Excerpted and paraphrased from
The Practice of the Presence of God
by Brother Lawrence.
Brother Lawrence (Nicolas Herman, 1614-1691) came from a French peasant family. Following his army service during the Thirty Year’s War, he served as a lay brother in Paris’ Carmelite Priory. Here, he established a reputation for his unusual sense of peace and understanding of God’s word; his wisdom was highly regarded and sought after by monks and visitors alike. Brother Lawrence’s book, The Practice of the Presence of God, is a compilation of his spiritual observations.
If we want to discover the peace of paradise on earth, we must become accustomed to living in constant communication with God. In this relationship, familiarity is balanced by humility, for it is staggering to think that he should want to be with us, with love the keynote of it all.
It is difficult to follow this path. Our instinct is to shrink from pain and suffering and hide ourselves from God. The core of the difficulty, however, is not the presence of pain, but the absence of faith. We find it very hard to believe that God knows all and therefore what he plans for us is best. We prefer to follow our fallen reason or our own defective sight. But we, as believers, walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), albeit what we see and understand is very limited; but God knows and sees all.
If we can become accustomed to living in the presence of God, and if we believe that everything that comes to us comes with his permission, then those two facts will help to alleviate our suffering. God often permits us to suffer a little to lead us on to maturity, and to drive us into his arms.
If God has permitted us to suffer in illness, if he is truly King, then illness could not come to us against his will. Such things come to us from the hand of God (as we learn in Hebrews 12), as a means he uses to make us more completely his, and that rightly accepted and borne, they bring great sweetness and consolation into our lives. Illness is not, then, an enemy to be fought, but an ally in the spiritual warfare to be gladly received and used.
We may take strength from this: Christ holds us fastened to this cross and Christ will release us from it when he thinks fit. In either case, it is obviously better to be held by him – on or off a cross – than to be apart from him.
We must check ourselves – our actions, attitudes, and words – continually, to see that we are not displeasing him. If we do these things, heaven is already here and suffering is robbed of its bitter bite.
Unbelievers cannot be expected to suffer as do Christians. They consider illness as an enemy of life and nature and find nothing in it but grief and distress. The Christian, however, sees it as coming from the hands of God. This is the crucial difference.
It is our hope that we might discover that God is often nearer to us in sickness than in health. To put all our hope and faith in recovery is almost like saying we want to have less of him. Instead, we should put our faith and hope in him, particularly when we consider that even the medical treatment we receive and the medicine we are given will only succeed as far as he permits. Indeed, it is perhaps right for us to use human medicine and medical skills rather than seek a sort of spiritual shortcut by asking for direct divine healing, as they too have been given by God. Perhaps he is reserving our complete cure to himself and waiting only for us to commit ourselves into his hands without question.
To suffer with our God is not pain, but paradise; to enjoy ourselves without him would be hell. Anything – life, joy, pain, death – that brings us nearer to him cannot be bad.
It is ours to offer him our pain. It comes from him, or by his permission. As we turn it into an offering to lay at his feet, his will for us is accepted and carried through. We are to ask him for the strength we shall need to bear this pain. We are to continually lift our thoughts away from the pain we feel and toward he who loves us as a Father loves his favorite child. God has his many ways of drawing us to himself. Sometimes his way is to hide himself from us for a time. It is then, most of all, that faith, and faith only, will support us and give a firm foundation to our confidence in him. Human help cannot meet all our needs. We are to make a virtue out of necessity and expect everything from him.
It is hard to pray for strength to bear pain, rather than for the pain to be taken away. But love sweetens pain, and when we love God and feel his warm answering love, pain is sweetened. He loves us beyond our wildest imaginations. We are encouraged to let him prove his promises.
The more we concentrate on knowing God, the more we shall know him, and the more we shall long to know him better. Love without knowledge is shallow and superficial, but the deeper our knowledge, the deeper and more satisfying our love. If our love of God is based on knowledge, we shall love him equally in pain or pleasure.
God never refuses his grace to those who ask for his help sincerely, and the chief part of that grace is the gift of faith to trust him. If only we could grasp how much he loves us, we should be more ready to receive with trusting joy both the bitter and the sweet from his hand. Pain is only intolerable when seen in a distorted light, but when we know it is the hand of a loving God that shapes it all, and that it is our Father who gives us the cup of sorrow to drink, there is no distortion and so no unbearable burden.
He has promised never to leave us; let us resolve never to leave him. Let us live and die in his presence.