“But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.”
This is where I want to be this morning. Near to my God. With Him as my refuge. That I may see and know His works, to shine them through my life and speak of them out of rejoicing and passion.
I want to be in a place where, regardless of circumstances, I can rejoice that my God is near to me. Surrounding me as the mountains surround Jerusalem (Psalm 125:2). Filling me with His Spirit so that my cup overflows, even if enemies are present (Psalm 23:5).
Reality is, these promises are mine. I am His, and “feelings” don’t change that. The truth of His presence stands firm. The promise of His surrounding me and His Spirit within me is firm and unchanging. And I am so very thankful for that.
It’s just my experience of it that has been hindered. Contemplating this, and why there seems to be a barrier, Psalm 73:1 revealed perhaps a glimpse of it: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” I read these words this morning and felt the ache in my spirit.
Not anger, not doubt, just an aching. Stemming from confusion and discouragement from a situation that is unresolved and feels unending.
My heart feels discouraged. And as much as I try to focus on other things, on the good and lovely things around me, on God’s faithfulness, on His countless affirmations – and as much as that does help, and is biblical, and does bring peace – there remains a quiet hurt that comes through in moments like this.
And even in those times of refocusing, if I’m being completely honest, my recent experience of His peace and presence has not been entirely full.
There is a hindrance to my experience of the abundant life my God wants for me. And it isn’t because He’s withholding something. It isn’t because of my circumstances. Jesus, who is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” and who “upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3), promised that we would have trouble in this life (John 16:33). It’s the nature of living in a broken world, and also the method by which His Spirit frees us from sin and other things holding us back and heals us of our own inner sicknesses.
So it isn’t my circumstances.
John 10:10 records Jesus’ words of abundant life: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” In 1 John 1:5, the apostle who wrote down those words also declared, “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” This God who is light and in whom is no darkness, this God who upholds the whole universe with a mere word, is the God who came that we might have life – and have it abundantly, in every circumstance. His purpose is not to destroy us. He is not unfeeling or uncompassionate. And He certainly does not leave us on our own, shifting His attention away so that He is unaware of our situation or our experience in it. While we might not understand it, we can hold fast to the knowledge that He is light, and in Him is no darkness.
My thoughts keep drawing to John 15. In verse 11, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
Not “more full.”
Entire, complete fullness of joy. Which is also referenced in Psalm 16:11: “in Your presence there is fullness of joy.”
The psalmist was right. Because all through the first 10 verses of John 15 leading to that statement, Jesus beckoned His disciples to abide, rest, dwell in Him. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept the Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:4-11).
When I think of abundant life, it brings a picture of a life that is flourishing and joy-filled. Is this not what Jesus describes here? Flourishing by bearing much fruit. Joy that is full. Experienced by pressing into Jesus and staying there with intentionality and heartfelt obedience. Like anything else in this life, our experience will likely shift and sway. Perhaps because our intentionality has dropped off. Perhaps because there is a sin or an idol we’re clinging to (or don’t even see yet). Perhaps because God wants to further strengthen us, or remind us of our desperate need for Him, or emphasize the wonder of feeling His presence and seeing His glory.
Whatever the reason and whatever His purposes, may we recall that our God is light and in Him is no darkness and that He is a compassionate Father (Psalm 103:13-14). And may we keep pressing in. Because there are great promises to take hold of in Jesus’ words. And He will not fail to fulfill them. We will bear much fruit, bringing glory to God our Father and displaying His salvation of us. And we will know fullness of joy, because as we abide in Jesus, He abides in us, and in His presence is fullness of joy.
It is good to be near God and to make Him our refuge. This God who is ours. This God who, in Christ, has made us His own. So I will leave you today with these words, which declare both a challenge and our steadfast hope:
“Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
His going out is sure as the dawn;
He will come to us as the spring showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”
O Lord, may we press on to know You. That whatever our circumstances, we would come to know You more. Experiencing more of Your faithfulness, Your steadfastness, Your love, Your strength, Your power, Your heart. Jesus, may we come to abide in You more fully as situations connect us with Your own experience of brokenness, betrayal, grief, hurt, and struggle. You are a perfect Savior and great High Priest because You understand all of our afflictions. You lived them. Teach us how to abide in You. Abide with us as we walk this road. Draw us closer to Yourself in grace. Father, may we know that we can approach Your throne at all times and find grace there. We so easily complicate the concept of coming into Your presence and abiding there; may the breath of Your Spirit cause those perceived complications to fall away, that we would experience the beautiful simplicity of resting in relationship with You. Because You tore the veil at Jesus’ words, “It is finished,” and destroyed every barrier to Yourself through the cross. As Your Son beckoned those around Him, draw us near with these words of Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”