The Bare Soul - April 26, 2009
The Fruit of the Spirit - Joy

Galatians 5:22-23 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

True joy is unmistakable. I'm not talking about the emotion created from a joyous experience or a feeling of happiness created by any given situation. I am speaking of the source from which this state of well-being derives. When the source of a supposed joyous or happy state  is convoluted or temporal, then the natural result will be a temporal emotion that will quickly disappear. Often, folks will buy something such as a new car and feel a sense of elation and happiness for a season. However, in a short time, this elation dissipates -- usually about as long as it takes the new car smell to disappear. Then, all folks are left with are the monthly payments. Conversely, when joy springs from the Eternal Source, then it is never ending and permanent. Just as love does not originate through expression but through identification with the God of Love, in the same way we find the remaining fruits of the Spirit are first to be received and drawn upon through His person, and then expressed through our own characters as He wills.

Psalm 16:11 in the New American Standard Bible describes the perfect plan to live in the totality of God's joy at all times. David spoke through the Holy Spirit in this passage stating: ... In Your presence, there is fullness of joy ... . One might rightly say, "How does one continue ALWAYS in the presence of God where this fullness dwells? In reality, few find that place. It is important to note, however, that David speaks regarding "fullness" with the implication that the joy of the Lord is to be enjoyed on a daily basis in one degree or another. Those who truly know the Lord should never languish long in their own doubts and despair, but should return to their Maker who gives an endless supply of joy. Many godly saints throughout the ages having found this place of pure joy in His presence refer to it as the secret place of the Most High. Consistently, these humble men and women of God state that their lives were caught up for years and years in the art of practicing putting themselves back into God's presence whenever they felt His absence. It is an act of will that is demonstrated by a loving desire to always be with Him. The Song of Solomon 3:1-4 is an exquisite example of how the bridegroom has departed and the bride’s frantic search for her beloved. By her continual searching, she finally finds him again and will not let him out of her grasp. This is the type of joy expressed once we find the true Lover of our souls. By practicing holy behavior before our holy Lord and refusing to be denied access into His presence, we can and will live in that place that is complete with ... joy inexpressible and full of glory (I Peter 1:8).

An extraordinary example of someone who lived in this fully surrendered state of joy was a French monk of the17th century, Brother Lawrence. A collection of his letters and conversations were published after his death which quickly became a testimony of one who continually dwelt in the presence of the Lord and experienced unfathomable joy. (This small booklet, entitled The Practice of the Presence of God is available as a free download.) There are few books that have touched my inner man as this one. Lawrence was an unassuming man that found the secret place of intimate prayer; whether it was during devotionals or during his menial duties in the monastery kitchen. However, there was a time in his early pilgrimage toward God when he struggled to even understand that he was truly saved. Brother Lawrence writes about his conversion below and his consequential joyous existence:

Finally he reasoned: I did not engage in a religious life but for the love of God. I have endeavored to act only for Him. Whatever becomes of me, whether I be lost or saved, I will always continue to act purely for the love of God. I shall have this good at least that until death I shall have done all that is in me to love Him. From that time on Brother Lawrence lived his life in perfect liberty and continual joy. He placed his sins between himself and God and told Him that he did not deserve His favors, yet God still continued to bestow them in abundance.

In Lawrence's fourth letter, we find a matured, loving, joyful monk. His joy, he states, would become so rapturous at times that he would have to conceal it unless others might not understand.

He is now so accustomed to that divine presence that he receives from God continual comfort and peace. For about thirty years his soul has been filled with joy and delight so continual, and sometimes so great, that he is forced to find ways to hide their appearing outwardly to others who may not understand.

Brother Lawrence had learned the secret of dwelling in the shadow of the Most High and drawing upon the safety, security, and awesome strength of living always in the Lord's presence.  Like Lawrence, the word of God gives us examples such as Nehemiah who understood that joy was not a place of weakness but it was empowering. It allows all those who choose to dwell in His shelter an unlimited source of power and strength to overcome any and all obstacles. The displaced cupbearer to the king, now wall-builder of Jerusalem, proclaimed to those Israelites returning from captivity in Babylon that they should not be grieved or stricken with any sadness or fear because ... the joy of the Lord is their strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Understanding the source of this strength did not give them a sense of arrogance or invulnerability, but it allowed them to understand Who was truly watching over and protecting them from their enemies. Paul was another who tells us in Ephesians 5:18 not to be drunk with wine (which gives a false sense of bravado and invulnerability), but to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we are filled up and overflowing with His presence in our lives, then His strength and power are truly perfected. With this new found strength, the direct bi-product created by the joy of His presence, one is brought to a new place of humility. One only has to look at the life of Moses, the most humble man who ever lived yet one who lived in the light of His presence for forty years in the wilderness [Numbers 12:3]). Biblical history, as well as more contemporary times are filled with examples of those who gave up all to live in His presence -- to be empowered with His strength to live a holy, exhilarating life continually in the presence of the Most High God. God is not a respecter of persons and desires for us all to come into His presence and to be bathed with his joyous strength. Only as we continue to practice His presence in our lives, will we then be joyous participants of His rapturous delights that He daily sets before us.

Lord, that we may live in your presence, not only one day in glory, but even now -- here upon this earth. For in your presence is fullness of joy and life inexpressible. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

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