During my university years God led me through a season in his word that opened my eyes to the pure joy and satisfaction of being in his presence. “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights” (Psalm 36:7–8). “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
This was a euphoric new reality to embrace, especially since it followed a season of intense and prolonged struggle with particular sins. It was as if I had been enclosed in a dark, damp barn and the doors had flung upon to a wide, sunlit field where I could run and be free.
But there was more to be learned. As I read more of the joy of God’s presence, another truth emerged: the path to deeper experiences of God’s presence is the way of brokenness. “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15). “Thus says the LORD: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word’” (Isaiah 66:1–2).
These complementary truths also emerge in Romans 5, where Paul is discussing the benefits of being justified, or declared right with God, because of our trust in Jesus. He seems to climax in verse 2 by saying, “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” But the apostle continues with “Not only that,” implying that there is more to the story, namely, suffering. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).
How can Paul rejoice in sufferings? Because it sets in motion a refining process that ultimately deepens and enhances the believer’s experience of the glory of God. This is reinforced when Paul ends the section, “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:11). The final delight is in God himself, in his presence, but on this side of Jesus’ return we embrace the suffering and brokenness God uses to bring us more into his presence.
Throughout this month we have many paths of brokenness open to us. In our personal times of prayer and fasting we are walking through the worship-confession-cleansing-mission cycle in the “My Eyes Have Seen the King” booklet. In Sunday School we will be studying “The Gospel-Centered Life,” which includes embracing the depths of our sinfulness before God. In our worship service we will walk through the beatitudes, in which Jesus pronounces blessings on the poor in spirit, the mourners, and the meek. All of these give us opportunity to pursue deeper brokenness, contrition, and humility before God. As we do so, may he draw us more into his joy-filled presence.