It is not easy to suggest to someone in our congregation that we learn how to practice God’s presence together. After all, for many, the idea of spending a moment-by-moment life with God doesn’t sound exciting. What if God is annoying or socially awkward; boring, or out of touch? Worse, what if God is like an Uncle who gets scary mean when he’s drunk? Why would I consider spending every waking moment with him?
These questions are wise. Answering them takes time. But it can help that different voices out there, surprisingly describe their experience with God’s presence as pleasurable. Slowly, we and those we serve can apprentice with these kinds of voices in order to take small steps of grace toward what they point us to.
One of these mentoring voices says of God: “In your presence there is fullness of joy, At your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). For this person, it was like God’s face peeked through into the dark world. The experience was like seeing one’s covenant love or dearest friend after a long absence. We run to meet them.
Being with God feels good. He ravishes every bit of my soul. He satisfies me like nothing or nobody else can. When I’m with God I see the wholesome enjoyment I long for. With God I learn to believe again that original and delicious goods still exist and will not quit on me. His presence tantalizes and relaxes me all at the same time.
I’m Cynical About This! This is Trite
In his novel and the movie, The Fault in our Stars, John Green exposes trite and sentimental Christian responses to pain.
But Psalm 16 is neither sentimental nor trite. It begins with a cry from the soul: “Preserve me!”
This ancient human being gave voice to the multiplied sorrows and pains of many all around him and that call out to him (vs. 4).
He gave voice to the fears haunting his own inner being; fears of being abandoned, the fear of death (vs. 10). The pleasure of God hasn’t removed these but has given him strength to look straight into their red eyes.
Ok, but isn’t this just one more crutch used by religious people who talk about soul-pleasures with God because they are too weak to get through hard times themselves?
A crutch is something that a human being leans on in order to stand, walk or travel through weakness and pain.
May I suggest to you that the idea that some people use a crutch to get through life and others do not is a myth?
Every human being leans into and relies on something to get through their day. For some people, they rely on sentences that give voice to their experience with God’s pleasure. For others, they rely on sentences that cast such pleasures as hogwash. But both persons are relying on sentences, experiences, and persons they trust in order make it through. Both use a crutch. The question of course isn’t whether we use a crutch but which crutch is true to what is there and has the capacity to handle life as it is?
The Pleasures We Choose to Get Through Each Day
Imagine that each moment is a stepping stone of pleasure-searching, that you choose to put your weight on. Moment by moment, step-by-step, you make your way through the morning, then on into the afternoon, the evening and sometimes the night watches. Which pleasures do you currently choose to get through each of your days? For some of us, we step from the pleasures of one screen to the next screen, of one meal to the next meal, of one anger to the next opportunity for another anger, from one sexual fulfillment to the next sexual fulfillment, and on and on.
Each of us lives moment-by-moment in the presence of a pleasure that we seek in order to get through the day. What would it look like to consider God’s presence with you in Jesus as a moment-by-moment ravishment?
Grace upon Grace
David’s moment-by-moment way of being in the world was a broken heap like mine and like yours, like those we serve in ministry. For him, he had chosen the stepping stone pleasures of adultery, of murder, of polygamy and of misusing his power and it cost him.
We too know what it is to put our foot on a stone in a river only to slip off or realize the only way forward is to step back.
When Jesus spoke of God the Father, he pictured the pleasures of the Father. He is like one who runs to welcome his lost son. He is the lifter of the lost one’s head. He gathers the whole community for a party to celebrate the one who was lost and now is found and come home.
Fellow ministry leaders, you might feel a long way from home. This idea that a pleasure can be found with God might seem scary or too far gone. The son of David, Jesus, invites you to take a step with him today. Non-trite, non-sentimental but gorgeous and true pleasures haven’t quit in the world. God has seen to it.
Oh Lord, I forget about the two kinds of treasures that Jesus told us about and purchased for us–the pleasures that go down deep and endure and outlast whatever hard things come and the pleasures that stay on the surface. Too weak to last, they wither away. Forgive me for doubting that your presence is a glad one. Forgive me for treating you as if you are an annoying neighbor who knocks at my door; or as if you’ve sent me an Evite but I think your party will bore me, and I keep trying to find an excuse to be somewhere else instead of with you. Forgive me for my arrogance and offense. You are the only One who can satisfy my soul. You are the true One who delights my heart. I want to say, “yes” to your invitation, to taste and see that you are good. Lead me by the Savior to your throne of grace. Let the Savior take my hand and lead me near to you. Your mercy, your grace is my hope. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
(For a fuller exploration of this message listen in to the sermon from which this post is taken. “Tasting the Pleasures of God’s Presence,” May 22, 2016)