It was one of those days. You know the kind I'm talking about. The kind of day where you wake up too tired and worn to think about anything but how exhausted you are.
To put it bluntly: I was tired in every way. And it wasn't my first experience with weariness.
In 2013, I gave birth to our second child - my precious first born daughter. I was elated to have a little girl to dress up in ribbons and bows, but her entrance into the world brought with it my first encounter with the darkness of depression. In those long, hard first months, I looked for JOY. In that season the Lord led me to a verse that held the key.
Psalm 16:11 "...in Thy presence is fulness of joy."
Fast forward three years to another season that brought the night with it. However, this time, no matter what I did or how hard I tried, I couldn't reach the light. The darkness was so thick and debilitating that I began to question everything I had ever believed. Once again, God led me back to Psalm 16:11 and I began to see truths I had never noticed before.
The world is searching for joy. Jesus said in John 15:11, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." Jesus wants us to have joy. He wants us to live in the abundant, radiant light of His presence. And the beautiful thing about our Savior is that He not only offers joy to us, but in His presence there is fulness of joy. If you are abiding in Him, you don’t just get some joy, you get more than you asked for! That's God - always outdoing and over-giving just as He promised in Ephesians 3:20.
In the 1600’s there was a man named Brother Lawrence. He is famous for the book The Practice of the Presence of God. He entered a monastery in France and lived the remaining 30 years of his life working in the kitchen, cooking meals and washing pots and pans. His desire was to walk continually in God’s presence. He said this:
“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it."
In my search for JOY, I asked, "How do I live in the presence of Jesus? How do I get His presence here? What can I do to have fulness of joy? In Isaiah 64, the prophet Isaiah is crying out to God to come down from heaven and bring His presence to earth. Isaiah knew that God’s presence was their only hope. Although God is omnipresent and according to Psalm 139, there is nowhere we can run from His all-seeing eye, sin separates us from His intimate presence and fellowship. Apathy and spiritual laziness will lead us into a place where it becomes difficult to sense His touch or hear His voice. Isaiah recognized that what he was doing wasn't working. He wasn't experiencing the fullness of joy and He knew that the presence of God would bring revival to his soul.
How then can we practice finding and living in the presence of God? Here are four practical ways we can walk intimately with Jesus and experience sweet fellowship and abiding joy. 1. Desperation. Do you really want God’s presence? Do you really want His peace? Do you really want a joy that not only gives you strength but also comfort when life is painful? You must be determined to get it. You can’t simply say, “Yeah, I want this” and then sit back and wait for it to come to you. We have to pursue it. We have pant after it like it's our only life source - because it is the only way to abundant life. In Genesis 32, Jacob was so desperate for God that he risked his very life. He wanted God's presence and so he wrestled with God, refusing to let go until he obtained the blessing. And true to His nature, The Lord honored Jacob's faithful desperation by touching and blessing him. Having an attitude of desperation will reveal if we are serious or not. God does business with those who mean business. 2. Preparation. You prep for important things. If you play sports, you don't run on the field for the first time on game day. You spend weeks preparing and practicing. A concert violinist doesn't wing it when he or she walks onto the stage. They spend hours rehearsing and tuning their instrument. Those two examples are minuscule when compared to an encounter with God Almighty. Do you prepare for His presence? Do you prepare for quiet time and opportunities of growth? Set a time and a place and then stick to it. Make it a priority and prepare. If you want the presence of God, you need to do what God told Moses to do in Exodus. He said, “Be ready in the morning.” All throughout Scripture, the Bible speaks of “preparing your heart to seek the Lord.” Don’t carelessly, casually, haphazardly seek the presence of God. 3. Isolation. It is impossible to have profitable, quality time with Jesus when there is noise and craziness everywhere. You need to get alone. Because it’s rarely quiet in our home with three children, a dog, and a cat, it's been very difficult for me to learn how to do this. However, we make time for what we believe is important. It is possible to wake an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later. It is possible to take advantage of nap time or create a "quiet devotional time" with your older children. It's possible to put on peaceful worship music and have your time while driving in your car. I read a story of a young woman who, when she was learning more about Jesus, was determined to grow and have a private, protected time with Him every day. At her college campus, it was always very loud and hectic during the day and well into the night. To make sure she could have isolated time with God, she would set her alarm for the middle of the night and go to bed. It was in the wee hours of the morning, when everyone else was asleep, that she would get up and study and pray for an hour or more! The point is—isolation sets the stage for precious and needed time with God that will allow us to experience His full and abundant, joy-filled presence. Abraham was alone when the Lord spoke to him and made a covenant with him. Daniel was alone when God spoke to him and gave him a prophecy. Paul was alone in Arabia when God gave him the great things he wrote down for us in the book of Romans and the epistles. Peter was alone on a rooftop when he had a vision and God spoke to him about preaching to the Gentiles. John was alone on the Isle of Patmos when God gave him the book of the Revelation. Moses was alone in the wilderness when God gave him the Ten Commandments. And the greatest example of all, the Lord Jesus. In the midst of a busy, fruitful ministry where miracles were being done, He often withdrew by Himself into the wilderness to pray (Luke 5:15-16)....sometimes for over a month! Learn to love isolation. 4. Expectation. When you have your time in the presence of Jesus, are you expecting God to show up? When you open up your Bible, do you expect to learn? When you pray, do you expect to be heard and answered? God knows our hearts. He looks beyond what we say, knowing what we think even before we do. How silly is it to come to Him in prayer wanting to learn more about Him, wanting to grow in His word, but never expecting to really get anything out of it. That’s a slap to the face of our Heavenly Father!
Have an attitude of confident expectation that the God who promised to bear all our burdens, to hear us when we cry out, to comfort us through the Holy Spirit, to give wisdom when we ask, and who lavishes grace and every spiritual blessing upon us will keep His every word. He is not a God that He should lie. You will experience an intimate and abundant joy when you expect God to be who He says He is.
If we will follow these steps, we will begin to experience in a more tangible way the presence of God. And then we have found where joy is.