Written By Jacob Ng, Singapore
Jacob is husband to Yvonne, dad (and playmate) to Jed and Justus, and a pastor of Redemption Hill Church, Singapore. He still wakes up amazed and grateful that God would consider him worthy of all these roles. He strives to make much of God by enjoying and giving thanks for the daily grace of life in the mundane and ordinary.
A set of tiny Bluetooth earphones has greatly helped my physical fitness. Let me explain.
Growing up, I was never really into physical activities. I learned to run regularly in my twenties because I needed it—I had a decreasing metabolism, and needed to pass my annual physical fitness test as a national serviceman. But since I never loved running to begin with, the practice was the first to give way in the face of various life changes over the past few years.
This is where the Bluetooth earphones come in. I rediscovered the discipline of running through the love of listening to good music on my Spotify playlist. A top-quality set of earphones made the experience more pleasurable. Over time, my routine of running with my earphones blasting has grown to become a duty that I delight in. In the end, I find myself doing more often what I used to dread.
We often see duty and delight as two opposing forces—a constant battle between what we need to do and what we really want to do. But the Christian worldview does not portray a dichotomy between duty and delight. Our duty to God and our delight in Him are not two opposing forces. The writer of Psalm 84 exclaims to God that “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10). He considers the sweetest and happiest delight of satisfaction to be found only in God’s presence. His utmost “Christian duty” is to pursue his “Christian delight.”
My earphones may have helped to make the duty of running more enjoyable, but it still does not cure my lack of love for running. This is where the analogy breaks down. God really wants you and I to love and delight in Him.
But why does our delight in God matter so much to him and how can we get there?
Driven by Pleasure
In his book You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith asks, “What if, instead of starting from the assumption that human beings are thinking things, we started with the conviction that human beings are first and foremost lovers? What if you are defined not by what you know but by what you desire?” The main idea of this book is that our actions and choices are shaped more by what we love and find pleasure in, than by what we think or believe in.
I think about that tub of premium ice-cream in the fridge. While I know it is full of sugar and stuff that are bad for my health, I still succumb to the temptation. Why? Because it brings me sweet delight and pleasure. I simply love and enjoy that ice-cream.
In a similar way, we can have the soundest Christian doctrines and clearest understanding of the gospel, and yet fall to the gravest sins. We choose sins, simply because we derive more pleasure from what money, sex, and power promise us than what God promises us.
In other words, our problem is not just about making bad choices and behaviors. Our deepest problem is a lack of delight in God and who he is. Rules and effort cannot fix a heart that does not delight in God.
What we need is an external intervention from outside of our selves—a Savior who would enter the mess of our hearts, to save and transform us from the inside-out. A Savior who would leave the lovely dwelling place of heaven, far away from the courts of the Most High, to dwell among us and pursue our hearts by laying down His own life.
Do you know what made Jesus go to the Cross? Not simply duty, but “the joy set before him” (Hebrew 12:2). Jesus endured the cross out of love for the Father and His people. If we fully comprehend and receive this precious gift of love, how can our hearts not be moved to love Him?
But sometimes, even if we are doing all the right things for God, we still lack joy and delight.
How then can we learn to desire God? I recently read and reflected on the book The Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper, and there were three key steps that I took away and am seeking to implement in my own life.
1. Acknowledge our joylessness as a problem
The Bible clearly commands us to rejoice in all circumstances (Matthew 5:11–12, 1 Peter 4:13, Philippians 4:4, etc.). God desires not just our “right” behavior, but our affections. Instead of saying that it does not matter how we feel as long as we do the right things, let us acknowledge and confess the coldness of our hearts as a real and deep problem. Our feelings and affections matter, because they matter to God.
Over the past years, God has most gently and lovingly revealed to me that I often love and enjoy full-time ministry without loving and enjoying Him. I have experienced challenging seasons of duty without delight. The most challenging ones are when I do not even realize my own lack of delight in God. But God has been gracious to give me an awareness of my own misplaced affections. Only with that awareness can I begin to learn to delight in Him.
2. Remember how undeserving we are of God’s love, and give thanks to Him
Eleven of the psalms, including Psalm 84, were written by descendants of Korah—a man who led a rebellion against God and Moses in the wilderness. In these psalms, the sons of Korah are overflowing with humility and an almost constant sense of unworthiness, expressing the most heartfelt gratitude and sweetest worship.
Likewise, the more we remember how unworthy we are of God’s love, the more delight we will experience in His grace. As we come before God humbly, thankful for His gift of life and blessings to us, we can also ask Him for joy, trusting that it is His delight to grant us new hearts, that we may be satisfied in Him.
3. Believe that the “doing” of duty will kindle delight in God’s time
Though our joy may not immediately come, let us still continue doing what is right and good, trusting that over time, God will set our hearts aflame with delight. This is different from simply pressing on in duty with no regard for our feelings and affections. Instead, this means fighting for our feelings and affections, actively waiting for the sweet union of duty and delight.
Truth be told, none of us is able to say we love and delight in God perfectly. There are seasons of simply joyless duty, and there are seasons when we even throw duty out of the window.
When I am confronted by my lack of both duty and delight in God, I take comfort in the truth that God does not require us to be perfect in order for us to be perfectly loved. Someone else has accomplished perfection for us. His work in our lives is ongoing and not yet done. We know a Savior who went to the Cross and defeated sin, so that our affections and hearts may be restored to love and learn to enjoy Him. He is shepherding our hearts so that we may make it our utmost duty to delight in him.