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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Solid Ground for Experiencing Joy

This past week I reread an old devotional classic called The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. It was written by an old monk who learned to keep his mind on God constantly. He supported the practice of spiritual disciplines where every day he had set times of devotion. But he learned to keep his mind steady and focused on God has he went about all of his daily work, especially as he worked in the kitchen at the monastery where he worked and lived. It’s a very short book, one that I would recommend to you highly, you could easily read it in an hour.

He once prayed:
"O my GOD, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and to this end do Thou prosper me with Thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections." Lawrence, Brother (2010-04-21). The Practice of The Presence of God (Kindle Locations 148-150). Unknown. Kindle Edition.
My point in saying all this is that we have real cause for being full of joy. When we know that someone we deeply care about that we haven’t seen for a long time, someone in who’s company we delight, we are thrilled to learn that we are going to have an opportunity to spend time with them again.

The children of Israel had known a long absence of God’s presence, at least from their perspective. They experienced 70 years of exile because of the sins of their fathers. That’s an interesting reality in and of itself. The children were suffering the consequences of the sins of the fathers. The book of Zechariah contains tremendous encouragement toward the children of Israel that God was restoring them, that God is blessing them, that God loved them and that his presence would go with them and be with them once again.

Zechariah 2:10 (ESV) 10 Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord.

God gives instructions to sing. God gives instructions to rejoice. Sing! Sing! Be full of joy! The phrase, “O daughter of Zion,” was a way of speaking to all the people, it was not just a word to the women. They were to be full of joy. Why? Because God said, behold I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord.
The sweetness of the experience of the presence of God was real to them because it had been absent. But now they were about to experience the real presence of God. And because of this real presence of God there was nothing for them to fear. God was the one for whom they longed. And so the Lord himself says, this is a cause for singing. This is a cause for rejoicing, because I am coming to you. I come to dwell in your midst. Just this promise that this was coming was a reason for them to rejoice.

Now I want you to contrast their experience with current believers. Such strong words are promised to us. Jesus said in, Mat. 28:20, I will never leave you or forsake you. In John 16, Jesus promises the presence of the Holy Spirit to not just be with you but that he would be in you. Paul said in the end of Colossians, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The writer of Hebrews says, we can be content in this world because God has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

The children of Israel’s hearts were broken, they had a complete loss of their identity both nationally and spiritually. They were disoriented. But now that was being restored. And so there was cause to sing and to rejoice. Because God has promised, I will never leave you or forsake you. I will be with you always to the very end of the age. It is cause for tremendous joy.

We suffer so much, we grieve so much, we experience so much loss. A part of this is because we are depending on things that we can lose to ground us. We are depending on things that we can lose to bring us hope. We are depending on things that we can lose to bring us joy. Let’s ground our well being in the one thing that we cannot lose. Let’s determine whether or not we will be joyful today not on anything other than this simple and yet glorious reality. Christ in you the hope of glory. 

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