Once you first experience the presence of God, it’s something you never forget. But it can be too easy to get out of that sense of God-being-there. I read Practice many years ago and found it great, but seemingly impossible to implement. I had too much anxiety and I couldn’t control my emotions, so the only time I felt his presence was when I was in church or hanging out with other people of a similar mind, or occasionally by myself when I would listen to a good sermon, some types of worship music*, or positive-minded trance music**.
This eventually led into a tailspin, after which I had a nervous breakdown and spent a month in a mental health facility, after which I had several years of painful recovery. I’ll share that story some other time.
Reading this book again after a few years of taking medication to control my anxiety, this time it’s been different–very different.
Anyway, back to the book. I’ll share another passage that I like, emphasis mine:
That we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of GOD, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed. That we should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often failed in our endeavors, but that at last we should gain a habit, which will naturally produce its acts in us, without our care, and to our exceeding great delight.
Scott Adams, the Dilbert guy, speaks in his book about setting up systems instead of goals. Goals are often due to fail, but if you set up a system, it’s likely to succeed. For example, Adams set up a system for eating: he eats whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and how much of it he wants. The key is that he retrained his desires so that he wants healthy food, and keeps a lot of it around so he can be lazy and still eat healthy. He set up a system for eating healthy and it is very easy to sustain, instead of a goal. People break New Years’ resolutions all the time. But if they set up a system, it’s easy to keep going. (Read the book, it’ll make more sense.)
I saw this passage in light of Adams’ systems vs. goals argument. Instead of a goal, Brother Lawrence, in essence, created a system. Once he learned to focus on God, he kept doing it until it became a habit. It wasn’t marked by highs and lows: I was a good boy today, I wasn’t a good boy today. Instead, God gave Lawrence Brother a system by which he continually turned to God without condemnation, a system by which there was only reward and no punishment. I touched on that a little in the last post. Instead of self-condemnation when he fell out of the rhythm of communion with God, Brother Lawrence simply humbles himself and said, without you, God, I cannot do otherwise, and simply continued on in his presence without guilt and without rebuke. And God helped him in this.
That’s the wonderful thing about God–if you have a sense of distance from him, he will help you until all perceived walls, all perceived barriers, are removed, and you wake up in the presence of God. It may take a while. It may take years. Heck, it may even require some medication to help you along. (For me, I needed something to control anxiety and depression, just so I could function normally!) But the Holy Spirit has spent thousands of years (from our perspective) reaching out to humanity, and get this: he’s really good at it. He can reach you where you are.
By his grace, you can learn to focus on God every moment. By ‘every moment’, I mean when your brain is idle, it will, with some effort, automatically fall into thanksgiving and high thoughts of God as opposed to low thoughts of yourself and those around you. Think of this as a journey and not a destination, a system instead of a goal, and it will become easier over time.
* By ‘some types’ of worship music, I mean that I avoid the mournful, self-focused, God-I’m-so-terrible kind. When I feel wretched, I don’t need more reminders of how wretched I am–I need to be lifted up. That kind of worship music is harder to find than one might think. Hillsong United’s Zion is still a favorite of mine.)
**A favorite example: Above & Beyond.