“What exactly is enjoying God?” Bill asked as we leaned over the back of the bleachers and watched our kids at T-ball. A good question, I thought, and I was a little embarrassed that I had not answered it after a month of study with our Saturday night group. I was even more embarrassed as I realized I didn’t have a ready answer.
“What do you think?” I was stalling.
“Music.” Bill is not much on elaborate conversation. He is a Border Patrol Agent whose greatest joy is chasing down illegal aliens or drug smugglers. He is an out doorsy type and a self-described beginner in the faith. “It is that uncanny feeling you get every now and then when you are singing or just listening to music and . . . ZAP! you feel you have just been filled with the Spirit.”
I couldn’t do much better than that. At least, that was a beginning point. That was the beachhead of enjoying God. God may begin prompting us to enjoy Him by establishing this beachhead when we worship Him in public worship. God may then come and expand the beachhead on each day through daily personal worship and Bible exposure. Then He will work to remind us of his presence and cause us to enjoy Him all day long. This may come through reminders at coffee break, lunch, after work and a various times throughout the day. The Psalmist said (Psalms 119:164 ) “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.”
What do we enjoy?
We enjoy three things.
We enjoy things that stimulate our senses in a positive way. Like ice cream, and other things. This is the lowest form of pleasure. This is all that children know. That is why they cannot maintain happiness for more than a short period of time. If we are dependent on positive sensations we will often be wanting.
But God does not stimulate our senses at all. We can neither see nor hear him, touch nor smell him. Oh, a few saints have in a few isolated instances. But most of us will relate to a God that is outside of sensor range. That is why we call it faith.
The second level of enjoyment comes from a more mature appreciation. I enjoy watching tennis because I played tennis in high school and my experience allows me to appreciate the finer points of a great overhand smash or the skill touch of a well executed drop shot. I appreciate acoustic guitar music for much the same reason—I am a sing-around-the-campfire guitarist. I especially enjoy guitar music when I can see the distinctive lettering in old English style etched across the top of the guitar, “Martin, established 1833.” It was this same appreciation that caused my brother, Ric, to make an impulsive decision to purchase what looked like a tattered old guitar. It had that lettering on the top. Guitarists appreciate the fact that it stands for quality.
I used to love that old guitar. I had a shiny new one that looked much better, but the sound, the richness of that aged guitar . . . ahhh! The strings were close to the frets and easy to play, yet, they never buzzed. Only fine, hand-crafted instruments can boast that.
This level of appreciation or pleasure has nothing to do with sensory perception. The cheaper guitar is more pleasing to the senses (except the ears). The pleasure has to do with perceived value. I would probably enjoy that old guitar better even if it were banged up and scratched all over, because of the perceived value I attach to it. If I had never learned to play the guitar, or never learned the value of a genuine Martin, I would not receive such pleasure, such satisfaction from this old, beat-up instrument.
In this way, pleasure can be learned. Delight is a function of value and value can be learned. I do not appreciate a fine violin, even if it has all the craftsmanship of a fine guitar, because I don’t know anything about violins.
The more we value something, the more value we place on it.
This is why the more you know about God, the more you delight in Him. Learning his attributes, knowing his names, learning his Word contributes to our pleasure in God because the value we place on something is a function of how much we know about it. The more we know of His character, the easier it is to delight in Him. We may be sitting in an easy chair, or doctor’s office who is an hour behind schedule, or a traffic jam, it doesn’t matter. We can worship, appreciate, and delight in the God we enjoy.
Immature Christians can only delight in what God has done for them lately. They only value what they see, they do not treasure intrinsic value that goes beyond veneer. Children value ice cream more than broccoli. And a parent who does not serve the pleasures of ice cream or toys today is often accused by his child of gross injustice even though he has been exemplary every other day. Children are unable to say, “It is ok dad, I know you were busy today, I appreciate what you did for me yesterday and just the fact that you are my Dad.” In a similar way, less-mature believers only rejoice in God if he has done something spectacular recently. They have little appreciation for intrinsic value. This is why Jesus said, ( John 20:29) “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
The Zenith of Delight
More thrilling than fine acoustic guitar music played on an old Martin (they really do get better with age) is puppy love. What is it that makes puppy love so attractive? (Puppy love may not be the best term. I speak of that thrill in our first romantic encounter.)
Part of it has to do with the discovery of value mentioned above. We find someone who is sensational and we are ecstatic because of the value we place on our find.
But another factor must be present to send us through the roof. The feeling of value must be reciprocal. I must perceive that the person I value values me. If I don’t value them, I don’t care that they value me. In fact, I may not want them to value me. I may run from it. If I value them, but they do not value me, it is just a fantasy. It is just wishful thinking.
But the rocket fuel will ignite when someone I like likes me. That is puppy love at its best. There may not be a lot of commitment, but emotion is found in abundance. This is the joy John spoke of in his reciprocal relationship with people he had won to Christ or pastored. There was great joy in loving them and knowing they loved him:
“It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.” (2 John 1:4)
“I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” (2 John 1:12)
“It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth.” (3 John 1:3)
The Proverbs speak of the joy that a father has whose son delights in him. It is a good example of the joy in a human relationship that has mutual delight. The father delights in the son; the son delights in the dad:
“The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him.” (Proverbs 23:24)
If this is true on a human plane, how much more true with our relationship with God. We cannot delight in God unless we value Him. That is why it is important to learn of His character. But it is also true that we cannot delight in Him unless we realize he delights in us. A child cannot delight in a dad that he thinks is mad at him.
The person who enjoys God appreciates God’s character and is convinced that God delights in him. They have internalized Psalms 149:4 “For the Lord takes delight in his people.” There are other verses, as well, that speak of the Lord delighting in his people. Some have conditions:
Proverbs 11:20 “The Lord detests men of perverse heart but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.”
Psalms 22:8 “He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
I can imagine me singing songs about God. This verse says in heaven, God is singing songs about me.
Psalms 37:23 “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm;”
Proverbs 12:22 “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.”
Psalms 149:4 “For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.”
My favorite is Zephaniah 3:17. It is worthy of memorizing: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” I can imagine me singing songs about God. This verse says in heaven, God is singing songs about me. In heaven it is mutual love affair between believers and their God. It is not a one way love relationship, as we sometimes think.
I will have great delight in God when I realize He has great delight in me.
The zenith of delight comes when I realize that He who is my greatest delight, the treasure hidden in the field for which I sell everything, delights in me. I will have great delight in God when I realize He has great delight in me.
What does it take to sustain this delight? What is it that turns puppy love into the stuff that marriages—marriages that last—are made of?
I spoke somewhat despairingly of commitment earlier; now let me speak of its unique contribution to enjoying God. Committed love does not always burn as brightly as puppy love, but it always keeps burning. It includes the elements of puppy love—an appreciation for God and an awareness that he loves me. Nothing I could ever do or say or think could ever change that. But committed love goes a step further. It resolves to be loyal even when I don’t feel appreciation or appreciated. The key is not to exchange puppy love with commitment, but to add commitment to puppy love. This is mature love.
There is incredible pleasure in mature love: in appreciating someone and knowing that they delight in me, in knowing that we are committed to each other, in knowing that we are committed to enjoying one another. If you are not sure whether I am talking about the love of a man for his wife or of a man and his God, you are right.
But commitment alone can grow old. It can grow dry and stale, like bread that is left in the freezer too long. That is why we must make joy our goal and commitment our means. Otherwise, we run the awful risk of becoming lukewarm. We run the risk of having a marriage we are committed to, but bored with—and sorry we got into. We run the risk of becoming first-class Pharisees. We need to keep a little puppy love in every relationship. Dan Hayes speaks eloquently of this sin of making the gospel boring:8
Christians have done the one thing to Christianity and Christ that even Christ’s enemies couldn’t do. Christ’s enemies scourged Him, mocked Him, beat Him, tried Him falsely, hung Him on a cross, jammed a crown of thorns on His side, and finally sealed Him in a stone cold tomb. After His resurrection, His enemies even denied He had ever existed.
We Christians have done Christ a worse service. We haven’t killed Him, but we have made Him boring. Instead of Christianity being perceived as the most exciting thing in the universe, we have portrayed it as lukewarm and dull.
We must oppose a boring Christianity at all cost.
Instead of pointing to Christ and saying, “Hey, He is the greatest things since roller skates!” we Christians have become just like everyone else, in pursuit of the American dream, while trying to baptize it with Christian cliches. Consequently, those who don’t know Christ can legitimately ask the question, “Why would I want to become a Christian? There doesn’t seem to be anything very different about those who are.”
We must oppose a boring Christianity at all cost. We must stand steadfast instead for a Christianity that is alive and thrilling to its participants. We must speak only of a Christianity that is joy. I promise you that the years you spend enjoying God will be the best years of your life. You will never regret them. You will only regret that you did not exchange more years of serving self for years of enjoying God.
8Dan Hayes, Fireseeds of Spiritual Awakening, Quoted from a magazine; I don’t know the title, volume or page.