Remaining in God’s Presence

If you were given the task of requiring two books that every Christian needed to read, apart from the Bible, what books would you assign? For me (as it stands today, at least), it would be Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (John Foxe) and The Practice of the Presence of God (Brother Lawrence) (download the book).

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs has the rare capacity to simultaneously humble and reinvigorate the reader. Every time I read portions from this book, it helpfully contextualizes my own “suffering” while igniting a zeal for Christ; one built upon the courage of men and women who have stood firm for the Lord and His gospel dating back millennia. But that’s all for a different blog…

Brother Lawrence

The Practice of the Presence of God looks at the Christian walk from a different angle. Brother Lawrence, a 17th century lay brother in a Paris priory, organized his life around the central fixation of abiding in the presence of God. Everything he did, all the decisions he made, all the words he chose—everything—came down to one essential question: will this drive me further into God’s presence or away from Him? In recounting his interaction with Brother Lawrence, Joseph de Beaufort claims, “The worst trial [Brother Lawrence] could imagine was losing his sense of God’s presence” (12).

He accomplished this perennial presence through continually talking to the Lord throughout the day (1 Thessalonians 5:17). All his daily tasks and interactions were God-saturated as he sought to give glory to Him in his religious duties and the mundane, alike (1 Corinthians 10:31). His entire life was painted with a Christ-colored brush, enabling him to remain in His presence at all times.

Country Chapel

On my drive home from work, I pass a small private chapel in the country that can hold no more than a dozen people. The structure itself is well kept and the surrounding landscaping shows it to be a place that is well loved and frequented. There’s a strange peace that comes over me as I imagine going in to spend some time in secluded fellowship with the Lord. Brother Lawrence paints a similar illustration:

“It isn’t necessary that we stay in church in order to remain in God’s presence. We can make our hearts personal chapels where we can enter anytime to talk to God privately. These conversations can be so loving and gentle, and anyone can have them” (22).

Neither spatial location nor circumstance needs to limit your fellowship with the Lord. While it’s good to carve out intentional secluded time with Him (Matthew 6:6), Christians always have access to our internal secluded country chapel, according to Brother Lawrence. After all, those in Christ “are a temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Loving Him with All

Not only is that access continually available; it’s consistently commanded. Scripture presses us to remain in God’s presence will all our heart (Matthew 6:21), with all our soul (John 15:4-11), with all our mind (Colossians 3:2-4), and with all our strength (Galatians 5:16-25). This requires heeding the warning that Christ gave to the church in Ephesus during John’s revelation. Jesus begins by commending them for their steadfast faithfulness against the crosscurrent of contravening doctrine,

“But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen…” (Revelation 2:4-5a, emphasis added).

It’s easy to do all the right things while the central purpose is discreetly lost. I’m sure your own life contains ample evidence of this common occurrence. Whether it’s relationships, athletics, jobs, tasks, or anything else—we have a tendency to fall into “mission drift,” where the habits remain intact, but the heart is elsewhere.

The Ephesian church experienced this when they continued in their dutiful tasks while “[leaving their] first love.” Jesus was calling them back to Himself, that they may once more enjoy perpetual fellowship with Him. Sadly, history shows no indication that the Ephesian church meaningfully returned to Him—a fate that terrified Brother Lawrence beyond all other suffering (of which he was intimately familiar).

Coram Deo, Today

But I can hear the objection already: “it was easy for Brother Lawrence: he was holed up in a religious priory… I live in the real world!” I know the excuse all too well because I use it every time I revisit The Practice of the Presence of God. Fortunately, the Word of God leaves no room for such diversions—I, too, am able to have deep and perpetual intimacy with Christ, regardless of my calling in life. Because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and His indwelling Spirit, I’m able to live coram Deo: “before the face of God.”

Revisiting the reference to the greatest commandment above, I’m called to love God with all that I am (Luke 10:27). When that is the central fixation of my life, vast and abiding intimacy with Christ is not only possible: it’s the natural result. Rather than listlessly sliding into “mission drift,” fight to live coram Deo by loving God with all your:

  • Heart
    • “…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
      • Actively ensure I am “[seeking] first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33a) rather than anxiously fortifying an earthly kingdom.
  • Soul
    • “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
      • Humbly acknowledge my dependency on Christ and seek to derive my spiritual sustenance in Him, alone (Matthew 4:4).
  • Mind
    • “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2-3).
      • Take thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5-6) and think about things that are pleasing to Him (Philippians 4:8).
  • Strength
    • “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
      • Ensure each specific member of my body (1 Thessalonians 4:4) is being offered up as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).

Loving God in this way does not require removing myself from civilization to live as a lay brother in a Paris priory. I don’t need to drive out to a country chapel every time I desire to be with Christ. I don’t even need to close my eyes and bow my head in order to talk with Him. I can fellowship with God at all times and in all places, provided I’m loving Him as He calls me to.

For the Christian, there are only two options regarding the presence of God: staying or straying. Brother Lawrence and I would urge you to choose the former (Psalm 16:11).

Recommended resources:

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Publisher: Hendrickson Christian Classics)

The Practice of the Presence of God (Publisher: Whitaker House)

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

Stefan Nitzschke
Stefan Nitzschke serves on the pastoral team at Faith Church. He and his wife have a passion for discipleship and evangelism. They are the blessed parents of four carefree boys and one sweet girl.