Series: Stuff You've Got To Know
Rejoice! God Is Pleased
August 05, 2018 | Randy Smith
Rejoice! God Is Pleased
Sunday, August 6, 2018
Pastor Randy Smith
It was one of those sermons in which one brief comment was left ringing in my ears. Regarding a foundational principle in parenting, the preacher said, “It is our primary responsibility to see that our children are holy and not happy.” Many were convinced as to how much these words solidified a godly approach to bringing up their children.
Yet must I really separate for my children what will make them happy and what will make them holy? Must my children choose between God’s glory and personal happiness or can they have both? Must they have both?
For many years one of my primary interests has been the study of joy in the Christian life (and I will be using joy and happiness synonymously in this sermon). Everything I have learned has been built on the foundation of those who went before me in this journey. Jonathan Edwards pioneered this research. It was expanded by C.S. Lewis. John Piper refined the work and Sam Storms brought further explanation (whose work permeates much of this message).
The way I see it, it basically comes down to one question: Is my pursuit of God’s glory on a different track than my pursuit of personal joy? In other words, must I choose between the two or may I be happy and holy at the same time?
Listen, I submit to you that you will never be truly happy until you are radically pursuing God’s glory. And being happy in Christ is the greatest way to glorify God. As John Piper continually puts it, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.”
Personally, understanding this concept has revolutionized my Christian life. I’d like to share the basics of this theology with you this morning. I trust you will be blessed and your walk with Jesus Christ will be transformed into something you have never experienced in the past.
I have already provided for you the “big picture.” Let’s break things down to determine how I arrived at my conclusion and then let’s see how this theology impacts our daily living in a practical way before we enjoy the Lord’s Table this morning.
The first premise: There can be no doubt that the greatest expectation placed upon us is the all-out pursuit of God’s glory. Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. Or the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
Possibly the clearest identification of a professing Christian who truly has a changed heart is the all-encompassing desire to live for the glory of God. We once lived for ourselves; now in “whatever we do” we do it for God’s glory. Around the clock we ask, “Is this decision in line with His will?” “Does this action bring Him honor?” “Is this how God would desire me to live my life?” 2 Corinthians 5:15, “And He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”
When the Holy Spirit comes upon us at salvation, we are now given a desire to see our lives pursue righteousness, reflect the image of Christ, obey the Bible, bring God glory in all things.
The second premise: In addition to a desire to glorify God, we, even as believers, have a desire to be happy.
The French Christian Philosopher Blaise Pascal said it well: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even to those who hang themselves” (Pascal’s Pensees, Thought #425).
Believer and unbeliever alike are wired by God to pursue their happiness. In all the decisions we make we have an overwhelming desire to act upon that which will bring us the greatest joy in the ultimate sense—whether or not we eat that banana split or spend that money or attend that function.
Pursuing our happiness is natural, but (and here is the big question) is happiness at odds with God’s glory? We are to seek God’s glory above all else. We naturally seek happiness above all else. Is it possible to marry both of these and make them one? Is it possible to pursue my happiness and God’s glory at the same time? Is it possible to be a “Christian hedonist?”
God made us to pursue our joy. Joy is even a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Therefore I believe the pursuit of joy it is a good drive within us. I believe there is no problem with pursuing our happiness so long as our pursuit of happiness is in the pursuit of God’s glory. In other words, the problem is not with the passion, but rather the problem is with the paths to happiness that we often choose. Permit me to provide two reasons why I believe that.
Pursuing our joy in God is the greatest way to have the truest joy. We determine the worth of our prize by the quality of our delight in it. A MacDonald’s hamburger loses its appeal once we have had filet minion. The satisfaction of catching tadpoles loses its appeal once we have reeled in an 80-pound tuna. Again, I am not saying that pursuing our pleasures is wrong or that we should deny them (as Buddhism teaches), I’m simply saying we don’t pursue our pleasures enough and when we do, we try to satisfy them in cheaper treasures!
Think about it, what is a greater treasure than God? And once we’ve tasted God, how can the temporary trinkets of the world bring us greater satisfaction? The idols of shopping, alcohol, sports, people, hobbies, television and the million others false gods we depend on must all take a backseat when compared to the greatness of God. Psalm 16:11, “In Your presence (not in watching American Idol or having a faster car or losing 25 pounds) is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the LORD is good.”
God has built us with a desire to be fascinated and intrigued and exhilarated and happy. We are fools if we try to find these needs met in anything less than God. Only in His presence do we find the satisfaction and forgiveness and purpose and joy that our heart so desperately craves!
A great example in the Bible is found in Hebrews 11:24-26 and it comes from the life of Moses.
As you know, Moses spent the first forty years of his life as a child in Pharaoh’s household. Moses had it all yet in Hebrews 11 we read, “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.”
Moses took a long hard look at all that Egypt had to offer him and there certainly was a lot – wealth, power, influence comfort, authority, fame and respect and found it incompatible with what God had to offer him. He found the decision to pursue the Lord a greater joy than the “passing pleasure of sin” as the verse says even in spite of the consequences he would suffer for his righteous stand. Why would Moses or any of us choose the fleeting pleasures of sin when we can have pleasures forevermore?
So we pursue our pleasure in God because it is the wisest pursuit to bring us the greatest pleasure, but we also pursue our pleasure in God because it’s the greatest way (and here we go!) we can bring Him the most glory!
Though it’s an overused illustration, I’ll share it once again because it does the best job of driving my point home.
Knock! Knock! “Honey, what are you doing at the front door and look at those beautiful flowers!” “Well, I know it’s our anniversary and being the good husband that I am, I realize it’s my responsibility to buy you these flowers and take you out to dinner. Of course there are a million-and-one other things I rather do, but I am here to fulfill my duty.”
Wrong answer, guys! Let’s try it again.
Knock! Knock! “Honey, what are you doing at the front door and look at those beautiful flowers!” “Well, I know it’s our anniversary and I’ve been looking forward to it for long time. I couldn’t wait to give you these flowers and nothing would bring me greater joy than taking you out to dinner tonight.”
Now let me ask you, which scenario brought my wife greater honor? Was it serving her out of duty or serving her out of personal happiness? Would she say, “There you go again, Randy, always thinking about yourself!” or would she be honored that my delight is in her?
Why do we think it is any different with God? My Bible says, “Delight yourself in the LORD” (Psm. 34:7). We are commanded to find our ultimate joy in Him. It’s all over the Scriptures!
What does it say to God when we obey His Word out of sheer duty when our hearts really want the opposite? Compare that response to Psalmist’s when he said, “For Your law is my delight” (Psm>. 119:77). What about serving? Psalm 100:2 says, “Serve the LORD with gladness.” A command to serve and a command to enjoy doing it! What about financial givings? 2 Corinthians 9:7, “God loves a cheerful giver.” What about singing? Psalm 81:11, “Sing for joy to God our strength; shout joyfully to the God of Jacob.” God demands an emotional response to who He is. Anything less is sin and dishonoring to His greatness. So I believe we bring God the most glory by finding our greatest joy in Him!
Let’s continue along these lines regarding the topic of church attendance. First, a very interesting verse from Deuteronomy that speaks about the need to have a joyful heart when worshipping the Lord. God told the Israelites, “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you” (Dt. 28:47-48).
“So Randy, let me be sure I understand you correctly. Are you saying I’m in sin if my heart is not in tune to God when I come here to worship on Sunday?” Absolutely! When you worship God with your lips and your heart is a thousand miles away from him you are committing the same sin for which Jesus rebuked the Pharisees – hypocrisy (Mt. 15:7-9)! It is better to not worship at all as compared to worshipping the unsurpassable and matchless and transcendent God out of sheer duty or routine. “Well, then if my heart is not right are you suggesting I stay home?” Absolutely not! The Bible is clear that forsaking the corporate worship of the church is also sin (Heb. 10:25). “Great, if I come I’m in sin and if I stay home I’m in sin. What am I supposed to do?”
Beloved, God never leaves you in a dilemma where there is no righteous alternative. You need to confess your sin of joylessness and come to church with some type of passion – for that is what God is looking for in all of us. Maybe it’s passion that says, “I can’t wait to worship You with my brothers and sisters in Christ this Sunday. Or maybe it’s passion that says, “My heart is not right but only You can restore to me the joy of my salvation” (Psm. 50:12). Either way, it’s passion and it’s looking to God to meet your needs. That glorifies Him! That’s worship!
A good example comes from Psalm 42. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God” (Psm. 42:1). Let me ask you, what brings honor to the water brooks—the deer panting for them or the deer drinking from them? The answer is, both!
Now let’s personalize the analogy. We are the deer and God is the water brooks. There is no doubt that God is honored when we quench the thirst of our soul in Him. But isn’t He also honored when we pant for Him, longing for Him and Him alone?
Let’s stay in line with the issue of hungering for God and apply it more generally to the topic of sin. Does hungering for God have anything to do with choosing righteousness? Even if you’ve been a Christian for only a few weeks, I’m sure you are well aware of the battle against sin. Even the mature apostle Paul said, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (Rom. 7:19). Despite the biblical tactics of warnings and shame and prohibitions and threats we still are overcome by the desire to sin. Even the teaching from our parents and pastors, even our reading from the Bible itself, at times has limited value to keep us from sin.
Well, we must understand that sin is a desire. We don’t fall into sin. We may be tempted, but sin is a personal choice we make and one to which we are responsible. Simply put, we sin because we want to sin. We believe sin will bring us greater pleasure, greater joy than obedience.
Possibly you heard during some time in your life the story of Odysseus, also known as Ulysses. Interesting about this hero of Greek mythology was his encounter with the Sirens. Countless were the unwitting sailors who, on passing by their island, succumbed to the outward beauty of the Sirens and their seductively irresistible songs. Once lured close to the shore, their boats crashed on the hidden rocks lurking beneath the surface of the sea. The demonic cannibals whose alluring disguise and mesmerizing melodies had drawn them close wasted little time in savagely consuming their flesh.
Ulysses was warned about the Sirens so when approaching their island ordered his crew to tie him to the mast of the ship and put wax in their ears. “I want to hear the song,” said the foolish leader. “No matter what I say or do, don’t untie me until we are safely at a distance from the island.” As the ship passed by, Ulysses inwardly wanted to pursue the Sirens but outwardly the ropes prevented his indulgence.
This is how many well-meaning believers seek to get through the Christian life. In their battle against sin they are living in guilt, frustration, despair, hopelessness and a lack of joy hanging on by their fingernails hoping to persevere through the Christian life.
Is this how God really wants us to live? Obeying like Ulysses only because we are shacked by external restraints? Obeying not because it is the glad product of a transformed heart, but because we are motivated by fear and shame? Does this bring you much joy and does external obedience when our heart wants just the opposite bring God any glory? I don’t think so!
Jason, like Ulysses, was himself a character of ancient mythology. Like Ulysses, Jason also faced the Sirens, but he brought a different solution to the problem. Jason brought with him Orpheus whose musical ability surpassed the Sirens. As the ship passed by the Sirens, Orpheus played his beautiful sound and the Sirens didn’t stand a chance.
Do you understand the point I am making? The goal of our Christian life is to find so much beauty in Jesus Christ, happiness in Jesus Christ that the Sirens of sin don’t stand a chance. Remember, I said we are created for pleasure. Sin holds out for us a promise of pleasure. So we must fight its promise with a greater promise. We must understand the superior happiness that comes from doing it God’s way and not pursuing the temporary and toxic pleasures of sin.
All of God’s commands must be seen through the lens of a heavenly Father who wants our very best. He made us and despite what the Sirens may be saying, whether they be feelings or popular opinion, God knows what will truly make us happy. So when the Sirens say greater happiness is found in stealing or lying or adultery or premarital sex or materialism or intoxication or popularity or complacency or self-focus or shallow Christian thinking we hold up the shield of faith and refuse to be duped by the lie.
True Christians reveal a heart that finds God more satisfying than sin. Remember that your joy and God’s glory are on the same track from now into eternity. Don’t settle for less!