I recently had the pleasure and privilege of preaching the Sunday morning sermon at the small nondenominational church where our family attends. The topic I chose was “The Fullness of Joy.” You can listen to and/or download the sermon/notes by clicking here. I spoke about the fact that every human is on a continual quest for happiness, quoting Blaise Pascal who said:
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This (pursuit of happiness) is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
~ Blaise Pascal, Pensees
The Bible give a prescription for finding joy, which is ultimate happiness. In the Psalms David the shepherd boy who became King said this as he was speaking to the Almighty:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
~ Psalm 16:11 ESV
“In your presence there is fullness of joy.” Who doesn’t want the fullness of joy? Isn’t this, ultimately, the thing for which we all seek? And if David is correct, what does it mean to be in God’s presence? Of course, Christians believe, when we die, we will be in Heaven with God immediately. We can look forward to this wonderful life. But in this psalm David wasn’t talking about the future. He was expressing how he felt about his current life and his relationship to God. Evidently (if we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and that David wasn’t simply exaggerating) it is possible to walk and live in God’s presence, and it is possible to experience joy on a regular basis.
One person who discovered this was Nicholas Herman, better known as Brother Lawrence, who lived in France during the 1600’s. He was converted at a young age while looking at a barren tree in the winter and considering how, in a few months, the tree would be full of leaves. This caused him to think deeply about the majesty of God. Nicholas believed that God wanted him to blossom into a fuller life of faith and fruitfulness. He eventually entered the monastery, took on the religious name of Brother Lawrence, and came to live a simple life of ceaseless devotion to his Lord. Brother Lawrence began the practice of constantly turning his mind to God, believing that God was always present with him and thereby living a life of continual peace and happiness. Even though he lived in relative obscurity, people started coming to him and writing letters to him asking for guidance and wisdom. Shortly after his death, Father Joseph de Beaufort compiled some interview transcripts and letters written by Brother Lawrence into a book titled The Practice of the Presence of God. This little book has become a classic in Christian literature. It can be purchased or downloaded for free by clicking here. I wholeheartedly recommend this resource to anyone who is seeking a deeper relationship with God. The language is a bit antiquated but, with a little effort, you can interpret his meanings and feel the passion Brother Lawrence is expressing. A newer modern English translation by Robert Elmer can be purchased here.
I leave you with this excerpt from the classic version of The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence in which he explains the joys this lifestyle brings:
As for what passes in me at present, I cannot express it. I have no pain or difficulty about my state, because I have no will but that of GOD, which I endeavour to accomplish in all things, and to which I am so resigned, that I would not take up a straw from the ground against His order, or from any other motive but purely that of love to Him.
I have quitted all forms of devotion and set prayers but those to which my state obliges me. And I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to GOD, which I may call an actual presence of GOD; or, to speak better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with GOD, which often causes in me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them, and prevent their appearance to others.
~ Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, Second Letter