I was going through some of my books the other day and came across a book that pretty heavily influenced me when I was first a believer: Brother Lawrence's Practice in the Presence of God. I thought I'd give it a quick look.
It's interesting to see some of the things I underlined 8-10 years ago. It's also interesting to see how much my theology has changed since then. When I first read this book I ate it up. Now I think I vomit it out. Okay, maybe that was a little strong. You'll have to forgive me. Reading back over this helped me to see where some of my serious frustrations and doubts came from early on in my Christian walk.
What Brother Lawrence means by “practicing God’s presence” is to be in a state of constant conversation and communion with the eternal God. Which I’d never say is a bad thing. It’s all of the muck around it that caused me problems. Take this quote for example:
“I still believe that all spiritual life consists of practicing God’s presence and that anyone who practices it correctly will soon attain spiritual fulfillment. To accomplish this, it is necessary for the heart to be emptied of everything that would offend God. He wants to possess our hearts completely. Before any work can be done in our souls, God must be totally in control.
Where Spiritual Fulfillment is Found
Do you see any “red-flags”?
First, notice where “spiritual fulfillment” is found. It’s not in the finished work of Christ. Spiritual fulfillment, if I read him correctly, is something that is to be attained. This type of theology breeds a discontentment that always seeks for a “deeper level” and a “deeper experience and fulfillment”.
The New Testament picture is that our fulfillment has been purchased. We already have it. The Christian life is about living in what is already purchased. There is an earth-shattering yet subtle difference between battling to enjoy all that Christ already purchased and battling to attain an opportunity that Christ made possible.
The Means of Attaining
Second, notice the means for attaining this spiritual fulfillment. “The heart needs to be emptied of everything that offends God.” If he is speaking to an unbeliever then I could more quickly embrace this, but he is not. For Brother Lawrence if we want to see God working in our lives and experience His presence, then God must be totally in control.
That sounds so good doesn’t it? It sounds even like something Jesus would say: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Let God have everything, totally surrender, and then you will see God move in your life.
Here’s the problem, though, unless God IS working you will not totally surrender--you will not give God everything. Such a thing is not a precursor to God moving…it IS God moving!
The Soul-Crushing Effects
Perhaps you could say that I simply misread and misapplied this “Christian classic”. That could be. But this book—along with many other similar books—was a negative shaping influence on me.
For the first couple of years of my Christian walk I was always striving to reach that next level. I lived frustrated and never able to be satisfied in Jesus. It practically ran me crazy. I wanted to be “sold-out” “on fire” all of those other things. I also wanted other people to be those things. But I never could attain it. I never could get myself to “totally surrender”. The only thing I surrendered was any hope that I’d ever be able to “experience God” how I wanted to.
Then the gospel happened. Psalm 103 rocked my world. My eyes opened up and I saw that Christ already had purchased everything. Of course my battle was still intense. Now I have to fight to take hold of what Christ has already done. But, as I think David Platt has said, I fight from victory and not for it. Huge difference.
If you’ve been famished by this “let go and let God” stuff, I encourage you to feast on the gospel.