From strength to strength (Pursuing and prizing the presence of God Part 7)

I have already seen in verse 5 of Psalm 84 that there is a strength to be found in prizing the Lord Jesus in my heart as the way to God. Verse 7 builds upon that truth:

Psalm 84:7  They go from strength to strength;

each one appears before God in Zion.

If verse5  gave me the starting point and the velocity, this verse gives me the end point and the acceleration. Not only do I find a supernatural strength as I pursue the presence of God but I actually get stronger and stronger. It ‘s not like physical exersion where you eventually run out of steam. The more I seek God the stronger I get and my destination remains certain. As I seek God I will increasingly experience his presence; Now by the Spirit, when I die and go to be with Jesus, and in the new heavens and new earth when the presence of God will light up the world.

Rather than be snuffed out or worn down, the person who pursues and prizes the presence of God will go from strength to strength. If you want to be with God you will be with God. There is the assurance here that nothing can keep us from the presence of God. We will defiantly “appear before God in Zion”.

Paul knew this:

Romans 8:35-39  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)

The presence of God I’m after is all about knowing his love. There are other sense the bible talks about the presence of God but they are not good ones! Jesus death and resurrection mean that I will never experience the presence of God to punish, but only to bless me to do me good. His wrath against me was exhausted and extinguished on the cross. There is simply none left for me! Now, rather than run away from him, as Adam tried to do by hiding in the bushes of Eden, or wishing, as many will do when Jesus comes again, that the mountains would cover them, I run towards him with increasing speed. Those that seek him with all their heart will jump into his arms on that final day. My body may be a little worse for wear but my spirit will leap.

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Physically affected (Pursuing and prizing the presence of God Part 2)

I am on verse 2 of Psalm 84 and it’s doing me so much good.

My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Psalm 84:2

This man’s soul longs for the courts of the Lord. In terms of the tabernacle and temple these were the outer parts of God’s dwelling – the hallway or maybe the first reception room if you like. Even these places are amazing to be in and who the Psalmist is in his very being simply runs out of resource outside of the presence of God. Like a man in a desert who has gone without food and water for days he faints and falls to the ground outside of God’s house.

There is a great song I am enjoying at the moment by Misty Edwards called “Soul Cry”. The opening lines capture the sense of this well (although its referring to Psalm 42:1):

As the deer pants for the water, my soul longs for You
As the body dies without water, my soul dies without You

The presence of God is something so wonderful, so essential, to this man that both his heart and his flesh cry out for it. The heart is the centre of a person’s inner life, the will and the emotions, so this is indeed a deep “soul cry”. But the soul and body are intimately joined. There is an organic unity between our hearts and our flesh, a melding of one with the other. It’s hard to tease apart and separate the cells of our brain from the consciousness of our mind. We are made whole and so his physical body as well as his inner being is massively effected.

As we come into God’s presence it’s not just our minds and emotions that are effected, our bodies are too. The NIV has “my heart and flesh cry out” while the ESV says they “sing for joy”. According to my lexicon the word could be “whimper or moan” or “shout for joy”. Both are true.  When I realised I was away from God I cried out to him in longing and now I am with him I cry out to him with joy and a desire for more. Jonathan Edwards noted that in his meetings and under his preaching people fell due to the fear of hell or the foretaste of heaven.

Jonathan Edwards was happier than he looked!

Many young people appeared to be overcome with the greatness of divine things and many others at the same time were overcome with distress about their sinful state so that the whole room was full of nothing but outcries, faintings and such like and many were overpowered and continued there for some hours. Some have been so overcome with a sense of the dying love of Christ as to weaken the body. It was a very frequent thing to see a house full of outcries, faintings, convulsions and such like, both with distress, and also with joy” (The Great Awakening p. 547).

John Wesley’s journal entry for January 1st 1739 records:

“About sixty of our brethren, until three in the morning, the power of God came mightily on us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.”

Martin Lloyd Jones notes that:

“Always in a revival there is what some call divine disorder. Some are groaning and agonising under conviction, others praising God for the great salvation. And all this leads to crowded and prolonged meetings. Time seems to be forgotten. A meeting may not end until daybreak the next morning with nobody aware of the passing of the hours.”

Sometimes the presence of God is so strong that the physical manifestations seem involuntary but at other times we choose to express ourselves by dropping to our knees, holding our hands up high, dancing, or jumping. Heres another great song I am enjyogin right now sung by Jules Burt on the NewDay 2010 Album:

I want to scream it out,
from every mountain top,
your godness knows no bounds,
your goodness never stops,
you mercy follows me,
your kindness fills my life,
your love amazes me,

and I sing because you are good
and I dance because you are good
and I shout because you are good

The sheer goodness of God provokes a response from our heat and soul. As we think about  God and he draws near to us our emotions spill over in tears or bubble up in laughter.  Sometimes we can hold them in but at other times they seem unstoppable. Have you ever laughed so hard you felt in danger of damaging your body, yet you could not stop? Perhaps you have at least been so happy you have had a little spontaneous hum or whistle.

In God’s presence our heart and body resonate together. We are made for God’s presence like a reed instrument is made for the breath of air. This man isn’t simply going through the motions singing hymns and songs that mean nothing to him. His joy and desire for God is as natural as a bird’s song.

Joy is a defining characteristic of the kingdom of God and of his presence. The kingdom of God is righteousness joy and peace. That means that “joy“, as I heard someone remarked recently, “is a third of the kingdom“. The presence of God brings such amazing joy. I love feeling it bubbling up from deep inside me as I become aware of the presence of God. It makes me want to smile, it makes me want to laugh, to sing, to dance. I was with a friend praying recently and we both just began to feel happy and smile and laugh. God is sooo God.

The person who penned this Psalm spoke, in terms that he could understand, of something that was yet to be revealed. He longed for the courts of the LORD because that is where God had declared and revealed his presence to be. We now live in the light of the amazing revelation that it’s in Jesus that we can know and experience the presence of God. Jesus is the temple, Jesus is the way to God. Jesus has destroyed all the barriers that stood in the way of us and God.  No longer do we need to stay back in the outer courts or on the other side of a curtain. No longer do we have to worship in a particular physical location. We have the truth and the reality of the temple in the person of Jesus and can worship and enjoy God’s presence by the Spirit at any time and in any place. In Christ we enjoy unrestricted access to the presence of God.

I am always challenged when I read the experience of people in the OT. How much better to live now after the cross and Pentecost yet even some of these OT guys enjoyed a wonderful experience and understanding of God. It’s like comparing the days of the slide rule with modern computers. You could make calculations then but I’d much rather use an electronic calculator. If they could do long multiplication then how much more should I be able to multiply now! If people in the OT longed for and enjoyed God’s presence then, how much more can we now.

Hanging out at God’s house (Pursuing and prizing the presence of God Part 1)

I recently enjoyed going through Psalm 84 verse by verse. I was attracted to it as I am exploring the theme of God’s experiential presence in order to experience more of it. I might preach it some time but for now here it is in blog form.

The psalm starts “how lovely is your dwelling place, and Lord of hosts!”. It’s right that the translators add an exclamation mark at the end of this sentence. It is an ecstatic proclamation of truth. It is not simply a statement of fact but of experience. Even if the Psalmist has not fully experienced what he speaks of his anticipation of it takes hold of and possesses it. Of course God is present everywhere but his dwelling place is where he is most readily and fully and wonderfully touch-ably and tangibly to be found.

Dwelling place literally means “tent”. We would say “house” or “home”. It’s pretty special to go into someone’s home. When you are in someone’s home you get a large undiluted dose of them. Everything in the house is shaped by them and expresses something about them. A home is like the sound box of a guitar. All the richness and depth of the frequencies are drawn out and amplified. It picks up and amplifies the dweller.

If someone is disorganised you get that loud and clear as you pick your way through their living room. If they are hospitable you get the best seat, their best drink, food, their attention, their encouragement etc. If they love dogs you get to interact with their dogs, if they like Jazz you will probably get to hear some and if they are rich you see all their expensive stuff. Ten minutes with someone in their home is worth an hour with them in the pub if you want to get to know them. You will get a much richer clearer idea of who they are. We were invited into a fiends home recently and we had such a good time. We got a good dose of them and it did us good. The writer of the psalm has spent time in God’s home and got a large dose of God and he says “it is wonderful.