I’ve been studying The Practice of the Presence of God looking for parallels between this book and Wesley’s “exercise of the presence of God” means of grace.
I found myself thinking about Jesus’ parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value when I read the following sections of Brother Lawrence’s spiritual biography--
“When outward business diverted him a little from the thought of GOD, a fresh remembrance coming from GOD invested his soul, and so inflamed and transported him that it was difficult for him to contain himself.” (p. 22)
“That his prayer was nothing else but a sense of the presence of GOD, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but divine love; and that when the appointed times of prayer were past, he found no difference, because he still continued with GOD, praising and blessing Him with all his might, so that he passed his life in continual joy; yet hoped that GOD would give him somewhat to suffer when he should grow stronger.” (p. 26)
“‘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 tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.’” (p. 30)
I checked Wesley’s commentary on the two parables (Mt. 13:44-46) to see if he associated them with an inward sense of the presence of God that produced feelings such as transport, joy or tranquility, discovered that he did, and that this was one of the themes that ran throughout his Notes on the Gospel of Matthew.
Beginning with his note 4:17 where he equated the kingdom of heaven with the inward kingdom. Continuing with note 5:3, “The present inward kingdom: righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, as well as the eternal kingdom, if they endure to the end.” A similar interpretation is found in note 11:11, “that righteousness, peace, and joy, which constitute the present inward kingdom of heaven” (Note 6:33 only mentions one of the three virtues, “Seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness - Singly aim at this, that God, reigning in your heart, may fill it with the righteousness above described. And indeed whosoever seeks this first, will soon come to seek this only.”)
Note 13:24 gives a fuller definition of the term, “The kingdom of heaven (as has been observed before) sometimes signifies eternal glory: sometimes the way to it, inward religion; sometimes, as here, the Gospel dispensation: the phrase is likewise used for a person or thing relating to any one of those” Note 13:31 only mentions two of the possible three interpretations, “The kingdom of heaven - Both the Gospel dispensation, and the inward kingdom.” Note 13:44 on the other hand only mentions one, “The kingdom of God within us is a treasure indeed, but a treasure hid from the world, and from the most wise and prudent in it. He that finds this treasure, (perhaps when he thought it far from him,) hides it deep in his heart, and gives up all other happiness for it.”
For an example of a sermon that equates the kingdom of God with a sense of God’s presence see Wesley’s Sermon 110, “On the Discoveries of Faith.”
Therefore in United Methodist doctrine, the term “kingdom of heaven” refers to more than the eternal realm, it also means an inward sense of God’s presence that evokes righteousness, peace, and joy.
Brother Lawrence carried the feelings of peace, joy, and love with him into his daily activities and his disposition was noticed by others-- “His very countenance was edifying, such a sweet and calm devotion appearing in it as could not but affect the beholders. And it was observed that in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen he still preserved his recollection and heavenly—mindedness.” (p. 30)
Here is a standard against which we can measure the effectiveness of our spiritual exercises. As we use the various means of grace do we feel peace, joy, or love? Are we able to maintain this disposition in our daily activities? Does this experience influence the attitude, motivation, and expectations we bring to non-religious tasks? Do we carry this spirit into our interactions with others? Is our disposition edifying?