|In His Presence|
"You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Psalms 16:11 (NKJV)
What will happen if we simply meditate on this verse and let it go deep down into our hearts? If we memorize it and believe it, will it not change us eternally? Will we still chase worldly things for our pleasure if our hearts are immersed in this truth? Or will a deep revelation God's ability and desire to give us joy without materialism manifest itself in our souls? Will we realize then that the pleasures of the world are like swimming in a gutter compared to the pleasures of God?
Have we been looking for joy in all the wrong places? And what about counsel for the matters of our lives? Are we listening to worldly experts? Are we rising in euphoria and falling in depression with the stock market, or are we too busy clipping coupons for the supermarket to live the deeper life in Christ? Are we allowing an unpleasant person around us to control our moods? Are we seeking spiritual nourishment from Christians, but not from God – chasing seminars and special meetings in search of a spiritual "high"? Is a Christian leader defining spiritual realities for us, or is our wisdom coming directly from the Almighty? Job understood and spoke about the source of wisdom:
"But where can wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living." Job 28:12 (NKJV)
"It cannot be purchased for gold, nor can silver be weighed for its price." Job 28:15 (NKJV)
He realized that it was not among men, but had to be sought from God alone. He also stated that there is no material wealth that can purchase the spiritual treasure of wisdom, which is also spoken of in Proverbs.
"How much better to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver." Proverbs 16:16 (NKJV)
Do we really believe this? Have we not actually devalued the free gifts offered to us by Christ, and instead sought the trinkets and entertainment the world has to offer? And are we so jaded and lacking in faith, and so used to gaining temporal pleasure from worldly things, that we can no longer believe this inherent truth? Are we so addicted to the spirit of the world that we cannot fathom that God can give us spiritual joy if we will only wait in His presence for it and seek Him?
"My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him." Psalm 62:5 (NKJV)
My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning – yes, more than those who watch for the morning. Psalm 130:6 (NKJV)
Leaving the Natural World Behind
In His presence we step out of the temporal and into the eternal. Time loses it hold on us while we are with Him who holds every moment in His hands. For in that special place a day may as well be a thousand years. And there He can keep the sun shining for us, even as he did for Joshua until the battle was won, if need be. In His presence we pass the chasm between the natural and the supernatural, and dwell in the place of the Most High. This is the place where the streets are like liquid gold, and peace runs like a placid river. No one hurries here, for the heart stops its striving. We are at home here, at peace dwelling with the one who lives in unapproachable light – now made approachable by the sacrifice of His Holy Son. We have stepped into eternity, and are now seated with Him in heavenly places.
We wonder now why we disdained to draw close to Him. Why did we consider it a chore, when it has now become such a wonder? Solutions to problems come in His presence, and some of them seem so simple now. But more than just solutions, the problems themselves now seem inconsequential. We see now that we have been causing some of them for ourselves. In fact, God shows us that we have been "kicking against the goads," as Jesus said to Paul. That is, we have been striving against God in several directions because we want our own way. Now we see more clearly and are willing to surrender. We are amazed at how peace floods our soul when we are able to give up our striving, and simply say, "not my will but yours be done". What has happened since we came into His presence to change our perspective so drastically? Surely it is a renewing of the mind by the mercy and power of God.
He reminds us that His ways are above ours even as the heavens are above the earth. We do not need to understand, we just need to take His hand, as the hymn says. Then we discover something else. We realize that our worries are causing us to be fretful for no reason. It is now clear to us that He is in control. Of course we always knew that – intellectually. But deep in our hearts we did not appropriate it. In His presence we have a deeper confidence in every word He has spoken. No, we will not fall, for He shall keep us from stumbling. And we will not be tempted beyond what we can endure, for he will not allow it. (1st Corinthians 10:13) The world seems to be in such chaos, and so unpredictable. However, this is only how it seems, for He raises up kings and brings them down. (Daniel 2:21) Furthermore, the heart of the king is in His hand, and He will guide it however He wishes. (Proverbs 21:1)
With Him nothing is insoluble, and problems that weighed so heavily on us now seem to subside. We remember King David, and all the troubles he had, running for his life from Saul and the army of Israel. Surely if anyone had problems that seemed like impossible mountains to scale, he did. And yet we remember that David said:
"The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth." Psalms 97:5 (NKJV)
We realize now that God does not have to change our circumstances – all He has to do is change us in them. In His presence we give up our regrets about the past. Yes, we could have done so much more. He is not concerned about it – and so we are not, either. He shows us that in some matters we are still comparing ourselves to others and their apparent achievements. We give it up, as He shows us that we cannot compare ourselves to anyone else, because there is no one else like us in the entire universe. We are unique, and so are our circumstances.
The Miracle of His Presence
"You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of joy in Your presence." Acts 2:28 (NKJV)
There is something beyond human understanding that occurs in His presence. Worldly success loses its tawdry glitter. Self-promotion and ambition begin to look ugly. We are lifted out of the miry clay into a place where even the air is sweet and the freshest of water runs with abundance. It is sparkling in purity and deliciously satisfying to the soul. This is the refreshment each soul longs for – it is the "living water" that He has promised. The unbeliever seeks it but cannot find it; the Christian finds it only when he or she realizes its true source. The adversary and his minions fight diligently to keep the believer from it, because they know it is the source of all peace, discernment, and spiritual power.
It is the place of ultimate rest. God restores our souls as we bask in His presence – praying, listening, and waiting. He promises us in Isaiah 40:31 that "those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength" Without this waiting, we find ourselves attempting to live the Christian life without His power – which never works. With it, we live beyond our limitations – we live beyond ourselves. Christ’s power works in our lives, restraining our selfishness and our desire for retribution to those who have hurt us. We begin to walk in a different manner, with the consciousness that this world is quickly passing, and that we should be living for the next one.
We begin to have compassion on those around us who do not understand why they are living, and who are striving for some fleeting worldly success. We become "otherworldly" with a sense of heaven and hell always predominant in our thoughts. This leads us to regard others in the context of eternity, rather than how they affect us personally. Have they treated us wrongly? Perhaps it has happened as a cry for help – a signal from God that we should pray for them. Now we begin to share His burden for souls. And we are starting to learn more not only about Him, but about ourselves. We understand now that we have no real problems. They were all solved when He forgave us and brought us into His kingdom. We declare with Elihu, "Behold…who teaches like Him?" Job 36:22 (NKJV) We understand now what David meant, when he said:
"You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies…I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts." Psalm 119:98,100 (NKJV)
The Romance of His Presence
"My beloved spoke, and said to me: ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.’" Song of Songs 2:10-13 (NKJV)
Coming with the expectation of meeting with the One who loves us most, we know we will not be let down in His presence. We will leave differently from how we came – changed, although perhaps slightly, not just for the day, but for eternity. Gone are the cares of the world, for He bids us, "Cast all your care upon him; for he careth for you." 1Peter 5:7 (KJS) Even so, something deeper also starts to occur – His love which we read so much about but fail to experience becomes real. And it is not something perfunctory, but instead rich and glorious. It is in fact, the ultimate romance. And should it be any less? Paul and John reveal that our relationship with Christ parallels the marriage relationship, as we read:
"‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church." Ephesians 5:31-32 (NKJV)
"Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." Revelation 21:2 (NKJV)
Would the perfect marriage not include romance? The dictionary includes two definitions for this word. The first is, "Ardent emotional attachment or involvement between people, especially that characterized by a high level of purity and devotion; love." We feel this as we seek Him, but the longer we wait for Him, we find the second definition of romance to apply to our relationship: "A mysterious or fascinating quality or appeal, as of something adventurous, heroic, or strangely beautiful." Regardless of our many faults, He sees us as beautiful, and bids us to "come away" with Him. He wishes to take us on a spiritual excursion with Him, beyond the cares of the day. The "winter" or heaviness that has oppressed us is over, and the rain, or the constant pressure of life, has now evaporated. In the place of these are sunshine and new flowers causing a song of praise to well up in our hearts from the abundance of joy He has given us. We then know with certainty that:
"The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him." Lamentations 3:25 (NKJV)
Requirements for His Presence
"Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but he honors those who fear the Lord; he who swears to his own hurt and does not change; he who does not put out his money at usury, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved." Psalm 15:1-5 (NKJV)
Obviously none of us qualify – we all fail. But we receive the blessing of His presence when we repent. Before celebrating Passover, the Israelites would celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which required a search of each home for leaven, which in this case represented sin. Nevertheless, let us realize that a search had to be made. It was not apparent to the naked eye where the leaven was. And in the same way it is not apparent to us where the error of our ways are – we must open ourselves up to the shining light of His Holy Spirit to reveal them.
Isaiah was a prophet of royal lineage, who had access to the kings of Israel and Judah. He was in every way an exemplary man of God, but he had the very difficult assignment of prophesying to the kings who reigned during his tenure as prophet. Some of these kings were quite evil, and were the type who would put a man to death for any trivial reason, let alone a rebuke regarding their character. Imagine the stress he must have undergone as he prepared a discourse for them. Moreover, Isaiah lived with the knowledge of impending judgment on Israel, which he knew would end in bloodshed and misery. Yet he found peace in the presence of God, for he writes:
"You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You." Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV)
Nevertheless, we know that Isaiah also went through a process of cleansing before coming into God's presence, for we have insight regarding him when he saw the literal glory of God.
"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple." Isaiah 6:1 (NKJV)
Seeing this amazing, supernatural scene, Isaiah was quick to admit his failings.
"So I said: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.’" Isaiah 6:5-7 (NKJV)
Inheriting the Promises Through Faith and Humility
This was a spectacular encounter with God. However, we will not always feel the presence of the Lord when we seek Him. If warm feelings were always available, faith would not be necessary. In fact, this is a problem with some Christians today – they are seeking an experience which is tangible. Because of this, they have become exceedingly susceptible to spiritual deception. Those who always seek signs and wonders generally find them, and get involved with foolishness that even unbelievers know is false. Rather, we are told:
"But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." Hebrews 11:6 (NKJV)
Nevertheless, God does reveal Himself in a way that is imperceptible to our five senses. It cannot necessarily be described, but once we are in the habit of seeking His presence, nothing will substitute for it. When we humble ourselves and take our proper place before Him, it is then we receive the blessings only He can give.
"For thus says the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." Isaiah 57:15 (NKJV)
Oh, the multitude of blessings which are available to us when we commit ourselves to seeking Him! In His presence marriages that seemed completely doomed – apparently irreconcilable due to years of anger and bitterness – are healed. Children and grandchildren who have no heart for God, and who seemed hopelessly lost, are drawn to the truth, and surrender their lives to Him. In His presence faults and bad habits that seemed inescapable to us are separated from us and we are delivered. In His presence the weakest and lowliest and most despised by the world become empowered to change society. In His presence hopes and dreams that seemed to slip through our hands as if we were grasping for the wind are restored.
In His presence apparent victories and defeats are unmasked and seen as the imposters they truly are, and we instead find the silver lining in every event of our lives. In His presence the illusions and deceptions of the world are suddenly discerned by us, and our foundation in the faith is strengthened. In His presence we stop striving to act the part of the happy Christian, and instead of pretending, we actually become what He wants us to be. In His presence burdens are lifted, His compassion is manifest, we are refreshed and renewed, tears turn into joy, selfishness turns into selflessness, trials become the object of praise, eternal causes replace temporal desires, and depression is replaced by a song in our hearts.
May no more days pass where we fail to enter into His glorious presence, so that we may say with the psalmist:
"I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry." Psalm 40:1 (NKJV)
"For You have made him most blessed forever; You have made him exceedingly glad with Your presence." Psalm 21:6 (NKJV)