Remember the days when a “Party” was a very nice celebration that you went to, upon invitation of course? A very festive event! You know, like a “Birthday Party,” or a “Graduation Party,” or a “Coming Out Party” of some kind. While in the pastorate, the “Graduation Party Circuit” was the annual May-June ritual. A “Party” was a time of joy and celebration to which the select few were given the privilege to join in the rejoicing. So you go, for you don’t want to be labeled a “Party Pooper.” And after all, even the Bible tells us that we should rejoice with those who rejoice. (Romans 12:15)
And those birthday parties, at least the ones I attended when I was boy, were really special events that you got dressed up for. Mother demanded that I look real nice. And the really big draw to go to those birthday parties in particular was the food – pop, cookies, sandwiches (if we were lucky – hotdogs), and the big birthday cake with ice cream of course. And there were the games and the gifts. What could be better than that? Plus it was the best way to make sure that the party-honoree would attend your party when your time came. So mother instructed me before I went to the party to mind my manners, to eat politely with the appropriate “Pleases and Thank Yous.” Always leave a good impression.
A party was at one time in history a really good, wholesome and fun time for all. However, today mankind no longer goes to “Parties.” No, no, that will not do any longer for modern man. In his humdrum boredom with life, and in his desperate search for joy, he now seeks to turn all of life into “Party Time.” At a moments notice he now says to his fellow partiers, “Hey what do you say, “Let’s Party.” Why? No reason really! Anything to rock his routine! He no longer attends a party. Rather he “Parties.” He lives “To Party.”
In man’s search for joy, he is determined to continue to let the good times roll 7/24, which includes food, booze, booze and more booze. I mean, run out of booze and that pretty well stops the party dead in its tracks and dries up the joy well. Wedding receptions (parties), even religious ones, now have rolling bars with raucous bands and dancing. By the time the bride and groom dance their wedding dance, most every one is partially or totally crocked. You can tell, because the guffaw and hilarity becomes louder and louder as the reception party becomes 92% proof.
Christmas parties, even for the so-called religious and modern church goers, now have wall to wall wine and beer bottles so that everyone can get their joy-buzz, of course all in keeping with:
“JOY TO THE WORLD, THE LORD HAS COME.”
Hard liquor is often available too. After all, how could you ever celebrate Jesus without a chaser! Christmas has never been merrier. It is all so very worldly, sad and sick. The difference between the religious and the non-religious has been all but erased.
In short, the word “Party” has gone from “Noun” to “Verb.” From “A Party” to “Let’s Party.” People today live to party. It would seem that they “Party” in order to be able to continue to live. Party has gone from event to lifestyle and a life necessity. Modern man doesn’t need much of a reason to party. In fact, he doesn’t need any reason at all. Any time is party time! It is man’s attempt to turn all of life in one big blast, which includes lots of jokes, mostly dirty, and of course the joy juice. It sure beats going to work, paying bills and doing laundry.
Except of course for the inevitable next-morning, head-splitting hangovers from being hung over! There may well be a hangover, but I assure you there will be no leftover of any semblance of true joy, for it wasn’t anywhere near the essence of true joy to begin with. And yet even Monday night football on ABC, which is sponsored by beer commercials, is made to look like a big, hard- hitting boozy bash. Are you ready for some football? Let’s party! I mean, how can you enjoy football without a beer in one hand and a really sexy looking woman in the other? Gives a whole new meaning to Monday Night Football and making a pass!
THE JOY OF GOD’S PRESENCE
We must read some awesomely stunning words in Psalm 16:11,
“In Thy (God) presence is fullness of joy; in Thy right
hand there are pleasures forever.”
All of this is really a huge grabber when we allow ourselves to hear what is being said. It is one of the most revealing passages in all of the Word of God about where true and full joy can alone be found. In fact, a state of being where man can experience “The Fullness of Joy.” Could there really be such a state of being where joy is total and complete? Sounds too good to be true! And for a bonus, eternal pleasures! Pleasure in this world is always so sporadic and brief, for that ever present pleasure-ender called “Pain” seems always to be just around the next corner.
Every man, I don’t care who he is or how stoic he might appear, if he were gut-level honest with himself, desperately longs for and searches for joy. We all want that sensation of happiness. Therefore man will do almost anything and everything to produce that sensation whatever that is. Make me happy, make my happy – that strange reverberation of body and soul.
When a man goes out to get drunk, he is looking for peace and joy that he thinks he will find in that alcoholic blur. When a woman frantically sticks the needle in her veins, looking for peace and happiness, she thinks she can find what is missing her life through that drug rush. Maybe one more “Scotch on the Rocks” after many too rocks have already tumbled into his glass. Perhaps one more “Hit” will do the trick when her arm already looks like a railroad track. Trying to find joy by being soused and stoned is like trying to hit a moving target blindfolded. And all that the drunk and the druggie get in the end is a rotted liver and a fried brain.
Others by the zillions believe that the latest stuff will bring the joy that they are searching for. But as one young lad wrote to Ann Landers, “Since when does money mean happiness. The kids at my school who have the expensive cars and the designers clothes are the most miserable.”
People hear the words of Psalm 16:11, and they light up and say, “Oh yes indeed, that is what I am looking for, joy and pleasures. But that is all they see! Forget all of this “Presence of God” verbiage. Just give me joy and pleasure thank you. I can do without the Presence of God stuff.
So today, the modern church obliges. Especially those feel-good religionists love the sound of the “J” and the “P” words – Joy and Pleasure. Yes, yes, yes, joy and pleasure, which is why the “Feel Good Gospel” of the 21st century church is so popular. That has become the end purpose of much of the modern church. Church should always be a happy and a pleasurable experience. Even we churchy kind can be controlled by our sensory apparatus just as much as the world. Many people go to churches today to get their Saturday night or Sunday morning religious joy-rush and feel-good hit for the week ahead.
But both the modern world and the modern church miss the whole point of Psalm 16:11. Look at it closely again:
“In Thy presence is fullness of joy; in Thy right hand there
are pleasures forever.”
The very same thing is taught in Psalm 21:6,
“Thou didst make him joyful with gladness
in Thy presence.”
We tend to think of joy as a place or an experience, like a summer vacation at the beach or a victory in football by your favorite university team on a Saturday autumn afternoon. Go Blue! While both of those things give a measure of joy, summer vacation ends and the next fall weekend your Alma Mater gets trounced. Then at the end of autumn, the colorful foliage in Michigan begins to look a bit bland and tired. We all know what dead leaves on the ground mean as we are now more and more waking up in the morning chill.
“TRUE AND FULL JOY IS NOT AN EVENT OR A PLACE! JOY
IS THE PRESENCE OF GOD.”
Let’s get something straight here. God is not a “Killjoy.” He alone is the “Fulljoy.” God Himself and in Himself is pure, full, perfect joy. He is the completely joyful God. Otherwise there would be no joy in His presence, let alone fullness of joy. To too many people, churched and unchurched, God is a stuffy wet blanket Who douses man’s joy and rains on his parades. To many, He is only a God of discipline but no delight. Tragic! It is a devilish and destructive misrepresentation of God. And so man continues to look for joy in in all of the wrong places.
Joy is not something you can reach by car or airplane. If we travel for joy, we will never truly or fully find it. So much for Cancun and Hawaii! Joy is not something you hunt for, catch it, box it and then say, “Aloha, I have finally got joy.” Joy is never over there! No, true joy only comes when we fellowship with God Himself through the blood of Jesus Christ who alone brings us to our “Father Joy-God.” That is why when the Son of God was incarnated and then born in Bethlehem, we read the angel saying to the shepherds in Luke 2:10,
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which
shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has
been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The song writer sings it best:
“I have ceased from my wandr’ing and going astray, since Jesus
came into my heart; and my sins which were many are
all washed away, since Jesus came into my heart.”
“Since Jesus came into my heart, since Jesus came into my heart,
floods of joy o’er my soul like the sea billows roll,
since Jesus came into my heart.”
Washed away! All my sins washed away! The only reason that many Christians aren’t flooded with the full joy of salvation is that they really aren’t able to fully believe the soul-cleansing, sin-forgiving Gospel of Jesus Christ. The “Accuser of the Brethern” (Revelation 12:10) continues to drumbeat into their heads like Hell’s percussion the haunting reminders of their sins. He continues to assault our minds by pointing with his florescent markers to those past moments of unbridled sin in our lives. It is not possible to rejoice and be embarrassed at the same time. Ole Satan wants us to be sad sacks, not glad saints. We must daily come against him by testifying what the Word of God says that the blood does for us. (Revelation 12:11) And the Word of God says this in I John 1:7,
“…and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.”
Don’t you see it? If Satan, who has no joy and is a miserable wretch, can keep us bottled up in guilt and shame, the gap between God and ourselves is never fully bridged in our hearts. That is what the Devil is after, to keep us separated from God, as he himself eternally is, for that is where real joy alone can be found. Another song writer put it this way,
“I have found the pleasure I once craved, it is joy and peace
within; what a wondrous blessing! I am saved
from the awful gulf of sin.”
“It is joy unspeakable and full of glory, full of glory, full of
glory; it is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
oh the half as never been told.”
Problem is that in our natural state, sin is like an ocean separating us from God. Breaker after breaker of sin and shame roll over our lives slamming and shipwrecking us against the rocks and reefs of guilt and despair. We can’t get to the joy of God’s presence because we can’t stay above the swells and killer waves of condemnation. But praise be to God that Jesus by His blood has removed that threatening and shark infested oceanic span between ourselves and God. Jesus has removed “The Gulf of Sin.” It is better known as “The Atonement” – “At-one-ment” with God.
This is what we must understand with the song writer – we are saved from the awful gulf of sin. When we accept that awesome fact, it is then that we discover that:
“JOY IS A BONUS OF COMING TO GOD, THE SIDE EFFECT OF
DIVINE-HUMAN FELLOWSHIP. JOY IS THERE BECAUSE
WE HAVE INTIMACY WITH GOD THE SOURCE OF
ALL JOY THROUGH HIS SON OUR SAVIOR.”
FULLY PRESENT TO GOD
No, no, no, don’t think either that joy comes by pushing the “Jesus-Joy Button” when you’re low on joy. When in fact you are spending most of your time watching the Network Cyclops in your family room! In most modern “Religious Homes,” what surface joy there is would instantly dry up with the suspension of TV privileges. (That is if watching TV can even be considered a privilege.) God cannot be an interruption or commercial in our lives, He has to be our life. God is not a “Happy Meal.” Happy-meal religion lasts about as long as it takes you to get to the next fast food fix. Hear this:
“TO COME INTO THE FULL JOY OF GOD’S PRESENCE,
WE MUST BE FULLY PRESENT TO GOD.”
We must finally grasp the fact that true joy is a “Divine Presence” reality. We all must practice His presence in constant prayer-fellowship to find that “Divine Joyland.” That is also why two of the shortest and most powerful verses in the Bible are married and must always be seen and practiced together and never divorced. We read in I Thessalonians 5:16 and 17,
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing.”
In order to do the former, we must perpetually do the latter. You cannot have one without the other. Folded hands and bended knees have everything to do with joyful hearts! So says the Psalmist in Psalm 105:3-4,
“Glory in His holy name; let the heart of those who seek the Lord be
glad. Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face continually.”
All of this is why earlier in Psalm 16:11 we read the Psalmist saying,
“I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my
right hand, I shall not be shaken.”
You cannot be shook up and really joyful at the same time. The Psalmist David learned to practice the presence of God as key to open the door to unshaken peace and joy’s fullness.
I recall the day when I first saw the fullness of the joy of God’s presence being lived out and practiced in a human life. My dear wife Ruthie and I were given the high privilege, while associate pastoring at First Assembly of God in Grand Rapids, Michigan, of hosting God’s missionary to Calcutta, India – Mark Buntain. From the moment we greeted him at the arrival gate in Kent County International Airport, we were impacted instantly with the realization that rejoicing in the Lord is by no means subtle. I had never met before the pure opulence of joy! Even before we shook Mark Buntain’s hand, we were hit with gale-force winds of unrestrained joy.
What am I talking about? From the first moment we introduced ourselves to him, to get a word in edgewise, we had to somehow insert ourselves into his God-Joy celebration. “Hallelujah, praise you Jesus, thank you Lord,” he shouted. Joyfully the praise volleys continued to roll non-stop out of his heart and mouth as we made our way to the luggage claim. Once there, with every suitcase that was spit out of the luggage conveyer, whether it was his or not, another “Hallelujah” poured forth from his mouth. I remember feeling the need to distance myself from this by now “Mark-ed Man.”
Then once in the car, the “Fullness-of-Joy Crescendo” really took off. This man, who I thought must have been on some kind of joy-juice, now added to it all his constant and vigorous hand clapping. When we stopped at red lights, the people in the cars next to us I could tell were looking at this smiling-from-ear-to-ear, praising, hand clapping, constantly animated phenom from who knows where. He obviously was fully present to God and God was fully present to Him. He was the first person I ever met who was the personification of Philippians 4:4,
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
SATURATED WITH DIVINE JOY
When we read in Psalm 16:11 about the “Fullness” of joy in God’s presence, the Hebrew word there for “Fullness” is “Soba” which means “Satiety” or “Saturation.” If you will, “To Be Satiated With Joy,” or, “To Be Saturated With Joy.” This isn’t just any kind of joy. This is “Soba Joy.” That word “Soba” is used only here in Psalm 16:11. The point being that in intimate fellowship with God, there is an “Exotic Joy” that cannot be explained or contained. It refers to intensity as well as quantity of joy. “Soba Joy” is everything and more that man is looking for in all the wrong places and never finding. Therefore Psalm 16:11 could also read like this,
“In Thy presence there is saturating, satiating joy….”
This is not a moderate joy. It is downright immoderate. It is a joy glut that never ends. It wouldn’t even be barely adequate to say that Christians are joy trillionaires. That would be terribly cheapen the infinite joy of the Lord’s presence.
What can best illustrate this Christian life of excessive joy? I realize that it is better felt than telt, which is why we are told in I Peter 1:8 that the joy in the believer’s life is like this,
“…you rejoice with a joy inexpressible and full of glory.”
It is not possible to adequately put the joy of the Lord into words. You could be an English major and still be tongue-tied when it comes to articulating the joy of God’s presence. In fact, you could be multi-lingual including speaking in tongues, and still be left speechless in the presence of such supernatural joy. At best, the joy of the Lord makes us look like drooling, grinning babies.
But let me try to illustrate the fullness of joy! The Apostle Paul in Romans 8:15 writes,
“…but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which
we cry out, ‘Abba! Father.’ ”
This to me is the pure essence of joy’s overflowing cup in the Christian life. In short, only when we learn to relate to God as our loving Abba, our loving Father, our loving Daddy, like our children do with their Daddy and Mommy, only then can we come into this fullness of joy. Like in the morning when our little children swarm onto our bed to hug our parental necks, peer into our sleepy parental eyes, and pat Daddy’s unshaven and Mommy’s unvarnished faces as they squeal with childlike delight. There it is, the closest thing to “Soba Joy” in the whole world. “Daaaaaddy, Mommeeeee,” they cry, crawling all over us like monkeys and then snuggling with us while laughing and chattering the whole time. Nobody loves us like Daaaaaddy and Mommeeeee.
While it is true that nobody on earth loves us like Daaaaaddy and Mommeeeee, it is equally true that Daaaaaddy and Mommeeeee cannot begin to equal Abba Father’s love for His children. That is exactly why we can and should can into our Heavenly Father’s presence each new day with squealing, childlike delight! Except you become like a little child. Fullness of joy crying out, “Abba Father.”
Fullness of joy comes from fullness of love. You see, Jesus our Savior by His precious blood has brought us into the presence of Abba Father who is “Love.” We read in I John 4:8and 16,
“God is love.”
It doesn’t say that God has love. It says that God is love. When you go to Abba Father in prayer and fellowship, you never get just a little extra loving. No! You experience the perfect fullness of love. We are never just loved by God, but rather, we are satiated-saturated with His love. This is exactly what the Apostle John means in I John 1:3-4,
“…what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also
may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the
Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we
write unto you that your joy may be made complete.”
While God is our loving Heavenly Father, he also loves like a mother. His love is the best of both. We read of God saying in Isaiah 66:13,
“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall
be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Nobody can kiss away an owie like mother can. No offense to Mom, but someone can kiss away an owie far better than she can. God alone has the perfect mother’s touch and the perfect mother’s kiss. And I know that our loving Father God tucks us into bed at night with His kiss and tells us that He loves us, that He will be watching over us, and that no matter how bad the day has been or how ominous tomorrow may loom, everything will be good. (Romans 8:28) I mean, it is one thing when Daddy and Mommy say it. It is quite another when Almighty God our Father says it. That my friend is the extremity of joy and peace! It just doesn’t get any better than that. “Soba-Abba Joy.”
There awaits you my friend an exquisite joy in the presence of God that will fill your soul even as God fills the universe. Excuse me for being so personal, but I am sitting up in my loft study with my window open. We live in a forested area where wildlife abounds and birds of all sorts daily sing their choruses. We have lived here for over six years now, and all of that time there has been a husband and wife cardinal team who I can tell deeply love each other and who bless us with their beauty and their songs. Mr. Cardinal will often sit on a branch of the silver maple just outside my office, and sing his heart out. I love it!
The Psalmist states in Psalm 104:12 about the birds,
“They lift up their voices among the branches.”
Then he concludes in Psalm 104:33,
“I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God
while I have any being.”
The psalmist has learned what I am learning from Mr. Cardinal. Mr. Cardinal is not singing for me. I just happen to be one beneficiary of his being one of God’s gifted hymnbirds. He is singing his joyful praises to the Lord in whose presence among the branches he lives and worships each day. There is just something about his singing that makes God so close and real. I have to admit that I find myself now joining in with him in my own joyous whistle songs to the Lord. I follow his lead, and he leads me right into the presence of his Maker and mine. I must admit that I miss him when he is not singing, though I know he is nearby somewhere with his wife. Perhaps he is simply waiting once and a while for my leading him into joy! Excuse me, I hear him, he is at it again, and I have to join him. Bye for now and may the joy of the Lord be your strength!