Practice Of The Presence 2

Brother Lawrence’s book ‘The Practice Of The Presence Of God’ hasn’t arrived in the mail yet, so I’ll continue with some thoughts that came to me since my last posting.

One of the biggest problems we all have to deal with is a little appendage lurking in our dark corners called ‘the ego‘.

In some people, the action of the ego is very clear to see: self-importance, megalomania, ‘me, me, me’, hunger for acquisitions, fame, power, influence, and more. People laced with a heavy dose of this curse may be easy to identify, because they usually make a big showing on the world stage.

What about the rest of us? “I’m not like that,” we may think.   But whoa!   Make no mistake, deep in the salt mines of our souls this worm is at work continually, coloring and shaping our thoughts and attitudes on anything and everything.

Jesus said , “Take up your cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23)

I don’t believe He was referring to the stresses and strains of worldly life in work and relationships – that is all periphery. The issue goes deeper than that.

Paul gives us a clue in 1 Corinthians 51:33 when he says, “I die daily.” Clearly, he doesn’t mean physical death. What does he mean then?

In 2 Corinthians 10:5 we get another clue : “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  What has to die is the ego.

Now this is deep stuff. It’s all very well to have a head knowledge of these scriptures, but it’s something else to take them on board in your life and your heart. Paul is NOT talking about demolishing other people’s false beliefs (I’ve seen that argument put forward by clerics),   He is talking about our own ‘pretensions’, in other words, the thoughts and attitudes sown into our souls by the action of the enemy, through our egos.

In my last post I confessed about being dissatisfied with my effectiveness as a Christian. In truth, the dissatisfaction arose from comparing myself to others, to those who have done and are doing great things for the Lord: a comparison brought about by my ego. There’s no good in denying it. Deep down we all want to be something special, to have satisfaction and recognition for what we’ve done, not only on earth but in heaven also.

Jesus warned against seeking the approval of other men at Matthew 6:1-6. Put bluntly, if you act with the intention of gaining men’s approval here on earth, that’s it – no approval will be forthcoming from God.   You got what you wanted.

But what about comparing the Father’s rewards and the extent of His approval as between ourselves and others?

Jesus tackled this issue head on in His parable of the workers in Matthew 20:1-16.   He describes a vineyard owner hiring workers throughout the day to complete work in his vineyard. At the end of the day, the workers who had worked all day were incensed when they saw those hired later getting the same pay as they got, even though they themselves were getting their agreed wage.

In the parable the land owner answers one of them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matt 30:13-16)

Here we have it – the Father does not look at man’s criteria when deciding who and how to reward.   He doesn’t have to!   Those who kick up a fuss and claim their entitlement is greater than others’ will find themselves at the end of the queue.


PS:   A denarius was a good wage – it was the normal daily wage of a Roman soldier on active service.

Denarius coin of Augustus Caesar, emperor of Rome at the time of Jesus’ birth.  Note the word “Divus” (god) on the reverse side: the introduction of emperor worship was facilitated by the gratitude most colonies felt for Pax Romana, the ‘Roman Peace’, brought about by Augustus after centuries of warring in the Mediterranean countries.  For most colonies, this was nothing more than the addition of a further god to the array of gods they already had. For the Jews, of course, it was anathema.  Rome was wise enough not to press the issue at this stage, but no doubt the coinage was a constant irritant to the Jews.


Practice Of The Presence

This last few months I’ve had much time for thought. I’ve been less active physically due to my eye problem, though I’ve still managed to produce artwork, thank goodness.

It goes without saying that a spell of introspection does us all good. But introspection can be a painful activity, often productive of self-doubt and self-criticism: not a good state to be in.

This is how I’ve felt lately with regard to my Christian walk.

Questions flood the mind: “What are you doing that’s of use to the Lord?   Why, you’re not even in the marketplace, not even in close contact with many people.   What good is this life you’re living?”  That’s how the enemy works.  The results are the sins of doubt and unbelief.

I’ve been on the backside of the desert one way and another for more than 12 years, battling this type of mindset.  Now the war intensified….

So I cried out to Him for help – and sure enough it came, in a form something like a door being kicked open.   Praise the Lord  – a complete change of mindset?   It’s interesting how this came about.

Way back in a former life, I was a student of Classics at the University of Auckland, studying Latin and Ancient Greek with a much-loved Head of Department, Prof E M Blaiklock.

A brilliant writer, scholar and lecturer, he inspired us all. His writings and translations live on, and not only in the world of classics. For 40 years he wrote without fail a weekly column published in The New Zealand Herald and the Weekly News  under the pen name ‘Grammaticus‘.   A quick glance at his entry on Wikipedia gives some idea of the vastness of his other written work.

I’ve recently re-read his ‘The Century Of The New Testament – maybe the first time in all the years I’ve had the book that I read it right through.  It is a great exposition of the history of the Mediterranean world leading up to the century from the birth of Christ to the death of His longest-lived apostle John.  This book is written from the strict perspective of a historian, and it is fascinating.   The author’s deep knowledge of his subject-matter – the Middle East, Greece, Rome – stands out: it’s like being back in lectures again.

Searching Blaiklock’s name on Trade Me, I bought another of his books: ‘The Acts Of The Apostles‘ – more of a commentary, it demands concurrent reading of the Book of Acts, so I’m working on that.

Recently though, my standing search on Blaiklock’s name brought up something else – ‘The Practice Of The Presence Of God‘ by Brother Lawrence, translated by E M Blaiklock – no doubt from the Latin.   I’d never heard of it, but a light flashed on in my head – “You need this book!”  Okay, okay…

Quick research revealed that Brother Lawrence was a humble 17th century lay monk in a monastery near Paris.  His daily work was lowly – labor in the monastery kitchen and mending sandals for his fellow monks. Nevertheless, his teachings became sought after.  Collected after his death by Abbe de Beaufort, envoy of the Cardinal of Noailles, they have gained an enormous worldwide reputation and influence, and multiple editions and translations of the work.

I snapped the book up.   It is still in the mail.

More quick research soon revealed an enormous wealth of commentary and quotation of Brother Lawrence on the Internet.   For those who cannot get the physical book, there is probably no need, because the volume of quotes and reference to Brother Lawrence’s work on the net is so vast.

Next post, I will talk about what this monk and his writings have to offer for us all.