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Among the Pots and Pans

Born to a peasant family, Nicholas Herman (1611-1691) supported himself as a soldier until crippled by an injury and then as a footman, before he sought life in a monastery in Paris. There, he imagined he would suffer for his faults and sacrifice the pleasures of life for God.  Later, he said that God “greatly disappointed me in this idea, for I have met with nothing but satisfaction in giving my life over to Him.”[1] He was assigned work in the kitchen, work he didn’t particularly like, and there, among the pots and pans, dealing with the monotony and urgency of preparing daily bread, he discovered the prayer of the ordinary, which he called “the practice of the presence of God.” 

Better known to us as Brother Lawrence, he shared his practice of simply talking with God throughout the day with many who came to the monastery to receive spiritual counsel, not so much from the abbot, as from the kitchen helper.  He explained that he “resolved to make the love of God the end of all my actions.  I have been well satisfied with this single motive.  I am pleased when I can take a straw from the ground simply for the love of God, seeking Him only and nothing else.”  The humble work of the everyday, even picking up a straw from the ground, might have a different feel to it if done for the Almighty.  And that is how the kitchen, a place where he felt “a great natural aversion,” became for him a sacred space where he met God.  He said, “We ought not to be weary in doing little things for the love of God.  For God does not regard the greatness of the work but the love with which it is performed.”  Approaching God with the “greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly and imploring His assistance in our affairs just as they happen,” he practiced the presence of God.  He found in his ordinary work the same communion with God that he felt in times set aside for prayer, saying “When the appointed time of prayer has passed, I find no difference because I still continue with God, praising and blessing Him with all my might, so that I might pass my life in continual joy.”[2]

Conversational prayer in which we pour out our hearts to God about the things that concern us has always been practiced by God’s people who love his presence.  Early Adventists called it the prayer of Enoch, the man who “walked with God.”[3]  Waiting for the second advent, they longed for the moment of union, when they could talk with God face to face.  The Sabbath was for them a foretaste of heaven, a time on earth when believers could put aside the work of the every day, the ordinary tasks that fill our lives.  The prayer of Enoch suggested that there might be a way of living in the presence of God, not just in eternity but on earth; not just on Sabbath, but every day; not just in formal worship but in the tasks of our everyday lives. 

Ellen White described this conversational prayer of the ordinary as “the opening of the heart to God as to a friend.”[4]  It was living the life of Enoch who “walked with God.”   The experience of Enoch pervaded the spiritual experience and imagination of the early Adventists.  What does it mean to walk with God? Ellen White explained it like this:  “Pray at home, in your family, night and morning; pray earnestly in your closet; and while engaged in your daily labor, lift up the soul to God in prayer.  It was thus that Enoch walked with God.”[5]  Praying in public worship and in our closet is always a part of the Christian life, but that does not have to be all. We can take our prayer from the church and the closet with us throughout our day.

In this lifetime conversation with God, we learn, as Enoch did, what it means to walk with God.  Again, Ellen White says,

We may speak with Jesus as we walk by the way, and he says, I am at thy right hand.  We may commune with God in our hearts, we may walk in companionship with Christ.  When engaged in our daily labor, we may breathe out our heart’s desire, inaudible to any human ear; but that word cannot die away into silence, nor can it be lost.  Nothing can drown the soul’s desire. It rises above the din of the street, above the noise of machinery.  It is God to whom we are speaking, and our prayer is heard.[6]

This prayer of the ordinary recognizes every day as a gift of God.  It is in our daily lives, the here and now, that God meets us and we grow in grace before him.  Rather than looking to some greater place of service or some grand calling, we learn to see the ordinary activities of daily life with new eyes, picking up a straw for the love of God.  So much of our daily life is maintenance.  Preparing our food, making the bed, doing the laundry, maintaining the car, the list goes on and on, the things we do to keep ourselves and our families in operating order, all so we can do some other more glorious task.  In ordinary prayer, God tells us that this present moment of lowly tasks is what he has called us to do and he meets us here just as surely as in tasks that receive public recognition. 

The presence of God transforms the task and transforms us as we perform it for the love of God.  Here, in the lowly prayer of the everyday, we can find the constant companionship of Jesus.  “Cultivate the habit of talking with the Savior,” Ellen White says, “Let every breath be a prayer.”[7]

Beverly Beem is Professor of English at Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington. Together with Ginger Hanks Harwood, she has done pioneering research in the study of early Adventist spirituality.

[1] Brother Lawrence, Practicing His Presence (Beaumont, TX:  The Seedsowers, 1973), p. 42.

[2] Brother Lawrence, pp. 45-47; 55-57.

[3] Genesis 5, 21-24.  Enoch’s walk with God is the basis for the Adventist hymn, “Oh let me walk with thee, my God, as Enoch walked in days of old” (hymn no. 554).   See also Ellen G. White, Living the Life of Enoch (Brushton, N.Y.:  TEACH Services, 1996), a compilation of Ellen White’s comments on Enoch’s walk with God.  

[4]Steps to Christ, p. 93.

[5] Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 616.

[6] Gospel Workers, p. 258. 

[7] The Ministry of Healing, pp. 510-11.


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