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The Christian life is either easy or impossible. It is either a day-to-day struggle that you are no doubt losing, or it is a delightful paradise of buoyant emotion. It either pulls you up with tremendous power to overcome all kinds of obstacles and circumstances, or it is a very heavy load. Jesus taught that if it is a heavy load, you purchased the wrong product: "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:30). If Christianity is very heavy for you, this book is for you. I have written it with the hope that it will result in making your burden lighter.
The Puritans wisely wrote:
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
C.S. Lewis wrote in a letter to a friend:
It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.(1)
David said it this way:
"Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalms 37:4
And Paul thought this concept so important he had to repeat himself:
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Philippians 3:1
"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" Philippians 4:4
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field." Matthew 13:44
In the angels' announcement to the shepherds, they introduced the gospel as a gospel of joy:
"But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.'" Luke 2:10
It is clear from these quotes that enjoying God is a big part of what the Christian life is all about. It might even be the most duty of every believer. Yet, enjoying God still seemed a strange concept to me. I understood obeying God, serving God, worshiping God, glorifying God, even loving God.
But enjoying God?
I enjoy a good book, good ice cream, and good music. I enjoyed it when the Cowboys spanked the Redskins, especially at RFK. Somehow God just didn't seem to fit. What does it mean to enjoy God? And how do I do it? And what about obedience and holiness? It seemed I had more questions than answers.
I began asking Christians if they enjoy God. I got blank stares. I may as well have asked if they support the infralapsarian view of predestination, as opposed to the supralapsarian view.(2) It just didn't compute. The early church was so happy on Pentecost that outsiders accused them of being drunk, but they have never accused any church I have known of that. Asleep maybe, but not so happy they appear drunk. There are some interesting implications of this in terms of the growth of the church, but that is another book.
And no wonder I got blank stares. I didn't really understand the question, much less the answer. How could I expect anything but blank stares? No one ever heard of enjoying God.
Enjoying God sounds irreverent. Enjoying God sounds too much like fun. And fun, although fun, is never to be confused with virtue. Virtue is about righteousness and holiness. Ball parks and play ground are about fun. They are blocks away from church. But should they be?
Fun may not be the right word. Fun speaks primarily of joy that comes through the senses, and that is not what I am referring to. But fun is closer to the idea than "no-fun". In other words, if we were taking one of those tests that asks us to match the word that most closely approximates the meaning of the given word, fun would be closer to the meaning of Christianity than no-fun.
I have heard air-tight definitions of pleasure, fun, joy, and happiness that have no overlap at all--as if these were completely separate concepts. Some would pretend that there is no similarity between happiness, fun, pleasure and joy. There may be some differences that scholars and linguistics understand, but for the rest of us, these are simply words that make us smile. This book is not about learning these subtle differences. It is about finding our smiles in God. I have heard people try to persuade me that they had joy, although they hardly ever smiled. "Joy is something very deep within, completely different from happiness." I do not doubt that is true for them. I only want to say that this is not what I am talking about. I am talking about a joy that will turn the corners of your mouth up and make people think you are drunk.
I understand there is a time for grief. I understand the scripture calls upon us to be sober-minded. I am not talking about being slap-happy, like giggly seventh-grade girls when the team's quarterback walks in the room. But I am talking about a joy that is visible and felt. I am talking about emotions.
God created us emotional beings. No, I am not sure that is right. He Himself is an emotional being. A God who is happy, who laughs, and a God who can be grieved. He created us in His image. That is why we are emotional. Why do we run from emotions?
If Christian living is not enjoyable, if prayer is not a pleasure, if service is not our joy, we are in trouble at the heart of our Christian walk. There are many verses that speak to this. Here are two:
"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands 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)
There is an incredible promise related to enjoying God:
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalms 37:4
It is easy to read this verse and concentrate on the last part. That is what we want, to get the desire of our heart. But it is almost impossible to delight in the Lord when our motive is to receive the desire of our heart. The want of our own desires keeps us from delighting in Him.
If a person does begin to delight in the Lord, God will surely fulfill His promise. He will give him the desire of his heart. There is a subtle temptation at this point that prevents many from enjoying God over the long haul. We delight in God; He gives us the desire of our heart; we begin to delight in the gifts He gives; we cease delighting in the Lord. We are delighting in the things He provides.
The same could happen in a family. As a son pleases his dad, the dad is motivated to do nice things for his son. He lavishes him with toys and ice cream--the desires of his heart. Soon, the son may begin delighting in these things, more than in his dad who provided them. We must anchor at enjoying God. We must not be distracted by the blessings He provides. We must not allow ourselves to find our delight in this blessings rather than in Him.
There was a time in the life of the disciples when they were tempted to turn from enjoying God and their relationship with Him through Jesus to enjoying the works of God through them. They came to Jesus and said, "Hey, look at this. This is unbelievable, the demons listen to us." Jesus told them to discipline themselves to find their joy in what is constant: "However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:20)
Why did Jesus say this? Perhaps He knew that there will come a time when one of His servants will have a thorn in the flesh and will pray three times, but He will not remove it. Later Paul will say, " . . . and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus" (2 Timothy 4:20). Sick in Miletus? Why leave him sick? Why didn't he just heal him? There is great mystery in why God chooses to heal at some times and not others. His ways are higher than our ways. But if our joy is in the work of God, and not in the person of God, it will not have the constancy that we desire and God desires for us.
In the world people often say to one another, "Enjoy yourself". It is said with reference to weekends and vacations and softball games. Enjoy yourself. Sometimes servers in restaurants will shorten it to, "Enjoy." We are not for sure if they mean "Enjoy yourself," or, "Enjoy your dinner," or, "Enjoy your evening." In whatever way they mean it, it is most likely the exact opposite of what God is trying to work into us: enjoying Him. He is working to break the chains of our enjoying self to free us to enjoy God.
One the other hand, the nice thing about following God is that you never have to worry about a conflict of interest. You never have to worry about whether or not you are being selfish. You never have to ask, "Am I doing this for me or for God?" They are one and the same. Let me explain.
There is no conflict of interest in Christianity. What is good for God is good for me. What is best for me is best for God. What is bad for me is bad for the kingdom. What damages the kingdom is destructive to me.
Paul said it twice for emphasis, "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice." Really he said it three times, for back in Philippians 3:1 "Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!" It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you." Repetition is a way of saying, "This is really important." There were not many things that Paul repeated as he did this. He knew that if they enjoyed God, much of the rest would fall into place.
By the way. Note the form or this verse. It is an imperative, a command. This is not in the "nice to have" section of Christianity. If we are not enjoying him, we are sinning violently against him. We are disobedient. There is no middle ground.
1. C.S. Lewis, from A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken, p. 190.
2. This is a real word, although I will need my brother-in-law, Carl Nelson to supply a definition for me. I was getting a little sleepy that Friday afternoon in Systematic Theology!