The Joy of God's Presence
Pastor Arn Buck
Heart Song Worship Center
"God loves each of us as if there were only one of us." Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
"God does not love us because we are valuable. We are valuable because God loves us." Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979)
Psalms 42:7-8 (NLT) I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. But each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.
The Best Place to Be
As true Christians the experience of God's living presence should be our greatest joy. No person is able to love us as much as God does. Nothing is able to instill the deep sense of peace and joy that we can experience in His presence. If we take the time to look, we will observe that He constantly shows us His faithfulness, love, and strength through His Word and by His actions. He is always watching over us as our loving Father and the lover of our souls. The following verse in one of many assurances us of His great love. It was penned by the Apostle John who was one the Jesus' closest disciples.
1 John 4:16 (NLT) We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.
The access we have to God was made available to us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. His love for us and the vision of the restored relationship with each of us was the joy set before Him that enabled Him to endure the cross as stated in Hebrews 12:2. We should never take this great privilege for granted. It is hard to fully comprehend that the creator of all things desires to have a unique and intimate relationship with each one of us. The best way to show our appreciation to Him is to come before Him often.
"We have a God who loves. That means that we have a God who suffers." J.B. Phillips (1906-1982)
An Example for Us
The book of Psalms teaches us much about our relationship with God on a very personal level. Chapter after chapter shows our human reaction to the diverse situations of life. These range from deep despair to exuberant celebration. The books also show how God fits in to all of these dramas. The Psalms can almost be viewed as a dairy of the relationship between God and His creation. Time after time, the Psalms show man's heart and God's heart coming together. The author of Psalm 84 definitely knew and vividly describes the joy of dwelling in the presence of God.
Psalms 84:1-12 (NLT) How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of Heaven's Armies. I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the LORD. With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O LORD of Heaven's Armies, my King and my God! What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises. What joy for those whose strength comes from the LORD, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. They will continue to grow stronger, and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem. O LORD God of Heaven's Armies, hear my prayer. Listen, O God of Jacob. O God, look with favor upon the king, our shield! Show favor to the one you have anointed. A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked. For the LORD God is our sun and our shield. He gives us grace and glory. The LORD will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right. O LORD of Heaven's Armies, what joy for those who trust in you.
This is a thoroughly heartfelt expression of attraction to God's sanctuary and His presence. The author in using the phrase "How lovely" is not complimenting the physical beauty of God's dwelling place as we would compliment a nice house. The Hebrew for lovely means dear or beloved. As a teenager I used to sometimes go out of my way to walk past the house where a girl, who I had a crush on, lived. There wasn't anything special about the building itself. It was very similar in appearance to all the houses around it. But, it was the house that she lived in. That alone made it special and worth going out of my way. If I, as a teenage boy, could feel this way about a girl who had done little to win my affections, you can imagine the real depth of feelings reflected in the psalmist's opening words. We can only imagine how precious God was to him. The only thing that keeps us from experiencing the same is ourselves. The limitation is not coming from God's side.
A Place of Refuge
Having a feeling of security is an important factor in experiencing joy and peace in the presence of God. It is difficult to give our complete and undivided attention when we have fear in our thoughts. The Song of Songs is a dialog between a bridegroom (King Solomon) and his bride. The king has sixty of his best soldiers surrounding their dwelling place to provide a sense of security for the couple.
Song of Songs 3:8 (NLT) They are all skilled swordsmen, Each wears a sword on his thigh, ready to defend the king against an attack in the night.
For us to leave our fears outside of our meeting place with God, His power and strength must be a reality to us. The author of Psalm 84 addresses this matter in verse one by using the phrase "O Lord of Heaven's Armies." He stresses the point by using the phrase four times in this twelve verse psalm. In the original language the phrase is Jehovah Sabaoth. It is one of their many names for God. It depicts God as a warrior and the commander of the heavenly armies. In the Septuagint the Jewish scholars translated this Hebrew name into "Kurios ton dunamon." In English, it means "the Lord is Able." From this we can be assured that God is not only able to do all things, He has a great army of spiritual beings at His command.
Psalms 103:20-21 (NIV) Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.
The enemy forces are no match for the army of Jehovah Sabaoth!
Psalms 68:11-12 (NLT) The Lord gives the word, and a great army brings the good news. Enemy kings and their armies flee, while the women of Israel divide the plunder.
Elisha's servant was permitted to see part of this army. Elisha's and his servant were encircled by king Aram's soldiers. Being greatly outnumbered and surrounded is an impossible situation for man but wasn't for Elisha as God's servant.
2 Kings 6:15-18 (NLT) When he servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. "Oh, sir, what will we do now?" the young man cried to Elisha. "Don't be afraid!" Elisha told him. "For there are more on our side than on theirs!" Then Elisha prayed, "O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!" The LORD opened the young man's eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire. As the Aramean army advanced toward him, Elisha prayed, "O LORD, please make them blind." So the LORD struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked.
When we enter into God's presence we can take complete refuge in Him. He and His heavenly armies are more than able to protect us from any unseen attack against us. He is undoubtedly our refuge and strength as declared in Psalm 46:1. In His presence we should feel a release from our daily cares and burdens. We should be able to focus all our attention and all that we are on Him. He creates an environment in which we can truly enjoy Him without distraction.
Consumed by a Desire to be in His Presence
If we claim to love God spending time with Him should be a priority to us. This means that other activities will not be distracting us from Him. The author of Psalm 84 clearly had an unimaginably powerful love for God. In verse two he states, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord." Imagine that your desire to be with God produces emotions that are so strong that they drain your physical strength to the point of fainting. Two well-know verses from the Psalms express a similar desperation to commune with God.
Psalms 42:1-2 (NLT) As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?
Psalms 63:1 (NLT) O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water.
How many of us can honestly say that we know where these men are coming from? How many of us can say that we have experienced what these men did? How many of us can say that being in God's presence in an obsession that completely consumes us? These powerful expressions of the psalmist's hearts stand as a testament of how desirable God's presence can be. It is saying that as wonderful and meaning God that God might be to us today, there is a whole new dimension to His love and goodness that we have yet to experience.
Admitting that we do not have a true desperation to fellowship with God is the first step to becoming like the psalmist. God did not put these verse in His Word to discourage us. Conversely they are hear to encourage us. They are an illustration of what can be achieved. The more we study His Word, the more time we spend in prayer, the more we express gratitude for His goodness, the more we allow Him to prove Himself to us by being obedient in the difficult things, the more we will know Him. The more we know Him. The more we will love Him. It will be our natural reaction to what He is.
A Pilgrimage to His Heart
Psalm 84:5 declares, "What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem." These are the pilgrimages that helps us to gain the fist-hand knowledge of God's love that the author of Psalm 84 had. God uses difficulty and adversity as opportunities for us to experience His love and faithfulness in a very real and powerful way. The outcome of this is seen in verse seven, "They will continue to grow stronger." We are made stronger as God's truth becomes a greater reality to us. The more we see his faithfulness in response to the faith we exercise, the stronger our faith in Him will become.
God wants us to succeed in these pilgrimages toward His heart. Besides using them to display His power to us, He will also minister to us in a way that strengthens and encourages us. Verse six states, "When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings." He will refresh us and sustain us with His great love even in the Valley of Weeping.
Psalms 63:6-8 (NLT) I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night. Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.
Each pilgrimage that we complete will enhance the joy and peace that we experience in His presence. We must remember that it is His desire to develop and strengthen the relationship we have with Him. If we turn back from a pilgrimage, we will eventually have to start it again. We can save time and grief by determining to complete each one. Remember He is there to help us.
Setting Time Aside to Meet With God
The better we know God the more we consciously make Him a part of our everyday lives. The better we know Him the more we will want to spend time in His presence. Our love for Him should be a natural reaction to the revelation of His love for us. I clearly remember the first time that I spent an extended period of time in God's presence. My wife and I were renting an apartment that had an extra closet. We decided that this would be our prayer closet. One Saturday evening I thought of doing something a little different in the closet. I decided to pray a psalm. My idea was to prayerfully read verses in a psalm until my heart was stirred to launch into free-form prayer and worship. Next I would go back to where I left off and start the cycle again. This would continue until the end of the psalm was reached. Not being overly familiar with the Bible, I started by opening to Psalm 119. Over two hours later I emerged feeling quite refreshed and invigorated. The next day a church was special. God's presence so more real and much stronger than normal. It wasn't that He was different. The intimate fellowship with God in the prayer closet the night before had increased my sensitivity to Him. If you truly want to get more out of Sunday morning services at church, spend time in His presence on Saturday evening. You will not regret investing the time.
Anyone who has studied the Bible and has truly submitted to His Lordship has to logically conclude that nothing in life can compare with being in the presence of God. Psalm 84:10 states this truth quite clearly.
Psalms 84:10 (NLT) A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.
It is important that this logical truth become experiential truth; that it becomes heart knowledge. It is not our duty to fellowship with the Creator of All Things. It is our privilege. The joy of His presence is the refreshing springs that we need to experience His joy and peace in this parched and weary land.