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3 Tips for Those Struggling to Delight in God

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 Him matter so much to God 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 who God 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. 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.

 

Final Thoughts

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.

 

ASK YMI: I Am Fully Self-Sufficient. Why Do I Need God?

A: What reality will end up showing you, if you leave it time, is that you are not fully self-sufficient. You can’t control your emotions. And you can’t determine your own future. But your life will be proof of that in itself.

3 Unexpected Benefits of Studying Theology

I grew up reading theology and for a long time I hated every moment of it. I didn’t understand why my parents would torture me with reading assignments each summer. Piper, MacArthur, Sproul—I was reading all of these spiritual giants by the age of 12. Boring, massive books, stuff I didn’t understand, and stuff I really didn’t care about—that was my impression then,  and an impression I often hear today, when the word “theology” is brought up to adults as well.

Author A. W. Tozer once said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Even though I dreaded it at first, I started realizing that my parents were intentionally shaping my mind with these books. In a culture that’s becoming increasingly emotionally driven, they wanted me to be able to have a foundation of truth regardless of my circumstance or emotion.

The reality is that theology—the study of God—isn’t just for Christian scholars or Bible School geeks (though I’m definitely included in the Bible School geek group) . . . all of us should be theologians!

And it doesn’t look as intimidating as it sounds. Studying God is simply about being intentional in getting time with Him in Scripture, and also digging into books and commentaries written by solid men and women of God—people who have devoted their lives to the study of God, and whom we have the great honor of gleaning from.1

As I’ve come to discover the benefits of studying theology, I’ve committed to making theology a regular part of my life. I truly believe every believer should do so as well. Here’s why:

 

1. It helps us love God better

God cares deeply about what we do with our minds and particularly, how we utilize our minds to know Him. In Scripture, we are told to love God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37), to be continually meditating on God’s law (Joshua 1:8), and to do everything we possibly can to gain wisdom (Proverbs 4:6-7).

What better way for a believer to love God with our minds, than to engage them in studying Him? The more we know God—His character, His Words, His heart—the more we love Him. Knowing God is not only a form of worship, it is also the foundation of our worship. We must know Him whom we are worshipping in order to worship Him acceptably— for who He is, not who we imagine Him to be.

 

2. It changes how we view suffering

Throughout history and even today, great men and women of the faith have been persecuted and killed for what they believe. Paul, the author of most of the New Testament, was beaten nearly to death multiple times, shipwrecked and imprisoned, yet he steadfastly heralded the goodness of God to the churches.

Would your theology lead you there? Would mine? To champion God’s goodness even in the midst of unexplainable and unbearable pain?

When we have a proper theology, particularly about God’s goodness, we are able to keep our heart and soul sustained when the hardest tragedies in life take place. Studying God can lead us to the realization that God Himself is the definition of good and our trials have the ability to train our souls to be more like God (James 1:2-4).

 

3. It’s the secret to living the most joyful and satisfied life

Being a studier of God doesn’t mean we are boring or can’t enjoy life. It’s quite the opposite. While the world tells us that joy is found in getting everything we want, Christ says He came that we may have life to the fullest (John 10:10).

The peace that comes as we surrender to our Maker through knowing and obeying Him is unparalleled to anything the world can give. The more we know God, the clearer our purpose in life becomes. We are able to trust His will even when we do not understand, to rest in His goodness even when our life is overwhelmingly weighty, and to gain immense freedom and strength to enjoy life, encounter suffering, raise our kids, love our spouse selflessly, and worship God the way He created us to.

Years after those tortured summer car rides, I found myself voluntarily attending Moody Bible Institute—actually paying to study theology! You could find me devouring my books, highlighters and pens as my trusty companions, fully immersed in understanding the depths of my Maker and loving those moments more than anything else in my life.

 

Understanding theology—taking time to study God—is immeasurably and eternally valuable. I hope that I can encourage you to grab a study Bible, order a good book, spend extra time with God in prayer, and start to make studying our Creator a habit in your daily life today. We won’t always want to do it, but I promise you other things can wait. We will never regret having made the choice to prioritize God. He is worth our time. Let’s make it happen!

 

1 Some of the best resources I have found for understanding the depths of Scripture are Knowing God by J. I. Packer, The Sovereignty of God by Arthur Pink, Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, and Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.

When My Joys Don’t Line Up With God’s

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

“I feel bad that I’m not more serious,” frowned my friend Melissa*. Seeing my eyebrow raised questioningly, she continued, “You know, more serious about God.”

Now, Melissa is an active and outgoing Christian with strong friendships in her Bible study group and at church. She works in early childcare and finds babies adorable. In fact, Melissa loves cute things and fun events. “What do you mean?” I teased. “It’s not like your Facebook feed is all kitten videos, Korean hairstyles and photogenic edibles—oh, wait!”

She shot me a pained look, then continued, “Yeah, those are the things that make me smile. I don’t have the same enthusiasm for, like, Christian things. I try to pray and read the Bible, but I’m not the kind of person who posts Bible verses or articles about Jesus. I just feel guilty that I still find my hobbies, like searching for cute collectibles, a lot more fun. Is it wrong?”

 

A dangerous assumption

The simple answer to Melissa’s question is: no, it’s not wrong. But behind the question is an assumption that should be challenged. The idea that our interests and activities can be categorized into “Christian things” and “everything else” is false and creates a dangerous dichotomy, as if God has dominion only over our church services, ministries, Bible reading or prayer time. For if God is not also Lord of our leisure, entertainment, work, relationships, play, and even of our “me” time, then we cannot be said to belong to Him wholly.

Many of us live a double life in this sense; we set aside time for “Christian things,” and then feel as if we have earned some right to indulge in “everything else.” Having enjoyed ourselves with gusto, we then feel a guilty need to tip the scales once more in favor of “Christian things,” if only to earn ourselves some more indulgence time, and so on. I find myself sometimes slipping into this mindset too.

But guilt is a terrible motivator, and will over time erode our relationship with God, wrongly painting Him as a killjoy, a grim taskmaster. The idea that we could ever “earn” the right to do as we please is also potentially disastrous, a road that can lead us away from God altogether and after our own selfish pursuits. Isn’t there a better way to aspire to a full, balanced life?

 

Nothing is too small

We tend to think of the secular as divorced from the spiritual, but in reality the two are integrated—we each have only the one life, and it is to be lived for God. If we regard churchgoing and other overtly religious activities as more spiritual than, say, eating or sleeping, we restrict God’s lordship over our lives. Knowing Him should transform all aspects of our lives, so that “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

I used to wrestle with that idea: how could tea-drinking, for instance, be in the name of Jesus? Reading verse 17 in context helps us out. Paul’s argument stems from the fact that God has rescued us, and we get to live in a whole new way because of Jesus (Colossians 3:1-3). Our appropriate response to this, as Paul emphasizes three times, is gratitude to God (vv. 15, 16, 17). To do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus (v. 17) is to live with a constant awareness of our relationship with God.

Furthermore, to bear our Lord’s name reflects His lordship over us. As a result, all our activities rightfully belong to Jesus, and we merely manage our time and resources, thankful for the opportunities, thankful to be His. I will return later to this idea of resource management, or stewardship, but the implication here is that, being grateful to God for the “little things” we enjoy reflects our relationship with our Lord.

What does it look like when our “little things” are filled with an awareness of the Giver? Well, when I write, I am awed by the intricate workings of God’s world, and I ask Him constantly for the right words, at the right time, that my words might encourage my readers.

When my husband runs, he is genuinely immersed in his outdoors environment, loving the physical exertion and the mental clarity that a good run gives him, thankful to God for the weather and his health, and refreshed for his relationships and ministries. For the person who is mindful of God, even mundane, routine, necessary, or trivial tasks can be spiritual.

 

How then to choose?

But we should be careful about filling our calendar only with things that excite us, because these things in themselves cannot give us lasting joy. Instant gratification often keeps us going back to our little indulgences time and again—another hit, another dopamine surge, another high. But if all our life’s pursuits are as random and fleeting as our Instagram Stories, perhaps we are aiming too low and missing the mark?

As writer-theologian C. S. Lewis puts it in his sermon “The Weight of Glory”:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

How, then, do we choose the things that bring us closer to God, if we find them “dull” compared to the things we really feel like doing?

When I was four or so, I once complained that visiting my grandfather was boring. My dad told me that I could decide not to be bored! He then urged me to ask my Kong Kong about his life. I didn’t immediately understand or appreciate my father’s meaning. But the more often I visited, the better I got to know my grandfather, and eventually I began to love hearing about life in “the old days.” I also grew up, and the older me enjoyed his company just because I was outgrowing some of my toys and pastimes, and was ready to do more things with him, such as take long nature rambles, water the plants in his huge garden, or feed his many pets.

May I suggest that part of our Christian journey is to grow up in faith. This sometimes involves discipline to do things we don’t necessarily enjoy at first. But a far better, more long-term strategy is to cultivate a God-directed taste for pleasure. Many pursuits worth undertaking—for the joy of relating to and being close to God—may not initially “spark joy” in us because we generally cave in to instant rewards, and we so often fail to train ourselves to anticipate heaven instead. But as Colossians 3:1-2 puts it, being raised with Christ has changed our priorities, so that we should seek and set our eyes on the “things that are above” (ESV).

We can decide not to be bored; we can ask God to help us love and enjoy being with Him. If oneness with Him becomes our joy, as it is our Lord Jesus’, then our hobbies and entertainments will never entirely replace talking to and listening to God through His Word—which corrects false assumptions, drifting mindsets, and variable standards. The better we know God, the greater our enjoyment of the things that bring us closer to Him, which in turn helps us know Him even better, which gives us even more joy in serving Him, and so on!  

 

A matter of stewardship

We can’t live by instant gratification; we need a long view to end well. In Hebrews 12:1-3, the Christian life is described not as a sprint, but as a long-distance race requiring perseverance. We are asked to look to Jesus, who has gone ahead of us and who will see us through to the finish line.

We observe that Jesus’ joy in His relationship with God—the prospect of Their togetherness at last—fueled His earthly life and suffering. Because His heart always rejoiced in a oneness with God, His life’s energy was marshaled toward that purpose. Moreover, He has achieved it for us too; His death and victory on the cross have reconciled believers to God!

I love how pastor and writer-theologian Eugene Peterson paraphrases verse 2 in The Message:

Study how [Jesus ran]. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

When I wonder how much time to devote to my various hobbies, then, maybe the question I should be asking instead is this: does joy in my future union with God—“that exhilarating finish in and with God”—light and direct my present journey?

It’s a matter of stewardship, that is, managing our time and resources for an infinite joy that will be ours some day. That’s not to say we won’t or can’t enjoy the present and its many pleasures, but hopefully our lives don’t consist only of random, short-lived entertainments and avoidance of hardship! The idea of stewardship helps us recognize that we are always accountable to God for our choices because our lives have a long-term, God-directed purpose.

Melissa, don’t feel bad about enjoying your life. Instead, won’t you join me in taking inventory of the things that make us happy, thanking God and asking Him to help us use them for Him?

 

*Name has been changed for privacy.