Enjoying God is to know God intellectually, to admire God in his beauty, to delight in him emotionally, and to dedicate oneself to him; in essence, to enjoy God is to praise God for the God that he is.
Enjoying God is a biblical command, and it is also that for which God made us. Enjoying God glorifies God because it shows how valuable God is in our estimation. We enjoy God in at least four ways: intellectually, by knowing God; aesthetically, by admiring God in his beauty; emotionally, by delighting in God and his ways; with our wills, by dedicating ourselves to obeying his commands. Furthermore, delight in God is what enables Christians to live sacrificial lives, to continue to fight sin, and to remain steadfast in the face of persecution.
Few people struggle to understand what it means to fear God or to obey God or to love, honor, and worship God. But to speak of enjoying God strikes many as flippant, perhaps even irreverent. What does God’s Word say about this? Consider David’s exhortation in Psalm 37:4 that we should “delight” ourselves “in the Lord, and he will give” us “the desires of our heart” (see also Deut. 28:47; 1 Chron. 16:31, 33; Neh. 8:10; Pss. 16:11; 32:11; 33:1; 34:8; 35:9; 36:8; 40:8, 16; 42:1–2; 43:4; 63:1, 11; 64:10; 95:1; 97:1, 12; 98:4; 104:34; 105:3; Isa. 41:16; Joel 2:23; Zech. 2:10; 10:7; Luke 6:23; John 3:29; 15:11; 16:22; Phil. 3:1; 4:4; 1 Pet. 1:8).
Of course, the “desires” of our heart must be desires that have God as their focus and the ever-increasing, joyful satisfaction that is found in more of him. Not to enjoy or delight in God is a serious matter. In fact, “God is not worshiped where He is not treasured and enjoyed. Praise is not an alternative to joy, but the expression of joy. Not to enjoy God is to dishonor Him. To say to Him that something else satisfies you more is the opposite of worship. It is sacrilege” (see John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 22
We should also note that, if our delight is wholly in God, our desires will not be for anything that would diminish his centrality in our souls. We won’t want anything that has the potential of turning our heart to trust in anyone but him. If our “desires” are for the stuff of this world that would detract from our complete satisfaction in God, then we aren’t truly delighting ourselves in him.
Our Passion for Joy
There is in every soul an insatiable hunger for joy. God has hardwired into our souls a yearning, a longing, an unrelenting passion for pleasure. That impulse we feel every moment of every day to seek out whatever will bring us the greatest joy and excitement came from God. It’s part of what it means to be created in the image of God. In view of this, let’s dig more deeply into Psalm 37:4. Two things are worthy of our attention.
First, this is a command. This isn’t something to pray about or merely consider, as if it were an option or choice. This is a moral obligation binding on all. Simply put, delighting in God, enjoying God, is a duty.
Second, delight or joy is also a feeling, an emotion, an affection, a subjective experience that is ultimately not under our control. It isn’t something we can produce by an act of will. God has to awaken and stir and evoke such affections in our souls. He uses a variety of means to this: Scripture, creation, the sacraments, obedience, prayer, worship, meditation, etc. Our responsibility, as Jonathan Edwards put it, is “to lay ourselves in the way of allurement.” God’s responsibility is to allure.
Why do the biblical authors make delight or joy in God so central to our relationship with him? Is it not enough simply to obey God or fear God believe in God? There are several ways to answer that question.
First, joy in God matters profoundly because more than any other human response or experience, joy clearly and thoroughly reveals the worth, value, and splendor of whatever it is that evokes it. In other words, enjoyment or delight is the single most effective means for glorifying and magnifying God. Deep, durable delight in God is how he is most glorified and honored in you. God is most glorified in us when we are most pleased, satisfied, fascinated, and enthralled with the splendor of his beauty that can be seen in the face of Jesus Christ. As John Piper has said, “joy is the clearest witness to the worth of what we enjoy. It’s the deepest reverberation in the heart of man of the value of God’s glory” (see “Joy and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World,” in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, 78).
How is God most glorified in us? Where and in what way is God’s glory most clearly revealed? God is most glorified in us when our knowledge and experience of him ignite a forest fire of joy that consumes all competing pleasures and he alone becomes the treasure that we prize. Here’s how Jonathan Edwards put it:
God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receive, his glory … both [with] the mind and the heart. He that testifies his having an idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation [i.e., his heartfelt commendation or praise] of it and his delight in it (see Miscellany 448).
Understanding the nature of God is essential. Theological ignorance won’t take us very far. Excitement uninformed by truth invariably leads either to idolatry or fanaticism. But knowledge alone isn’t enough. Declaring God’s glory to others is also important, but again, there’s something even more fundamental to our existence.
Passionate and joyful admiration of God, and not merely intellectual apprehension, is the aim of our existence and thus the essence of true spirituality. If God is to be supremely glorified in us, it’s critically essential that we be supremely glad in him and in what he has done for us in Jesus. This is why we exist; to relish and rejoice in the revelation of divine beauty so that Christ becomes our all-consuming passion and sin turns sour in our souls.
The joy for which we are eternally destined is a state of soul in which we experience and express optimum ecstasy in God. Joy (happiness) is the whole soul resting in God and rejoicing that so beautiful and glorious a Being is ours. We are talking about the ineffable and unending pleasure of blissful union with and the joyful celebration of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a joy of such transcendent quality that no persecution or pain or deprivation can diminish, nor wealth or success or prosperity can enhance (see Phil. 4:11).
God created us to glorify himself by enriching us with the joy that flows from a saving encounter with the splendor of his Son. So the goal of our creation was not simply that we might be happy, but happy in beholding God’s own eternal excellencies. Not in beholding our own accomplishments. Not in the enjoyment of our own sensual appetites. Not in the development of a healthy self-esteem or in the acquisition of a four-bedroom home with a three-car garage. God “is the fountain of all felicity” and bids us come and drink!
Second, enjoying God matters profoundly because apart from our souls relishing the breathtaking beauty of Christ and resting in the all-sufficiency of his grace and goodness, we don’t stand a chance against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The biblical authors’s commitment to our joy in Jesus was motivated, at least in part, by the fact that Satan was no less committed to their joy in the passing pleasures of sin (cf. Heb. 11:25). The diabolical strategy of the enemy is to seduce us into believing that the world and the flesh and sinful self-indulgence could do for our weary and broken hearts what God couldn’t. This is the battle that we face each day. We awaken to a world at war for the allegiance of our minds and the affections of our souls. The winner will be whoever can persuade us that he will bring greatest and most soul-satisfying joy. That is why we must labor and pray and strive so passionately and sacrificially for joy in Jesus.
Hence, the key to living a successful, sin-killing life doesn’t come primarily from trying harder but from enjoying more. This doesn’t mean you can be a successful Christian without trying. It simply means that enjoyment empowers effort. Pleasure in God is the power for purity.
Third, joy in God matters profoundly because unlike so many other affections in the soul or activities in life, joy engages and expresses the totality of our being. You can understand something without rejoicing in it. You can make a decision in life or exercise your will in regard to some matter that you profoundly dislike. But when you truly rejoice in something you must both understand it and choose it. Joy requires the engagement of every faculty of soul and spirit and mind and heart. Joy gives expression to the whole of who you are in a way that nothing else can. Truly to enjoy something or someone you must both understand it and choose it. You must grasp it with your mind and embrace it with your heart. Only joy requires everything within us to reach its consummate expression.
Fourth, joy in God matters profoundly because there is no such thing as hypocritical or insincere joy. You can pretend to have joy when you really don’t. You can fake having joy, but you can’t have fake joy. There’s something pure and sincere and genuine about joy that isn’t the case with any other human affection (“Joy and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World,” 78).
Ways in which We Delight Ourselves in the Lord
How, then, are we to fulfill this command? Or, better still, in what ways does this delight manifest itself in our lives?
First, is intellectual fascination or enthrallment with God. We must make use of the mind to set ourselves to know God. Our understanding of him must expand and intensify. We must know him, study him, explore his ways, and investigate his will. We must become students of the personality and character of God.
That delight in God which transcends human speech is itself the fruit of our faith in him (1 Pet. 1:8). One cannot meaningfully rejoice in a person of whom one knows nothing. Our knowledge of the incarnate Christ and his redemptive work is the foundation of our faith in him to be true to his covenant commitment. And faith or belief in the integrity of his person, the saving power of his atoning death, and the literal reality of his life-giving resurrection is the soil in which the flower of inexpressible joy blooms.
Enjoyment that is not deeply rooted in the historical realities of what Christ has accomplished is little more than infatuation. When trials ensue, such fleeting feelings, divorced as they are from truth, will collapse, a mere subjective vapor of little value in sustaining the human soul. The joy or delight that David has in mind energizes and empowers the human heart to withstand any and all trials. This is the joy that elevates the human soul to heights of confident celebration, a delight that no pain or tribulation or shattered dream can diminish.
Second, there is aesthetic adoration. We are fundamentally, and by God’s design, aesthetic creatures. Being fashioned in the image of God means, at least in part, that we are instinctively drawn to beauty and repelled by ugliness. We have an innate capacity to recognize and rejoice in beauty (unless, of course, we pervert and diminish that capacity by hardening our souls in unrepentant sin).
God is ultimate Beauty. To delight in him is to behold his beauty in all its vast array: the symmetry of his attributes, the intricacies of his handiwork, the splendor of his power, the majesty of his mercy, the depths of his greatness, and the limitless extent of his goodness. We must therefore labor to cultivate our aesthetic sensibility and refine our taste for the sweetness of his glory (see Pss. 27:4; 145:5).
God’s revelatory manifestation of himself in creation, in providence, in Scripture, and pre-eminently in the face of his Son, Jesus Christ, is designed to evoke within us the breathtaking delight and incomparable joy of which God alone is worthy. Beauty is that in God which makes him eminently desirable and attractive and quickens in the soul a realization that it was made for a different world.
Divine beauty is absolute, unqualified, and independent. All created reality, precisely because it is derivative of the Creator, is beautiful in a secondary sense and only to the degree that it reflects the excellencies of God and fulfills the purpose for which he has made it. Perfect order, harmony, magnitude, integrity, proportion, symmetry, and brilliance are found in God alone. There is in the personality and activity of God neither clash of color nor offensive sound. He is in every conceivable respect morally exquisite, spiritually sublime, and aesthetically elegant.
The aesthetic experience of God is more than merely enjoyable, it is profoundly transforming (see 2 Cor. 3:18). There is within it the power to persuade and to convince the inquiring mind of truth. We do not simply behold beauty: divine beauty takes hold of us and challenges the allegiance of our hearts. Beauty calls us to reshape our lives and exposes the shabbiness of our conduct. It awakens us to the reality of a transcendent Being to whose likeness of beauty we are being called and conformed by his gracious initiative. Beauty has the power to dislodge from our hearts the grip of moral and spiritual ugliness. The soul’s engagement with beauty elicits love and forges in us a new affection that no earthly power can overcome.
Beauty also rebukes by revealing to us the moral deformity of those things we’ve embraced above Jesus and by exposing the hideous reality beyond the deceptively attractive façade of worldly amusements. We are deceived by the ugliness of sin because we haven’t gazed at the beauty of Christ. Distortion and perversion and futility are fully seen only in the perfect light of integrity and harmony and purpose which are revealed in Jesus.
Third, there is emotional exhilaration. Our affections are also designed to find their focus and fulfillment in God. He alone is worthy of our joy zeal, love, devotion, delight, fear, joy, passion, gratitude, and hope. Consider Peter’s declaration that although we do not see Christ now, we “love him,” and “believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). With the Spirit’s help we must learn to cultivate and re-direct all affections so that they are rooted in him and riveted on him.
Finally, there is volitional dedication. Delighting in the Lord also entails the engagement of our wills and the choices we make. We must do two things. First, we must choose to obey his commands; second, we must choose to avoid all that he has prohibited. Obedience nourishes delight and joy. God’s commands are his prescription for happiness and spiritual health. We must therefore trust God when he says that sin will corrupt and destroy and that obedience will bless and enrich.
Disobedience dulls and anesthetizes our spirits to God’s presence and activity. It diminishes our capacity to delight in him, drains our spiritual energy, and lays waste to our ability to focus on God and trust him confidently. It unleashes in our spiritual system a toxin that will progressively cause our spiritual eyes to go blind and our spiritual ears to go deaf.
Perhaps the greatest mistake one could possibly make in processing and responding to this truth is to think that an emphasis on joy breeds passivity or leads to a safe and self-absorbed lifestyle or an approach to Christianity in which the believer is so obsessed with the condition of his heart or his emotional state of being that he neglects his family or ignores the needs of his neighbor or becomes coldly indifferent toward the lost or retreats in isolation from the hurts and needs of others.
It is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that stokes the white hot flame of passion for the plight of the nations and energizes the will of a person to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to preserve a marriage that is falling apart.
It is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that empowers the human heart to overcome addictive behavior, sustains the soul in its fight against sin and temptation, and enables a weak and broken soul to persevere when a job is lost or a child rebels or a promise is shattered or a dream comes to naught.
It is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that encourages the timid and fearful heart to engage and confront the Christless culture in which we live with the good news of the gospel of the cross of Christ and the life and forgiveness and hope that can only be found through faith in Jesus.
And it is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that will sustain a church through adversity and bind the hearts of its people together in unity and love and mutual affection.
- John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist
- Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections
- Sam Storms, Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Enjoying God