The most beloved book in Christian mindfulness isn’t a composed book at all. “The Practice of the Presence of God” is a collection of letters and thoughts from a cook in a Paris monastery in 17th century named Brother Lawrence.
He began life as Nicolas Herman around 1614 in the Lorraine duchy of France. As a soldier in the 30 Years War, he received a nearly fatal injury that left him maimed and in chronic pain for the rest of his life. In midlife, Nicolas joined a new monastery in Paris. He took the name Brother Lawrence after his parish priest and was the cook for 100 monastery members. Later he worked in the sandal repair shop. In all he spent 40 years in monastery.
At some point, Brother Lawrence began Christian mindfulness, living the present moment in the presence of God. He walked through his days constantly conversing with God and aware of His presence.
After Brother Lawrence’s death in 1691, Joseph de Beaufort, representing the local archbishop, published Lawrence’s letters and spiritual maxims. In 1694, de Beaufort expanded the manuscript to add conversations that he had had with Brother Lawrence, titling the new volume “The Practice of the Presence of God.”
More than 400 years later, this book is a treasured Christian classic. Brother Lawrence inspires us to “establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence by continually conversing with Him. It was a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries. We should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God, which would yield us great joy in being devoted to Him.”
You can download a free copy of “The Practice of the Presence of God” from Project Gutenberg here.
Other resources for Christian mindfulness are found here.
Easily among the most significant of my devotional aids is the 30 Days With a Great Spiritual Teacher series, published by Ave Maria Press. I have every volume in the series, and I’ve used them as the first step in morning prayer since 1998.
I rotate the series of the 17 volumes I have. (I’m not sure all of them are still in print.) Each presents 30 days of devotions based on the work of a significant person of faith. You get a morning prayer, a thought to revisit during the day, and an evening prayer.
Two volumes contain work from Francis of Assisi, and another specifically for Lent contains work from several people. My favorites include:
“You Shall Not Want,” King David and others who wrote Psalms
“Living in the Presence of God,” Brother Lawrence
“Set Your Heart Free,” Francis de Sales
“Simply Surrender,” Theresa of Lisieux
“Let Nothing Disturb You,” Teresa of Avila
“Draw Ever Closer,” Henri J.M. Nouwen
Two new volumes, based of the works of Thomas Merton and Augustine of Hippo, are scheduled to come out this year. The books come from a Catholic publishing house, but they are very useful for any Christian. I fully recommend these books for contemplative prayer of any kind. Other resources can be found here.
The best book I read in this pandemic year is “Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace” by Jan Johnson. I took three excellent online classes from Jan this year, but even that didn’t prepare me for the impact of this book.
The way that Jan describes her life and her growth as a Christian … wow. It inspired me to pray: “I want to feel like she does about you, Lord.”
The book, published in 2011, is about living a “conversational life with God,” so we can be filled with a deeper, ongoing sense of God’s presence. It’s less about how and more about why to simplify our lives. Quite honestly, although she doesn’t say so, it is a profound argument for a life of Christian mindfulness.
She does note that one way to remove ourselves from life’s frenzy is to deliberately incorporate disciplines of simplicity, like:
simplicity of speech
spaciousness of time
simplicity of appearance and technology
This pandemic year has forced some simplicity on many of us, as well as great loss. Jan Johnson’s book can help you discover “the unhurried rhythms of grace.” What a wonderful gift.
You can find more about Jan’s work here. Additional books and online resources for Christian mindfulness are here
He is our Father, and He loves us, and He knows just what is best, and therefore, of course, His will is the very most blessed thing that can come to us under any circumstances. I do not understand how it is that the eyes of so many Christians have been blinded to this fact. But it really would seem as if God’s own children were more afraid of His will than of anything else in life — his lovely, lovable will, which only means loving-kindnesses and tender mercies, and blessings unspeakable to their souls! I wish only I could show to everyone one the unfathomable sweetness of the will of God.
Hannah Whitall Smith, “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life”
Hannah Whitall Smith certainly tried to show everyone the sweetness of God. Her masterpiece, “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life,” is one of the most used in my library. I’ve underlined it in almost every color of pen in my many readings.
Smith published her book in 1875. Never out of print, it’s a classic of Christian literature.
Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) was a remarkable woman, especially considering the time in which she lived. Active in the women’s suffrage and temperance movements, Smith was a Quaker and a Christian mystic. (The back cover of my version of the book calls her a “Quaker, rebel, realist.”) In addition to writing books, she preached in the Holiness movement in the United States and the Higher Life movement in the United Kingdom.
She believed in Christian mindfulness, even if she didn’t have that phrase in her vocabulary. She rested in the presence of Jesus as she lived a remarkably active life. She listened for God’s will and she did it. This book tells you how.
The book remains a relatively easy read because Smith, as a Quaker, used plain speech as she wrote it. It has a 4.5 rating on Amazon with 358 readers ranking it and a 4.3 rating on Goodreads with 1,843 rating it. More recommended books and online resources can be found here.
Alan Fadling opens this book with the words: “I am a recovering speed addict … and I don’t mean the drug.” This spiritual director’s mission is to inspire people to rest deeper, love fuller and lead better.
Living a frenetic life was a sign of success in my pre-retirement world. Even today the successful retired person is busy, even crazy busy. The pandemic has slowed down the pressure, but it’s still there.
Fadling details the rhythms of Jesus’ life … from the huge meetings with seekers, the miracles, the days of discipling the disciples and the nights of prayer alone. Jesus, who could sleep through a storm at sea, led a balanced life.
He applies that insight into our world’s issues, like productivity, suffering and rest. He also provides insightful questions to pray over at the end of each chapter and a list of spiritual practices that can help us to slow down.
Here is a short video of Fadling talking about what he means by an unhurried life and his book “An Unhurried Leader.”
Amazon has “An Unhurried Life” rated at five stars with 99 reviews. Goodreads has it at 4.11 stars with 602 reviews. It won the 2014 Christianity Today Award of Merit.
Other resources useful for a practice of Christian mindfulness are here.
Similar in structure to his “Celebration of Discipline,” Foster divides the types of prayers into three categories:
Moving inward: Seeking the transformation we need. This includes the prayer of the forsaken, examen, the prayer of tears and formation prayer.
Moving upward: Seeking the intimacy we need. It covers the prayer of adoration, prayer of rest, sacramental prayer, unceasing prayer and contemplative prayer.
Moving outward: Seeking the ministry we need. Prayers include intercession, petitions, healing prayer and the prayer of suffering.
I’m not alone in treasuring this book, which proves that our prayer lives can always grow. The book won Christianity Today’s Book of the Year and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Gold Medallion Book Award. It’s rated 4.6 stars on Amazon.
It’s a book to use as a resource, to ponder, to experiment with. More resources to help in your Christian mindfulness journey are found here.
Christianity Today lists the book, first published in 1978, as one of the 10 best from the 20th century. Foster has regularly updated it. The book, which has a 4.7-star review on Amazon and 4.2 on Goodreads, has sold more than 1 million copies.
Foster explores the classic spiritual practices, or disciplines. He divides them into three groups: inward, outward and corporate. Disciplines covered are:
Each chapter provides many examples and Biblical references. It is a book to chew over, many times, as we decide what practice we would like to focus on this time in our growth.
As Eugene H. Peterson, author of “The Message,” writes: Spiritual disciplines “are, as he (Foster) shows us, the instruments of joy, the way into mature Christian spirituality and abundant life.”
Keep a copy in your Christian mindfulness reference library, and enjoy!
I’m loving Lectio 365, a devotional app from the 24-7 Prayer movement that helps you pray the Bible daily. I’m so impressed that I’ve revised my daily prayer schedule, using Lectio 365 in place of another loved resource.
The 24-7 Prayer movement started in the United Kingdom in 1999. Now it is an international, interdenominational movement for prayer, mission and justice. More than 2 million people in 10,000 prayer groups in more than half the Earth’s countries work together to offer continual prayer.
This app is based on Lectio Divina. The video below is a good overview of that practice.
The devotions also incorporate the six core values of the 24-7 Prayer movement: prayer, mission, justice, creativity, hospitality and learning. It also takes the church’s seasons, such as Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter into account.
The app offers your choice of text and audio for the daily prayer. It follows the group’s P.R.A.Y. process:
Pause to be still
Rejoice with a Psalm and Reflect on Scripture.
Ask for God’s help.
Yield to His will in your life.
The app is available in the Apple and Android app stores. I found it after listening to the Renovare podcast interview with 24-7 Prayer founder Pete Greig and US Director Lisa Koons. It’s worth a listen as well.
For other recommended apps, websites and books, click here.
Joanna Weaver published “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World: Finding God in the Busyness of Life” in 2000, which seems long ago. Yet, her quiet voice on the page is timeless … one of the most influential I’ve heard in my Christian mindfulness walk.
Jesus’ words to Martha are the words he wants to speak to your heart and mine: “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” That “one thing” is not found in doing more. It’s found in sitting by his feet.
Throughout the book, Joanna shows that Jesus wants us to choose the one thing: “a joyful life of intimacy with him that flows naturally into loving service.” For women who feel that they are not enough, it is a soothing balm.
On Goodreads, the book has a rating of 4.2 out of 5 stars with nearly 16,000 reviews. The copy of the book I have includes a study guide for individual or group use. To taste the tone of the book, here’s another gift: a version of Psalm 23 from Japan.
The Lord is my pace setter … I shall not rush.
He makes me stop for quiet intervals.
He provides me with images of stillness which restore my serenity.
He leads me in the way of efficiency through calmness of mind and his guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day, I will not fret, for his presence is here.
His timelessness, his all importance will keep me in balance.
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity by anointing my mind with his oils of tranquility.
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Truly harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours for I shall walk in the Pace of the Lord and dwell in his house forever.
Additional resources for Christian mindfulness are listed here.
We use readings from these books as devotionals for our support groups, where we serve individuals diagnosed with severe mental illness and their families.
I also use the books as part of my daily prayer round in lectio divina. I read the passage, pause to ponder it, pray parts of it out loud and then meditate on it. I rotate using Jesus Calling, Dear Jesus, Jesus Always, Jesus Today and Jesus Lives. The Jesus Calling app is one of the most used items on my phone.
Sarah Young began to write her books of devotions based on her own daily quiet time, which includes journaling. The retired Presbyterian missionary has an extraordinary ability to help people connect to the Biblical truths in a warm and loving manner.
More than 30 million of her books have been sold. Although she is biblically conservative in her faith and reformed in her doctrine, I’ve never met a Christian … liberal or conservative … who objects to her work. It is so Bible-based as to be universal.
Please enjoy some time with the Lord under her guidance.
Other resources that are useful to me are located here.