“You will fill me with joy in your presence,” says the psalmist. (Psalm 16:11) Joy is an emotion that usually flows from something that gives us pleasure or makes us happy.
Over the years I have experienced joy in a variety of ways — when I proposed to my wife on a snowy Christmas eve; when I witnessed the birth of our five children; when I received a promotion in my work; when I used to hit a good golf shot; when the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl (years ago); when I have had the courage to share about God’s grace and the saving power of Jesus Christ; and when I do something for someone else instead of myself.
The world tends to look at joy in terms of pleasure, good fortune and success. Even Webster defines joy by using these terms.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that if we obey his commands we will remain in his love and our joy will be complete. He says we should follow his example.
“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s command and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11)
Remaining in Jesus’ love and obeying his commands results in a joy that is complete. It is ongoing. It gives rise to a general state of happiness and well-being regardless of the circumstances. It is a joy that survives setbacks, disappointments and even tragedies.
Many years ago some people prayed with me at a Life in the Spirit program to experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit in my life. I drove home in a blinding snow storm on the curvy and hilly roads of northern Westchester County, NY. I could barely see beyond the hood of my car. Because I was so filled with joy from experiencing God’s presence in the Holy Spirit, that blizzard didn’t bother me one bit.
As Jesus suggests, it is God’s presence that is the source of our joy. The more we are in his presence, the greater potential we have to experience that joy. We can seek his presence through prayer, scripture, and the sacraments and in joining with other Christians in his name.
But perhaps the best way to experience God’s presence is simply to seek him at all times in our thoughts, in our work, in our time with others, in whatever we are doing. If our life is a constant dialog with the person of Jesus, we will be in his presence, and our joy will be complete.
“You fill me with joy in your presence.”