“Practicing God’s Presence?”
In the next article within our series on contemplative prayer, we want to examine the what and the why of this sinful practice; that is, what these contemplative practices are, and why these practices are corrupt according to the Scriptures. In fact, we might even call this article, “Sinister Perversions.”
Once again, drawing from our source document provided by the Alabama Baptist Convention, the first paragraph of this paper ends with a rather interesting quote from George Barna: “Christianity would be incredibly influential in our culture if Christians consistently lived their faith. The problem is that millions don’t live like Christians— and that’s partially because they don’t know how.”[i]
That first part may be true to a great extent in the sense that the Lord did say, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).
There is also a great deal of truth to the second part of the statement. Pragmatic evangelism, especially in the past twenty years, has attempted to topple any bastion of Biblical truth and citadel of clear doctrine that would mount a defense against her result-oriented, numbers exalting, get-‘em-saved-at-all-costs stratagem. Theological excesses have placed such a premium on evangelism that “gets people saved,” it has quite often deemphasized, or departed altogether from, the cross-borne disciplines of the Bible, which are those truths and true principles that develop true disciples.
However true the Barna quote may sound, it does not give us liberty or license to stray from Holy Writ, whether it is in practice or profession. This, however, is the monumental problem with Christian’s practicing pagan mysticism and new age exercise, experimentation, and experiential conveyance— it deviates from the focal and fundamental truth of Scripture: Jesus Christ. Further, what makes its practice among Christians that much more sinister and diabolical is the use of Scripture, taken out of context, in order to justify its inclusion, encourage its practice, and advocate its necessity.
There is so much that is so terribly wrong with this resource paper that it would fill my blog with article after article after article every day for the next few months to address the subtleties of its Scriptural misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and misdirection. Therefore, I will do my best to keep the articles from becoming a burden to read; and I pray that by God’s grace and His mercy, the next few articles that make up this second section will bless you and build you up in your most holy faith.
As popular as is Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence is a bit better known, perhaps because it has been around for longer. Brother Lawrence was a 17th century Carmelite monk, born Nicolas Herman in Lorraine, France. His book, compiled after his death by Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Joseph de Beaufort, is made up mostly of Brother Lawrence’s correspondence and conversations with de Beaufort.
The Practice of the Presence of God is not an unfamiliar book to me. I have read it a few times in the past; interestingly, because of reading much of A. W. Tozer (more of that and Tozer’s influence in a later article). “So, what’s wrong with the practice of the presence of God?” someone might ask; “doesn’t this sound like a particularly good thing?” My answer: perhaps on the surface; but really, we need to define what it is, and then demonstrate whether or not the practice is Biblical.
WHAT? Basically, this practice is an endorsement, encouragement, and emphasis in developing a mindset for a conscious awareness of the presence of God. Our source document relates it in this way:
“Brother Lawrence in his insightful little book, The Practice of the Presence of God wrote of being so in tune to God’s presence in his life that whatever he did at anytime of the day, he would be keenly aware of God and do those things that pleased and honored him.
“A good working definition of spiritual disciplines are those activities that we do that help us practice God’s presence.”
On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with that. In fact, the author of the document attempts to lend to its validity by quoting Colossians 3:17, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him;” even though this verse doesn’t endorse or encourage this contemplative practice. The author’s suggestion, however, is that in order to thank God, or to speak words and do works in Christ’s name, that there must be a keen awareness.
Being “keenly aware,” as mentioned in the first paragraph of the quote above is the key to this contemplative practice. In reading The Practice of the Presence, if closely examined, this keen awareness is identified with a tangible human emotion, whether it is called joy or happiness; and this joy is not to be confused with fruit of the Spirit.[ii] [iii] Were it the fruit of the Spirit, it would certainly and objectively glorify Jesus Christ rather than what this practice proposes to do, subjectively place our attention upon His presence. “Practicing the presence” neither has the marks nor merits of Biblical meditation.
WHY? Having just mentioned at the end of the last paragraph why this practice is generally erroneous, let’s look briefly at why it is specifically unbiblical; and we may do so in three points: (1) the Scriptural promise of God’s presence to believers; (2) the Scriptural reality of God’s presence in His holy glory; (3) the general application from Scripture concerning the Scriptures in our faith.
1. The Scriptural promise of God’s presence to believers should be obvious to most of you. Just before He ascended into heaven, Jesus promised His disciples, “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). The writer of Hebrews also writes:
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. Hebrews 13:5
As the writer of this epistle is providing instruction for the believer at the beginning of this verse and in the verses preceding this one, he provides this comforting, yet sobering thought: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” quoting Joshua 1:5. Also take note, that although the apostle Paul encourages believers in Corinth to covet the best spiritual gifts, yet here, in general, we are told that our behavior should line up with the tenth commandment, not to covet. Further, this verse tells us that we are to be content with such things as we have; and although one might argue that the covetousness to avoid is greediness and abstaining from filthy lucre, and also that a man’s contentedness, within that same context, is on the material and the tangible rather than the spiritual and the ethereal. But I ask, is it really? Does not God’s promise to Joshua speak of God’s presence with him as he led Israel into the Promised Land? Does not Israel’s battles with the inhabitants of Canaan reflect the spiritual battles fought by Christ’s Church militant, waging warfare upon her knees in the possession of our Biblical promises, while King Jesus subdues all His and our enemies as He leads us into the promises in Christ?
To conclude this first point, let us also mention that the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, was promised by Christ, as One who not only abides with us forever, but also lives in us:
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. John 14:16-17
2. Brother Lawrence and the proponents of this practice are either lacking in, ignorant of, or blind to the Scriptural reality of the presence of Almighty God. Reading the conversations and letters of Brother Lawrence, though he gives a great importance to the presence of God, he describes nothing like the fearful, dreadful, consuming fire that Scripture presents. Apostles who walked with Christ fell down as dead men in His presence.[iv] God’s thrice holy presence caused prophets of old to see their depravity in the brilliance of His light and cry out in his misery.[v] The mere appearance of the hand of God caused unbelievers to knock knees together and lose bowel control.[vi] The mere voice of God in the garden sent Adam hiding in the trees with fear, shame and guilt.[vii] We must keep in mind that,
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:31
3. Finally, we come to a general application of the Scriptures concerning the Scriptures with regard to this practice. With the full counsel of God being contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, this practice of the presence of God from Brother Lawrence’s conversations and letters does not direct us to trusting faith in Christ’s Person or work, nor in His Word, but instead, it is a faith focused solely upon “God’s presence.” This is a practice that is based upon experience and opposes a faith by grace found in the Scriptures alone. We are told in the Scriptures:
But without faith it is impossible to please him: Hebrews 11:6
for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. Romans 14:23
So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:17
[i] This online resource provided a footnote for this quote, citing the website of St. Alban’s Presbyterian Church in Palmerston, New Zealand. The actual quote found in the last paragraph of states: “Christianity would be incredibly influential in our culture if Christians consistently lived their faith,” Barna stated. “Most non-Christians don’t read the Bible, so they judge Christianity by the lives of the Christians they see. The problem is that millions of Christians don’t live like Christians and that’s partially because they don’t know what they believe and therefore cannot apply appropriate scriptural values in their life.”
[ii] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
[iii] “I have ceased, of devotion and set prayers except those to which my state requires. I make it my priority to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I maintain a simple attention and a fond regard for God, which I may call an actual presence of God. Or, to put it another way, it is an habitual, silent, and private conversation of the soul with God. This gives me much joy and contentment.” Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, “Second Letter” (emphasis added)
[iv] And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: Revelation 1:17
[v] Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Isaiah 6:5
[vi] Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. Daniel 5:6
[vii] And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. Genesis 3:8-10