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What can a seventeenth century laymen teach us in the twenty-first century about faith and work?

One of the biggest questions that we face as Christians is how to integrate our faith and our work. How can we keep our mind on God when we are doing a task that seems unrelated to our faith? A clear example of someone who was able to integrate his faith with his daily work was a man known as Brother Lawrence.

Brother Lawrence lived in a Carmelite monastery in the seventeenth century, but he was not a religious professional; he was one of the laymen who lived alongside the monks. While he participated in some religious disciplines, he largely provided support for the religious community.

The very brief book, The Practice of the Presence of God, contains interviews and letters from Brother Lawrence. In it there are four significant things that we can learn about faith and work from Brother Lawrence.

1. Our attitude about our daily activities can shape our character.

In The Practice, it is said of Brother Lawrence,

In his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of God, and with prayer, upon all occasions, for His grace to do his work well, he found everything easy during the fifteen years that he had been employed there.

Brother Lawrence integrated his faith with his work because he did his daily work for the love of God. The goal of our actions does much to change the moral character of what we do. If we carry out our profession for the love of God, then that is morally praiseworthy.

2. Our work should be integral to our spiritual life.

The Practice also says of Brother Lawrence,

He was more united to God in his outward employments than when he left them for his devotion in retirement.

Peeling potatoes was more essential for Brother Lawrence’s spiritual growth than attending the evening prayer service because Brother Lawrence recognized that God was there in the kitchen as much as he was in the chapel.

3. Our work should be for God’s benefit, not only for our gain.

Brother Lawrence wrote,

It [is] lamentable to see how many people [mistake] the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works, which they performed very imperfectly, by reason of their human or selfish regards.

A compartmentalized faith and work in the lives of Christians is not new to the twenty-first century.

Brother Lawrence writes, “Our sanctification [does] not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own.”

Cooking, running a business, and building roads are all ways that the gospel can be demonstrated. These activities can all bring us closer to God, if we do them for his sake.

Ephesians 6:5–8 explains that our attitude in doing our work should be that we are serving God, not man. The challenge for us is to keep our mind focused on doing our work for God’s sake when the people around often have such different goals.

4. Simple, consistent practices can help us integrate our work and our faith.

Later in The Practice, Brother Lawrence encourages,

Let him then think of God the most he can; let him accustom himself, by degrees, to this small but holy exercise; nobody [around him] perceives it, and nothing is easier that to repeat often in the day these little internal adorations.

Brother Lawrence was able to do his common work for the love of God because he never let God’s presence get far from his mind. He continually came back to God as the central focus in his whole life, including his work.

One man explained to me once that he was able to continually remind himself of God’s goodness by thanking God for something every time he looked at his watch. For him this was a simple way to keep himself tied to God throughout the day. It helped him to integrate his faith and his work.

What are some ways that you integrate your faith with your work? Leave your comments here.

Andrew Spencer

About Andrew Spencer

Andrew Spencer is a Ph.D. student studying Christian ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously served in the United States Navy as a Submarine Officer after graduating from the United States Naval Academy.

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  • Tanya Ross-Lane

    Thank you so much for writing about Brother Lawrence. He has been an inspiration to me and my walk of faith. I was first introduce when struggling with how to integrate my faith at work and while listening to others complained about their jobs and joining.

    I was give the book by my friend Linda G. Once I read the practice of the presence of God and my concept about honoring God changed. I was forced to reconsider by whom standards I was judging work as worthless and not important. About the same time I read Ken Blanchard book “Gung Ho” the first principle was
    the spirit of the squirrel that talked about all work is worthwhile and adds value to the worker and the receiver of that work.
    Brother Lawrence writes, “Our sanctification [does] not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own –

    How would I now incorporate the two greatest commandment at work?
    · Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind
    · Love your neighbor as yourself

    First I needed to start doing ALL my work with excellence ALL the time so to honor God first. Then I needed to act in a manner that reflects his joy at work again ALL the time. And when I fail to live up to these HIGH standards be willing to admit it and ask for forgiveness first not after I get caught and called on it.

    I adopted a mantra from a guy I worked with, everyday to anyone he came into contact with he would say” I am here to serve”. I don’t even know if he was a believer but he modeled Brother Lawrence.

    • Andrew Spencer

      Thanks, Tanya, for your thoughtful comment. I am glad that you have found Brother Lawrence helpful – I benefited from reading about him a decade ago and again when I re-read the book this past month. I hope your work
      continues to be a means through which you can practice the presence of
      God. – Andrew