Study 3: How to share beneficially in God’s own enjoyment
Psalm 37:4 encourages the reader to enjoy God: ‘Take delight in the Lord and he will give you your heart’s desires’ (New Living Translation, unless otherwise indicated). The casual reader might simply presume this sentence to mean: Enjoy God and he’ll grant you everything you want. But it could, and should, be understood more fundamentally as: ‘Make Yahweh your only joy’ (Jerusalem Bible) and he will put [the Hebrew verb ‘give’ is very flexible] wholesome desires in your heart – and then fulfil those desires when you talk to him about them.
When we embrace God’s own enjoyment it will also revolutionise our praying – the Hebrew noun ‘desires’ also means ‘petitions’. We will then instinctively conduct our prayer requests according to the pattern our Lord prescribed for us in his much quoted ‘sermon on the mount’. We will begin praying by taking delight in the Lord’ –
‘Our Father . . . may your name be kept holy, . . . your kingdom come, your will be done’
before we ask for ‘the desires of our hearts’ –
‘give us . . . food . . . , forgive us our sins . . . and rescue us from the evil one’ (Matthew 6:9-13).
An important question
Recalling from Study 1 the first Q and A in the Shorter Westminster Catechism – ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever – we do well to ask ourselves the question: Is it possible to glorify God without enjoying him? Yes, it is possible. We are given a classic example in Scripture of a man who did give glory to God without enjoying him. Achan’s tragic story occupies Joshua 7:1-26. Before Israel’s initial assault in their conquest of Canaan, Joshua established a principle of dedicating the plunders of war to the Lord. Before their final circuit ‘around the town of Jericho . . . on the seventh day, Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the town!”‘ adding, ‘Jericho and everything in it must be completely destroyed’ as an offering to the Lord [that is, ‘in complete consecration to the Lord’, Joshua 16:17 margin]. And then he issued this stern warning: ‘Do not take anything of the things set apart for destruction, or you yourselves will be completely destroyed’ (Joshua 16:18)!
Their next assault target was the small town of Ai. But this attack ended in disastrous defeat because ‘Achan had stolen some of the dedicated things, so the Lord was very angry with the Israelites’ I Joshua 7:19). After his execution ‘the Lord was no longer angry’ (Joshua 7:26). By no stretch of the imagination was Achan enjoying God when he disobeyed him, yet by his confession of guilt he glorified him!
‘Yea, rest thy delight in Yahweh’ (Rotherham’s Version)
Rotherham’s translation of Psalm 37:4 resembles Matthew Henry’s definition in his famous commentary: ‘Desire is love in action, like a bird on the wing; delight is love at rest, like a bird on the nest.’ So if to ‘delight’ is neither frothy joy nor stagnant peace, what can we do to nourish our enjoyment of the Lord?
- Recognise God for all that he is
We are neither called to be God’s ‘fan club’, nor to ‘have a crush’ on Jesus! Rather, God’s own counsel in Psalm 46:10 holds the key: ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ The prophetic preacher, A W Tozer wrote some half a century ago: ‘These words . . . mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshipper in the middle of the twentieth century.’ After quoting Romans 1:18-24, he remarked: ‘Idolatry begins in the mind. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.’ However, ‘God reveals himself not to reason, but to faith . . . To know God requires discipline: only the pure in heart see God.’
We enjoy each of our children, our spouse, our friends and our pets in quite distinctly individual ways as we get to know them. What then is God like? His attributes are often presented to us as opposites. In Psalm 46:7 and 11 he is called both ‘the Lord of Heaven’s Armies’ (extolling his greatness – his almighty power, his eternity, his comprehensive knowledge, his unchangeable nature) and ‘the God of Jacob’ (Psalm 46:7, margin; not ‘Israel’, the patriarch’s new name!) – in praise of his goodness.
Again, in Isaiah 6:1,3; 57:15) he reveals himself as infinitely high (‘Holy, holy, holy’, ‘sitting on a lifted throne’, ‘the high and lofty one’, in ‘the high and lofty place’) and as intimately nigh (‘the whole earth is filled with his glory’, and he ‘lives with those whose spirits are contrite and humble’). He is both majestic and merciful.
- Rejoice in God and all that are his (Psalm 16:2-3).
(a) Delight in his Scriptures – for they are his word – ‘delight in the law of the Lord, meditating in it day and night’ (Psalm 1:2). Why don’t you indulge in a few ‘oohs’ and ahs’ as you read your Bible?
(b) Delight in his sabbath – for it is his rest. As Isaiah said: ‘enjoy the Sabbath . . . and don’t follow your own desires . . . Then the Lord will be your delight‘ (Isaiah 58:13-14). Through Christ’s finished work at Calvary, we can enjoy an inner sabbatical every day of each week.
(c) Delight in his saints – for they are his people. The psalmist David ‘said to the Lord, “You are my Master! Every good thing I have comes from you.” The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them.’
(d) Delight in his strategy – for it is his purpose. ‘I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written in my heart’, said David, thus foreshadowing Jesus, his Messianic descendant (Psalm 40:8; Hebrews 10:7).
- Respond to God with all that you are
‘”Right!” Jesus told . . . the man [who] answered [his question] . . . “What does the law of Moses say?” . . . “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind . . .”‘ (Luke 10:26-28). We will explore ‘how to’ in the final study in this series.