One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
If I were to describe what I see as the biggest struggle believers have in their Christian walk, near the top would be the struggle to enjoy God.
This is certainly not our only struggle. Christians struggle with many things – some common to us all, some unique to the individual. We struggle with certain besetting sins. We struggle to rest in the Lord. We struggle to live according to the instructions of God’s Word. And we could list many other struggles. But I see this one struggle as perhaps bigger than all the others – the struggle to enjoy God. Christians may ask, why don’t I enjoy God?
While many factors may explain why we don’t enjoy Him, our failure to enjoy God cripples our walk with Him. Too many Christians feel this dread of God that goes beyond the “fear of the Lord” taught in Scripture. In our approach to God, we are plagued with doubts and fears. Will he accept me? Is He angry with me? Some may even wonder, does God really love me? Does He love me as much as He loves someone else? We know that God loves the world, but in a practical sense, we worry that God overlooks me, that He is displeased with me and disappointed with me.
Where do we begin to overcome our own doubts and fears? We read our Bibles; we pray. But for too many Christians, we don’t know how to walk with God beyond that. To add to our dilemma, personal devotions can have a way of choking the life out of us, especially when they become a task on the to-do list.
More than a few Christians, if they could be completely honest, would say, “I really don’t enjoy God.” Some don’t enjoy God and don’t want to. They are angry with God or (more commonly) indifferent towards Him.
Others don’t enjoy God but want to. They might not know how to enjoy Him. Maybe they know how to enjoy Him but feel that they are currently hindered from enjoying Him. No doubt some are frustrated that they don’t enjoy Him, or that they don’t enjoy Him the way they once did, or the way they want to. And some Christians enjoy God just about every day.
I do not write this as one who fits in that last category; I write as one who has had my own share of struggles with this. In part, my own experience has motivated this topic: I haven’t always found this easy. I wish it were. I think it should be. I wish I could lay aside my sinful nature and win this victory once for all. But so long as I continue in my sinful flesh, I believe that I will struggle with it.
The Psalmist is an example of holy longing after God. “One thing have I desired of the Lord…” he says. Our text is not the only place where we see this longing either. It is one of many.
Lord, all my desire is before thee; and my groaning is not hid from thee. (Psalm 38:9)
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. (Psalm 73:25)
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
Nor is this longing limited to the Psalmist.
Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom. (Proverbs 18:1)
In all of these verses, the driver is desire. As the Proverb tells us, desire drives a man to separate himself from all the distractions and hindrances that form barricades between himself and God. When a Christian separates himself, when he finds a way to get alone where he can really walk with God, then he can “seek and intermeddle with all wisdom.” If we would learn to enjoy God, we will have to find a way to do this.
There is a reason why this is so, and it can be traced to the fact that God is a personal God. As A.W. Tozer said,
“Religion, so far as it is genuine, is in essence the response of created personalities to the Creating Personality, God.”
If we would enjoy God, we must enjoy Him as a Person because God is a Person. As such, He Himself desires, enjoys, feels, loves, even expresses Himself in ways that we can understand as persons. And, as His creatures created in His image, we share in these experiences. We, too, are personal beings, created with the ability to relate with God on a personal level.
In his seminal work The Treasury of David, Charles Spurgeon borrows a quote from John Stoughton, who describes David’s longing in the most personal way.
…he means a communion and fellowship with God, which is that one thing, which if a Christian had, he needs desire no more: that we should all desire and desire again and be in love with, and that is enough even to satisfy us… to have correspondence and fellowship and communion with him there (emphasis mine).
I have tried to think of ways to explain what it means to enjoy God, and I cannot come up with a better explanation. How do two people come to enjoy each other? First, they both need to share something in common. Second, the barriers caused by offenses must be removed. Third, they must spend time together and learn to treasure that time spent together. Maybe we could add something to this short outline. I am drawing from my own experience of learning to enjoy being with someone else. But I am sure that those three things would be minimal requirements.
Let’s take them one at a time then:
If we would enjoy God, we will need to share something in common with Him.
We share the image of God in common with Him. This makes it possible for us to enjoy God at all on any level. Though not in rebellion against God, the other creatures of this world are incapable of ever enjoying Him, at least the way the Psalmist speaks of.
But our sin has ruined the image of God. We have defaced it and, in a sense, disabled it from functioning according to its created purpose. Man in his natural state is “dead in trespasses and sins.” Certainly then, if we are to enjoy God, we must first be made alive. We must share that in common with God – spiritual life, life from the dead. We must be alive to God.
Before we experience the new birth, we are not just dead. The Bible says that we are dead in trespasses and sins. That means we live to those things that God finds most offensive; thus, we are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in us. Paul notes this in the very passage where He describes us as being dead in trespasses and sins…
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Certainly then, the old man must be crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. We must be born again so that we might be “alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” When the Holy Spirit quickens us, then we are alive to God. From that moment, our hearts long to be in fellowship with Him.
When we share the life of God, we must take it a step further:
The barriers caused by offenses must be removed.
We are not speaking here of justification, which happens by the “washing of regeneration” at the moment we receive the Lord Jesus as our Savior. We are speaking here of sanctification. Peter needed his feet washed, but not his hands and head.
Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. (John 13:10)
To enjoy God, a believer must be careful about sin. Sin disrupts our joy.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. (Psalm 51:12)
If you think about it, this is no different than any other relationship between people. If we allow barriers to creep up in our relationship with someone else, the relationship will suffer until those barriers are removed. This is why a husband must be careful to prevent those barriers from growing in their marriage. And if barriers grow up, we must be diligent in tearing down that wall (Mr. Gorbachev…).
Fortunately, God has provided a very straightforward way for us to remove the barriers caused by our sins, making this much easier than removing the barriers that might grow up in our marriage. In a marriage, both partners are also sinners, and the barriers are rarely caused by the sin of just one spouse. The barriers in our relationship with God are always a one-sided affair. I did the sinning, so I caused the barrier.
Fortunately, God has made it pretty simple for us to remove the barrier.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
As we share in the life of God with barriers removed, we can expect that we will grow in our delight in the Lord, so long as we give our time and energy to it and…
Learn to treasure the time you spend with God.
I would rather a person have a habit of daily devotions than not. But the habit alone is not sufficient if you would enjoy God. A mere going through the daily ritual of Bible reading and prayer will never produce a delight and (as was said earlier) may, in fact, have the opposite effect. Especially if you view devotions as duty, if you attach your daily success to your performance of that duty, and if you believe that God will punish you for neglect of that duty, you will find that the joy of devotions is taken away.
I’m not a big fan of the “read through the Bible in a year” Bible-reading plan. Many Christians do it, and I don’t want to rob you of anything. For myself, I find that it is harder to delight in the Lord when I feel pressure to reach a certain verse count each day. I prefer to read and re-read a passage, so I get it into my head and eventually into my heart.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)
Perhaps a good solution would be the Biblical practice of meditation – rolling the Word around on your tongue, dwelling on the words, the meaning, the context, searching for fresh application to your daily life. If I could get you to read for delight rather than volume, I think it could help you enjoy God more.
But Bible reading alone is not sufficient for developing a delight in the Lord. If you treasure the time you spend with God, you will enjoy praising Him, meditating on His goodness and greatness, seeking His help and blessing in your life. You will pray fervently, not as a ritual, but as a part of your relationship with God.
Enjoying God is a mindset. When you pick up your Bible in the morning, make that your first priority. Look for the things that you can enjoy in Scripture. And don’t stop until you are delighted.
And may you be richly blessed in your relationship with God.