To Enjoy God, We Must Know Him

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)

We have been answering the question, “why don’t I enjoy God?” Many, many Christians would confess that they don’t enjoy God.  They know that they can enjoy God.  They know that they should enjoy God.  But they don’t enjoy God.

They want to enjoy Him.  They may try to enjoy Him.  But their efforts end in frustration, and soon it is back to the grindstone. I believe this is the case among believers who are faithful to their devotions.  I believe it is the case among believers who are careful in their everyday lives, who strive to honor God and do what is right.

We have observed several hindrances to our delight in the Lord.  So far, we have considered two of the most obvious – you cannot enjoy God until you are born again, and you cannot enjoy God while harboring sin.  I want to tackle yet another hindrance to enjoying God – we cannot enjoy God if we do not know Him.

In His intercessory prayer, Jesus said that knowing God the Father and God the Son “is life eternal.” That is, “eternal life is not so much everlasting life as personal knowledge of the Everlasting One.” (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, p. 556) This eternal life begins the moment we receive the Lord Jesus as our Savior.  It reaches its summit in the day when we hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”  Between the day we receive Christ and the day we see Him, we can expect to grow into that joy and delight in the Lord Jesus Christ.  But our growth as Christians, as measured by the growing delight we experience in the Lord Jesus, comes as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of Him. 

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If You Don’t Enjoy God, You May Not Be Saved

This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

The question of why people don’t enjoy God gets at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. What is the good of being reconciled to God if you don’t enjoy Him? What is the good of walking with God if you dread that walk? 

When Christians think of walking with God, of experiencing Him face-to-face and spending significant time alone with Him, far too many feel a paralyzing dread, a choking fear, a painful desire to run and hide from the presence of God.

In our most recent post on this topic, we showed you that the biggest hindrance to our enjoyment of God is our sin.  We must add an element to that.  If sin prevents us from enjoying God, then we can’t enjoy Him until we have been born again.

Our text describes the condition of the unsaved man as “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart…” Unregenerate man is alienated from God. Such a person can strive to overcome sin all he wants.  He can feel a strong sense of remorse and a strong desire to change his ways because of his sin.  He may even be able to overcome some isolated sins. But he cannot overcome that alienation from God, no matter how much he might “turn over a new leaf” in his life, or how much he tries to reform himself.  So long as a person continues in a state of alienation from God, his sin will stand as a barrier between himself and God.  If he were to attack that barrier with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, he would find that the sins would pile higher even as he carted off loads of former sins. 

There are cases when a Christian will say, “I don’t enjoy God, I never have enjoyed God, I don’t even know what it would be like to enjoy God, and I don’t even know if I want to.”  There could be a variety of causes for this, but before we consider anything else, we ought to consider this, that you are still in your sins.  Paul describes the condition of every person apart from a supernatural work of grace…

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Sin Keeps Us from Enjoying God

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. (Genesis 3:7-10)

Far too often, Christians do not enjoy God.  They believe in the Lord.  They are active in church.  In many cases, their life revolves around church.  But they do not enjoy God.  For too many Christians, the life of faith is cloudy and dismal, the duties are heavy and the rewards are light, and the Christian walk is more burden than blessing. We are afraid of God, afraid of messing up, afraid that we are a disappointment to God. We go through the motions of the Christian life. We approach our calling in Christ as if it were a job chart with no reward other than the fire escape at the end. Too many Christians have lost their joy in believing.

In order to understand this dynamic in the Christian life, I want to invite you back to the time in the history of the world when mankind first lost their joy in their walk with God. 

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Four Ways to Enjoy God

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)

The most important – and often the most neglected – emphasis of the Christian life is to enjoy God.  The ancients developed what has become a staple of practical Christianity:

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

To glorify God and to enjoy Him… But how many Christians ever think about enjoying God?  To many, the Christian life is all duty and discipline and doing.  We make sure we read our Bible every day.  But we don’t have time (or perhaps, we don’t take time) to enjoy God in what we read.

In a previous post, I pointed out that we relate to God the way one person relates to another – understanding, of course, that God as a Person is on an entirely different level than we are.  Still, it is possible for us to enjoy Him on a personal level because God is a Person.  If we would enjoy God, we must enjoy Him the way one person enjoys another.  That requires attentiveness and affection in our interaction with God.

God made us to enjoy Him.  Certainly then, He wants us to enjoy Him.  That is good, because it would be impossible for us as finite men to enjoy an infinite God otherwise.  God has made it possible for us to relate to Him and to be delighted by Him. 

We love him, because he first loved us. (I John 4:19)

In this, the initiative is not ours, but God’s.  Delight is our right response to God’s loving overtures.  God delights in us, and that is why we can delight in Him.  In fact, the Bible says more about God seeking us and desiring us than it does about us seeking God and desiring Him.  The entire gospel story is the story of God seeking His lost creation in order to restore us to fellowship with Himself.  The groundwork for fellowship with God is laid in Jesus Christ, and through His saving work on the cross it is possible for us to enjoy that fellowship.

I want to make four quick points from Psalm 27:4 that will show us how to enjoy God.

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What It Means to Enjoy God – And Why We Don’t Enjoy Him

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.

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Joy Restored

We have been discussing various hindrances to joy.  We discussed the way emotional pain from sorrow can disrupt our joy, and we gave some thoughts on dealing with depression and the various ways discouragement can affect our joy.  Then, we discussed the way physical pain and suffering can rob us of our joy, and we offered some suggestions for dealing with this in order to overcome it.

Throughout our lives, we will experience varying degrees of disruption to our joy from both sorrow and suffering.  These are a part of the human experience.  “Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.”

But the most common disruption to our joy will not be from depression or pain.  The most common disruption to our joy will come from our own sinful choices and behavior.  The pain of sin is the greatest interrupter of our joy. 

Pain and suffering piggybacked into our world on the sin of Adam. I do not say that God ever intended for our world to be a pain-free world.  Pain certainly serves a wise and good purpose.  But the suffering and sorrow we experience from pain is a direct result of sin. 

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Joy in Pain

Physical pain quickly becomes all-consuming to us. We become preoccupied with it. At the moment, intense physical pain chases away all thoughts of joy. But chronic pain, which lasts for years instead of days, can strip away our hope for recovery and rob us of our joy. We might wonder what to do about joy in the face of such crippling pain. Thankfully, the Bible is not silent on this challenge. God gives us the image of Job scraping at his boils with a potsherd.

Some Christians believe the answer to debilitating pain is stoicism. I read about a lady who lost a baby and later testified that God’s grace had been so all-sufficient that she had not shed a tear. I find that troubling. Circumstances may require us to set a firm jaw and soldier on. Still, we should keep a firm handle on the difference between firm resolve and a calloused heart.

God made us physical as well as emotional creatures. We are body, soul, and spirit. At various times, we may experience pain in different body parts – head, neck, back, knees, or elsewhere. Because of the connection between body and soul and spirit, pain in one part of your self can lead to pain in another part. God didn’t make you a block of wood. Those pesky little nerve endings are a part of your whole self. It isn’t unheard of that chronic pain would lead to depression, which can, in turn, cause a loss of joy.  

Because we treasure the gift of joy, we should consider when physical pain affects our joy. For this reason, I want to consider a few things towards a Christian approach to physical pain, especially chronic pain.  I say these things in hopes that if you suffer this way, you will be encouraged to battle your pain in the interest of preserving your joy. I trust that you will find these things helpful towards recovering the joy you might be missing due to debilitating pain.

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Joy in Depression

Very few people – Christians included – spend much time thinking about whether or not they have joy.  We assume that it is there.  We feel happy from time-to-time, usually because of a special moment or event.  So long as “everything’s going my way,” we don’t concern ourselves much with joy.  We don’t necessarily feel a sense of joy or delight, but we are content enough with our lives and circumstances.  So, we don’t think about joy.  After all, how ironic would it be to worry about something like joy?

But then, things go sideways.  Something comes along – perhaps a tragedy or some challenge – that disrupts the easy-going joy that we have experienced as almost a default setting.  And then we do worry about it.  “I’m supposed to be full of joy: where is it?”  We feel down, discouraged, maybe even despair.  We know that we shouldn’t feel this way.  After all, we are Christians: the joy of the Lord is supposed to be our strength.  But something has happened.  Joy is gone. 

We don’t tend to be concerned about joy until it goes AWOL.  In the good times, we take it for granted.  But then God brings along a disruption to our joy – may be in the form of a trial, but more often by letting our spirit sink. When we are low in spirit, we feel our loss.  And because we haven’t paid much attention to joy, we find ourselves stuck in a rut. How do I get my joy back?  What is it, really?  Where did it go, and how do I find it?  What does joy look like when I am low in spirit? 

We are speaking here of the garden variety forms of what we call “depression.”  Sometimes it can show up in a mild case of the blues, sometimes it can be more severe than that.  When our spirits fall, we experience a loss of joy. 

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Sorrow Turned to Joy

Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. (John 16:20)

In John 16, Jesus has His disciples in the upper room, preparing them for His crucifixion.  He tells the disciples that very soon, they will be in mourning.  Pointing to this, Jesus makes a staggering promise: “your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”

How can sorrow be turned into joy?  The two seem perfectly contradictory, like a square circle or frozen fire.  Yet, Jesus made the promise: “your sorrow shall be turned into joy.”  Turn a toad into a prince, or a statue into a man, but how can sorrow be turned into joy?  The simple answer is, only by the power of God. 

Somehow, God’s recipe for joy includes sorrow.  I can’t say that I completely understand that.  In my mind, joy consists of the absence of sorrow.  Yet, God calls for our sorrows, tucks them into the cake batter, throws the mix into the oven, and brings forth a masterpiece of a cake.  There must be sorrow, or He could not turn it into joy.

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What Does Fullness of Joy Look Like?

It can be hard to grasp what “fullness of joy” really means for us in a nuts and bolts, rubber meets the road kind of way.  If you have been following along in this series, you might understand the theory, but you might wonder, “When do I get to feel joy?  Does that ever happen?” If I give you a great recipe for chocolate chip cookies, what good is that if you never taste one?

We might struggle with understanding what this fullness of joy means on a practical level.

So I can describe what joy looks like in this life, I want to first consider what joy will look like in the life that is to come.  Here’s why: the joy we experience in eternity will be the fullest joy ever experienced.  We might have reason to doubt that we are experiencing “fullness” of joy in this life, but we know that we will experience it in heaven.  In this life, God continually elevates our joy to this ultimate experience of joy. By means of His providence – both pleasant providences and hard providences – God expands our capacity for joy and increases our experience of it until we reach eternity. 

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