• Greg Smith

Coram Deo

If someone were to ask you, “where is the happiest place on earth,” what would you tell them? Ask a kid or anyone that has been to a special place in central Florida and they will tell you with a big smile – Disneyworld! I worked in Tampa, Florida for twelve weeks when I was in college. The place I worked was in Tampa harbor, right on the water. We made pre-stress concrete bridge girders and piling and shipped much of our product on barges from our docks. I could look out the window from our small little shanty of an office and watch people snorkel and spearfish. You always felt somewhat like you were on vacation. I went to Disneyworld twice while I worked there and it was a very pleasant experience. As happy of a place as that may be if you vacation there, I would argue that it is not the happiest place on earth. Today I hope to challenge you to think about that question and consider whether you know where that happiest place really is.


During one day during rains in May, day after day after day, I was taking advantage of the time to read. Now that I am retired, rainy days are the days I read the most. I was reading an article from one pastor who said someone had recently come to him and in all earnestness asked him the question, “What is the big idea of the Christian life?” This man wanted to know what the overarching, ultimate goal of the Christian life was about.


The pastor said he told the man, “The big idea of the Christian life is coram Deo. Coram Deo captures the essence of the Christian life.” I had no clue what the man was talking about myself and I venture to guess the man the pastor was talking to did not either but it creatively opened up the man’s curiosity and allowed the pastor to share a deep truth with the man. If this phrase depicts the big idea of the Christian life as the pastor said then it would likely be important to know what it is, right? Coram Deo is a Latin phrase that basically means “in the presence of God” or “before the face of God”. To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. So, what does that mean you may ask?


To live in the presence of God is to understand that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, we are acting under the gaze of God. There is a theological word that describes this attribute of God. That word is “omnipresent”. There is no place so remote that we can escape the penetrating gaze of God.


To live all of life coram Deo is to live a life of integrity under that gaze. It is a life of wholeness that finds unity, purpose, and coherency in the majesty of God. A fragmented life on the other hand is a life marked by inconsistency, disharmony, confusion, conflict, contradiction and chaos. That is not the life you wish to live.


Any Christian that compartmentalizes his or her life into two sections; one for religious and one for nonreligious, has failed to grasp this big idea about life in the presence of God. The big idea is that all of life is religious or none of life is religious. (Read that sentence again.) Dividing your life between the religious and the nonreligious will prevent you from living a truly happy life. You may have moments of happiness but you will not live a joyful, happy life that God desires for you as His beloved child.


If a person fulfills his or her vocation making diapers for KC, soup for Campbells, a homemaker, a truck driver, a welder, a computer technician, an administrative assistant, a school teacher, a nurse, etc., and does it coram Deo, then that person is acting every bit as religiously as any preacher you may have heard of today. David was as religious when he obeyed God’s call to be a shepherd as he was when he was anointed with the special grace of kingship. Jesus was every bit as religious when He worked in His earthly father’s carpenter shop when a teenager as He was in the Garden of Gethsemane. Why? Because He did it in the presence of God and to the glory of God, not unto man.


Integrity is found where men and women live their lives in a pattern of consistency. You notice no real difference in their life in church vs. out of church. The old saying, “You are only the Christian you are Monday through Saturday”, wholly applies to them. It is a life that is open before God. They are not constantly on a roller coaster. They live a life in which all they do is done as Paul tells us in Colossians 3:23 (KJV):


“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men”.


They seem to have a happiness and contentment regardless of the situation they are in because they do everything as unto the Lord. They live a life by principle and humility before God. A friend of mine that worked with me at KC wrote me a letter upon my retirement in May 2018 and in that letter, he used Colossians 3:23, thanking me for that type approach which he saw in my all those years. If you have never thought much about this simple verse, I pray you begin to do so today. There is a great truth in this verse that can lead to happiness, consistency, and integrity in your life. Doing so will also help you experience another key verse in God’s Word. Today may be a work day with a tight deadline but, “today is a day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24).


The one who lives their life “coram Deo” is one who lives as David said in Psalm 84:10 (NIV):


“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”


As David wrote this, remember that his heart’s desire was to build a temple for God. God did not allow that but instead told him that his son, Solomon, would build it. Why was the temple so symbolic to David and the people of Israel? It was to be the home of God. It was to be where “the presence of the Lord dwelt continuously”. David was saying that just one day in God’s courts would be better than a thousand days anywhere else. He was saying he would literally rather simply be the doorkeeper in the house where the presence of God dwelt than to live wickedly for personal pleasure. A dear friend of mine would comment regularly that he would gladly be the doorkeeper to God’s home in heaven as long as that meant he was on the “inside” of God’s home.


Saint Augustine said in his writings knows as “Confessions” that “all men want to be happy”. But not all are happy because they do no seek happiness in the place where it can be found. The Bible tells us where it can be found. David says that happiness is found “in the presence of God”.


Anyone that exercises or works out much knows that a muscle grows from lifting weights, but is strengthened most by repetition. The Christian on this life journey that sees God frequently and knows Him daily is strengthened by that repetition. A hiker is glad when they find a rut or path. What makes a rut or path? Frequent travel upon that route. The more frequent the use, the clearer the path. Only finding this happiness on Sunday will not provide you a clear path. The happy Christian man or woman does not have just small ruts or paths, they have highways to walk because of the frequency at which they walk that way.


Not all paths are through a lush, green, forest. Some paths are through the barren desert. David referenced the valley of Baca in Psalm 84:6. He says that even this barren place has springs of water flowing through it because he recognizes the presence of the Lord is even there in the desert. An old Scottish Presbyterian preacher by the name of Samuel Rutherford knew exactly what David was talking about. He was imprisoned in the 1600’s for his preaching in Aberdeen, Scotland. At the top of his letters from that prison he wrote, “God’s palace, Aberdeen”. Prison had turned into a palace for Rutherford because he knew the presence of God there.


I recognize some days will be better than others. God gives us those highs to give us just a small taste of our ultimate blessed destination. That joy filled eternity at the marriage feast that the Father is preparing for His Son and His bride.


Regardless of the job or occupation you have, whether you are married, divorced or single, whether you are in great health or not, you can be happy. That happiest place on earth is coram Deo. That happiest place on earth is “in the presence of the Lord”. Live your life in His presence NOW. Don’t ignore God. Don’t hide from Him as Adam and Eve did after their disobedience in the garden. Don’t just try to be in His presence on Sunday morning and ignore Him the rest of the week. Dwell in God’s presence every day, seven days per week, twenty-four hours per day. That is what Christ wants for you on this earth. In God’s presence you get to “know Him”. Jesus prayed “this is eternal life, to know the Father and the Son whom He sent” (John 17:3). Know Him now. Live in His presence and be happy, gloriously happy! God created you to praise Him and He knows you will praise Him best when happy in Him. He wants you to be happy just as you want your own children to be happy. Not happy as the world sees happiness but happy as God sees it. Only in the presence of God will you truly be happy. Live Coram Deo!


Greg

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