“We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him, and [when that’s] done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him, who has given me the grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”–Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence (I don’t think my parents named me after him) was a French Carmelite monk who served in a Paris monastery during the seventeenth century. Raised by peasant parents in the Lorraine Region of Eastern France, he joined the army as a young man to escape poverty but resigned following an injury. He later took monastic vows and entered God’s full-time service in a monastery in Paris.
Lawrence was uneducated. He started his spiritual career in a job he didn’t like, washing dishes and cooking in the monastery kitchen. He repaired shoes in his later years. Brother L didn’t write books because he couldn’t write. He didn’t travel much, teach or preach, or hang out with people of influence, wealth, or importance. Yet over four hundred years after his death, we recognize him as one of a few authorities on living in God’s presence twenty-four seven. And his thin volume of collected maxims, Practicing the Presence of God, endures as a magnificent devotional and mystical classic.
This cook, dishwasher, and cobbler came to embrace the backbreaking rigors of cooking, cleaning kitchens, and repairing sandals as God’s personal invitation into His existential presence.
What do we take from Brother Lawrence? One thing for certain, he did not distinguish between times of prayer and work. He sanctified his work by pulling and pushing it into the Kingdom by making it an act of conscious worship.
What about my work? The Teacher in Ecclesiastes concluded that work is vanity. And if work was just a way to pay the bills, I‘d reach the same grim conclusion. But it’s not just a way to make money. Work can (and should) have profound significance.
Jon Bloom puts it best:
“Wait, our labor is not in vain? Isn’t that what futility is? Yes! And part of the gospel is that labor done ‘in the Lord’ is not in vain because it cannot ultimately be derailed by the curse of sin. What is labor done in the Lord? Does that only apply to kingdom work? Yes. But ‘kingdom work’ encompasses everything Christians do: ‘Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.’” (Jon Bloom, How To Find Joy In Your Work)
The issue is, how do you do your job for the Lord? The question sounds cliche, almost trite, but it is quite the opposite. Brother Lawrence teaches us the recipe for his secret sauce to living in real significance. Your time on the job each day occupies a slice of your life on earth. Sanctify each slice by turning to God with thanksgiving and praise.
Herb Ellingwood was one of President Reagan’s lawyers. The U.S. Army Intelligence during WWII, Yale and Stanford, friend of Billy Graham and confidant to U.S. and world leaders, taught me something helpful when I worked for him in Washington. It’s a lesson that’s stuck with me for decades.
Someone asked him during a staff prayer meeting if it was okay to drink coffee while we were praying. He said, “No, you shouldn’t drink coffee while you pray.” Those of us seated around his conference room table holding coffee mugs squirmed in our seats until he finished. “But it’s always a good thing to pray while you’re drinking coffee.”
I am constantly learning to sanctify my work one thin slice of my life at a time. I’m discovering how to destroy the wall between sacred and secular, practicing work and worship, on-the-job and off-the-job spirituality. Intentionality is the key. We all want our work to count and, at the end of the day, hear the Father tell us, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”
How do we do this? By remembering that repairing a shoe is an act of pure worship no less acceptable to Heaven than music or any other offering. For myself, it’s remembering that every time I sit down to type or go to the gym, or light a fire in the wood burning stove, I’m doing it out of love for my creator, and as such, he counts it a sacrifice of praise.