vocation

What a Little-Known Monk Can Teach Us About Work

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By Nathaniel Williams

You and I tend to segment our lives into categories of work and leisure, sacred and secular. Sunday rarely has much to do with Monday (and vice versa). Even if we want to begin the process of integrating faith with our work, we have so few role models to look up to.

Let me tell you about a monk named Brother Lawrence.

Brother Lawrence was Carmelite monk in France during the 1600s. We know little about his life except that he was uneducated, served briefly as a soldier, and later became a monk. Though his life was unremarkable on its surface, he profoundly influenced his peers in the monastery.

The Practice of the Presence of God is a collection of his writings and thoughts. What strikes me most about the book is how Brother Lawrence weaves his dynamic prayer life into the fabric of the everyday — including his work. We can learn a few lessons from his example.

When Brother Lawrence went to work, he didn’t leave God at the prayer closet. He brought the prayer closet with him.

 1. We can fellowship with God as we work.

Father Joseph de Beaufort, who compiled the writings, describes Brother Lawrence’s work routines. He writes,

That when he had thus in prayer filled his mind with great sentiments of that infinite Being, he went to his work appointed in the kitchen (for he was cook to the society). There having first considered severally the things his office required, and when and how each thing was to be done, he spent all the intervals of his time, as well before as after his work, in prayer.

That when he began his business, he said to God, with a filial trust in Him: O my God, since thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy presence; and to this end do Thou prosper me with Thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections.

As he proceeded in his work he continued his familiar conversation with his Maker, imploring His grace, and offering to Him all his actions.[1]

When Brother Lawrence went to work, he didn’t leave God at the prayer closet. He brought the prayer closet with him. He continued to pray and maintain fellowship with God in the midst of his work, seeking to do it to God’s glory.

We too can maintain our fellowship with God in our work. Between every task, before every meeting, in the midst of every assignment, we can utter small, silent prayers to our Heavenly Father.

2. We can repent of our workplace failures.

Brother Lawrence was still human. Though he intended to work well for God’s glory, sometimes he fell short of those expectations. In response, Lawrence didn’t mope or deny his failures. He freely admitted them, repented of them and continued to live and work in God’s presence.

When he had finished he examined himself how he had discharged his duty; if he found well, he returned thanks to God; if otherwise, he asked pardon, and, without being discouraged, he set his mind right again, and continued his exercise of the presence of God as if he had never deviated from it. ‘Thus,’ said he, ‘by rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, I am come to a state wherein it would be as difficult for me not to think of God as it was to first to accustom myself to it.’[2]

After completing a task, Brother Lawrence evaluated himself and his work. If he worked well, he thanked God. If not, he promptly repented and continued about his life and work.

We can do the same. When we work well, we too can thank God for his grace. When we’ve been lazy, prideful, selfish, or otherwise worked poorly, we can repent and accept Christ’s forgiveness.

We do not work alone. We work in the presence of our heavenly Father.

3. We can follow God even in when work is stressful.

These principles may seem a tad unrealistic to us. But Brother Lawrence practiced them even in the busiest times of his work.

And it was observed that in all the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen he still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even, uninterrupted composure and tranquility of spirit. ‘The time of business,’ said he, ‘does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.’[3]

When we also do our work with “heavenly-mindedness,” our stresses may become less burdensome, our work less tedious and our ever-growing task list more manageable. We do not work alone. We work in the presence of our heavenly Father.

When we follow Brother Lawrence’s example, we can do ordinary tasks in an extraordinary way. We can experience the presence of God even (and especially) when we work.

[1] Brother Lawrence. The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims. (Spire Books, 1967), 29.

[2] Ibid., 30.

[3] Ibid.

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Nathaniel Williams

Editor and Content Manager for the CFC

Nathaniel Williams (M.Div, Southeastern Seminary) oversees the website, podcast and social media for the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, and he serves as the pastor of Cedar Rock First Baptist Church. His work has appeared at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Fathom Mag, the ERLC and BRNow.org. He and his family live in rural North Carolina.

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