Have you ever had a moment, Pastor, when you are reading a passage, perhaps during your daily Bible reading time, and you know for certain you have read that exact passage dozens of times before, but for some reason, this time, you notice things with such a fresh look that it is almost as if you have never read it before? I had one of those moments last week when reading Psalm 16, and I am so thankful to the Lord.
Psalm 16, a Psalm of David, begins with an acknowledgment of the Lord’s goodness. In fact, most of the Psalm is just that—a praise hymn to God, proclaiming Him to be our mighty refuge, our strong counselor, and our firm foundation. Perhaps it is because the Psalm sounds familiar—it reads like so many of David’s Psalms—that I have never spent a long time studying or meditating upon it. Last week, however, verse 11 caught my attention and gripped my soul. It reads:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
You make known to me the path of life:
As I read it, I caught myself nodding at that line, agreeing to its truthfulness. Back to basics—God is good, and He leads me in the way everlasting. This is a wonderful truth that is universally held and celebrated by all Christians. Despite its beauty, it was not the line that caught my attention!
In your presence there is fullness of joy:
That’s the one, right there, almost as if David wrote that one line in all caps, so I could not just race through it. It was as though this segment was speaking audibly to me, ensuring I could miss it. It was as if God said, “Mark, pay attention to this line. This is the reason you are in Psalm 16 today. This is what you must understand.” I could not then, and I cannot now, get over the weighty truth expressed in that verse. Here is one way to say it: “If I am in God’s presence, then I must be filled with His joy.” Here is another way to say it: “If I am not filled with His joy, then I must not be in God’s presence.” Wow! Even now, that truth hits me like a ton of bricks.
For nearly my entire ministry, I have proclaimed that one of the greatest transformations I experienced upon becoming a Christian is the realization of genuine peace and joy. It is true—in my 22 years as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have enjoyed a peace that truly does surpass all understanding and a joy in my heart that holds firm, even when the circumstances around me swirl well out of my control.
Even so, I must also be honest about this—while 2020 has not taken my joy, it has been tempered. I have been more aggravated and less patient, more frustrated and less encouraged, than in any other time in my Christian walk. I experienced small bouts of mild depression, something I have not ever had to deal with in my life, even in the days before I knew Jesus.
While my joy never completely left me, would I say that I remained in the “fullness of joy” during this pandemic? Honestly, no. But what is the fullness of joy? The Greek word for fullness is “pleroma”, meaning filled up with or complete. Joy is “chara”, meaning gladness or inner delight. Put together then, I am to be filled up with an inner gladness that is complete in its scope. And if I am not? Well, that is where God’s presence comes in.
The Scriptures clearly teach that there is no where a believer can go that is outside of God’s presence (see Psalm 139). God is omnipresent, of course; but He also takes up residence in the soul of the Christian (see Romans 8 and Ephesians 1). In that sense, I am never out of God’s presence. The possibility remains, however, that there can be times when I am unable to sense that presence. This is never God’s fault, of course. That disconnection from the felt presence of God occurs when I am too invested in the things of this world, or too undisciplined to spend time in God’s Word, or too selfish to love people in a way that exalts Jesus. When I lie or lust or cheat or steal, I have blocked myself from the blessings of God’s presence. When I harbor resentment or discontentment, I do the same. And when I worry about the virus or the election or any other thing that is almost completely out of my hands, I cannot enjoy the blessing of all blessings that is a result of being in God’s presence- the fullness of His joy.
God really spoke to me this week from that one simple line of Scripture. Not only did He speak to me about my own frequent lack of the fullness of joy, but He also called me to challenge others about theirs. As an under-shepherd, I must tend to His flock, and part of that tending is to help them find their joy in the Lord. The occasions for this type of ministry and counseling have been many over the last twelve months; I suspect that will continue. When we are more aware of our tendencies to stray from His beautiful presence, we are more likely to re-enter it. When we do that, we are more likely to rest in the fullness of His joy, which is promised to us and which is a real witness to the unbelieving world around us.
As I said, I am thankful for those moments when God takes a single verse, or just a few words from a single verse, and exposes our weakness through it. I am also thankful that after exposing that weakness, He is faithful to restore me and to lift me back up through His strength. I want to be in His presence so I can enjoy the fullness of His joy- don’t you?