‘The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was upon the 3rd of August, 1666. He told me that God had done him a singular favour in his conversion at the age of eighteen.
During that winter, upon seeing a tree stripped of its leaves and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed and after that the flowers and fruit appear, Brother Lawrence received a high view of the Providence and Power of God which has never since been effaced from his soul.
This view had perfectly set him loose from the world and kindled in him such a love for God, that he could not tell whether it had increased in the forty years that he had lived since.’
(Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 1693, p1)
This is the story of the conversion of Brother Lawrence, an unschooled peasant born in 1611 in eastern France. As a young man he went off to be a soldier and was soon wounded. This led to a life-long disability that made him clumsy and awkward.
He recounts here the story of how he came to faith.
All it took was the sight of a bare tree in winter.
Which is amazing, as I know that I have seen many thousands of bare trees in my life-time, none of which has been a moment of spiritual epiphany for me.
I imagine Brother Lawrence had previously seen many of them too.
Yet such is the power of the Holy Spirit in a human soul that when he chooses to act he can take a mundane ordinary object that we have seen thousands of times before and yet use it to bring insight and whole-life transformation.
I imagine if Brother Lawrence were to have lived in our time the story might have been very different.
There would have been books written about how to use bare trees in evangelism. There would have been conferences and seminars. No doubt there would be good-hearted Christian groups going up and down the country tearing the leaves off trees as a missional act.
Which is, of course, to completely miss the point. What made the moment a spiritual revelation that altered the whole direction of Brother Lawrence’s life and made him one of the most valued spiritual guides in the world-wide Christian church was not the tree – but the activity of the Holy Spirit in his heart and mind.
When the Spirit moves He needs almost no material to work with. He can take anything at all and make that a means of open a person’s heart and mind to God. And that can happen in an instant.
It is interesting to read that Brother Lawrence says that at that instant there was born such a love for God in his heart that after 40 years of monastic life, centred on living for God and for others, he was not sure at all that his love for God had increased one bit.
I suppose that is a bit lie falling in love. When you encounter someone and your heart goes ‘boom’ and you feel such an intense attraction to them – does that ever get stronger over the years? I would say it alters, it matures, it widens and deepens, but I am not sure it gets stronger than that initial ‘boom’ moment.
All of which is to say that;
- we need to have more faith in the accessibility of God’s grace.
- we need to have a greater expectation that God can reach people where they are in the midst of their ordinary lives and activities.
- we need to re-focus our energies and efforts less on programs and methods and more on prayerful bringing people to God asking that His Holy Spirit would be at work in their lives, ambushing them with God’s love where and when they least expect it.
A bare tree – who would have thought what it could do?