A devotional written for the Echoes International Magazine in 2018.
There is a regrettable tendency amongst us, as Christians, to give thanks to God for what he has done, and to rejoice in the redemption that is ours, at the expense of something which is even greater. It is not that glorifying God for his work of salvation is wrong, but the ultimate reason for our joy lies not in what God has done, but in who God is. The Westminster Confession sums this up in this way, that the “chief end” of humanity is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever”.
In some ways it is, of course, impossible to draw a line between God’s character and God’s actions. However, focusing on what God has done can lead to a very anthropocentric view of redemption, where we begin to see ourselves and our eternal future as the centre and heart of things. We need instead to ensure that we have a truly theocentric understanding of our faith, and continually remind ourselves that the centre of all things is God himself. In a very real sense, God is worthy of our praise and worship as our creator, even if he were not also our redeemer.
Indeed, we were created to enjoy the presence of God, to know the reality of nearness to the almighty. It is, therefore, only natural that human beings should find joy there; the fact that all too often we do not, speaks of the reality of sin which dulls our understanding and appreciation of who God is.
In being created for God’s presence, we also were created for worship and praise. God does not need our praise, but to be truly human we need to praise God. It is in praise and worship that we can “come near to God” and experience the joy that can only come through close communion with him.
David recognised this. In Psalm 16, he gives us the necessary starting point for knowing joy in God’s presence, “you alone are my portion and my cup”. Without humbly recognising, and living out the reality that God alone is all we need, if we allow anything or anyone else to take his place at the centre, then joy will always be lacking. David then makes two statements of intent, to “praise the Lord” and always to “keep his eyes” on him. These two intentions are what leads to his experience of joy in the presence of God.
So David can talk of “pleasant places” and a “delightful inheritance”, as well as a reliable security in which he can rest. But the culmination of this is that David knows that it is God alone who “will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand”.
It is our privilege to be able to experience now the true joy of the presence of God, and our hope that this joy will be even more profound in eternity. Like David, this is an act of humility and an act of will; both of which are necessary as part of our disciplined Christian life if we wish to know the joy that comes through being in his presence.