By Mary Kirkwood
Psalm 16:11 says, “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
Do you have fullness of joy? If not, ask yourself, Am I in His presence? Maybe you don’t feel fullness of joy if you recently lost a loved one, suffered a broken relationship, or had your job terminated. This is normal. It is difficult to feel joy in the midst of a funeral, a divorce or a firing.
I have always had a problem relating to people who never seem to feel any emotion–who never laugh and never cry. Ecclesiastes 3:4 tell us there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” This suggests that there is a legitimate time for sorrow and grief. It is just a time, not a lifetime. Be careful not to deny those who suffer a great loss an appropriate time to grieve. After all, God is the one who created us with emotions.
But, the Bible is clear that joy is also our right as believers and we are not to live a miserable life. I worked at a Christian college for a time when I was first married, and met a young man, a fellow employee, who always appeared depressed. He would shut other employees out of his life by ignoring them, looking at the floor a lot, and seeming “down” every day. When someone would question him about his depressed attitude, he would often reply with a scripture, taken out of context, to make others believe he was more spiritual than they. He believed that to be spiritual, one should not laugh or smile or have fun. It has been twelve years since then, and my husband still sees this man at work regularly. He has gotten worse. He never smiles or laughs and rarely speaks to anyone. He is a poor testimony to the love and joy of Christ. His behavior is not Biblical; it is insane. He appears to believers and unbelievers alike to be clinically depressed and beyond help. Although he believes himself to be more spiritual than the rest of his peers, he reflects not the joy of Christ, but a borderline psychosis. The most severe psychotics are those who are called catatonic. They have withdrawn so fully from the human experience that they many times don’t speak at all, don’t participate in any “normal” activities, and appear to feel absolutely no emotion at all. They are the hardest cases to reach.
As believers, we are supposed to exhibit and reflect to others the joy we have due to Christ! Not due to our problem-free life or our unrealistic optimism. Acts 16 tells us of Paul and Silas’s imprisonment due to their preaching the gospel and their subsequent beating (v. 22, 23). After receiving “many stripes upon them,” they both prayed and sang hymns in their prison cell. And the Bible says, “…the prisoners heard them,” (v. 25). What a great testimony! The prison keeper trusted Christ due to their witness!
When I am tempted to feel down or depressed, I often repeat this portion of the verse to myself: “…In His presence is fullness of joy.” Then I ask myself the very two questions that began this article:
I believe one cannot have fullness of joy without being in His presence. People and circumstances can only give you partial joy because the world is not perfect and people are flawed. Frederick Price, a television preacher out of Los Angeles, says that one study tool he has found helpful to better understand scripture is simply to flip-flop a verse or phrase. If “In His presence is fullness of joy,” then out of His presence is not! It is that simple. Apart from Christ, life can be miserable. My mother and father always told me “Don’t look to people to make you happy. They will always disappoint you. Only look to Christ.” They are so right!
My parents tell me that I cried the entire first week of my life. Perhaps they wanted to give me back to the hospital that week! The doctors found no reason for me to be so upset. I guess I never did like change! But, as a melancholic, it is often difficult to maintain a joyful attitude. I cannot do it without help from the Lord through prayer and Scripture. It is His presence. It is His fullness. It is His joy.
Wherever you are and whatever is going on around you, you can choose to be in His presence and know His fullness of joy. Even at a funeral. Even in a crisis. Even through your tears. Maintain your close relationship with Him through prayer, Bible study, and regular attendance at a sound, Bible-teaching, Grace assembly. Meditate on His Word. Memorize Scripture. Fill your heart with hymns. Stay in His presence and you will have fullness of joy!