of the desert.”
In chapter 11, where I teach some basic biblical principles on how we should work, I return to Brother Lawrence to highlight several more quotes from his book:
His sense of God’s presence affected his work. His attitude was, “Never tire of doing even the smallest things for Him, because He isn’t impressed so much with the dimensions of our work as with the love in which it is done.”
He was assigned to work in the kitchen. Though he did not like it at first, “he developed quite a facility for doing it over the fifteen years he was there. He attributed this to his doing everything for the love of God, asking as often as possible for grace to do his work.” His friend wrote, “Although he was assigned the humblest duties there, he never complained. The grace of Jesus Christ sustained him in everything that was unpleasant or tiresome.” Brother Lawrence exemplified Paul’s command: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men . . . It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24).
This quote clearly shows my idea of Immanuel labor in this man of faith:
At the beginning of my duties I would say to the Lord with confidence, ‘My God, since You are with me, and since, by Your will, I must occupy myself with external things, please grant me the grace to remain with You, in Your presence. Work with me, so that my work might be the very best. Receive as an offering of love both my work and all my affections.’ . . . And at the end of my work, I used to examine it carefully. If I found good in it, I thanked God. If I noticed faults, I asked His forgiveness without being discouraged, and then went on with my work, still dwelling in Him.
I trust that these words that were written over three hundred years ago will inspire you as much as they have me. My desire is that many Christians will learn to practice the presence of God at work, and experience the same joy that Brother Lawrence had. I strongly encourage you to read this book if you have not done so.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.