Our relationship with God is based on our love for Him and His love for us. And because we have this two-way love affair with God we want to to please Him. A good marriage is a little like this, when we truly have a loving relationship with our spouse we want to please him or her; and it is our hope that they will want to please us.
Doing what God wants and not what we want is at the heart of pleasing God. We should know however, that pleasing God is not the reason God loves us. His love is unearned. God’s love is not given to us because of what we say and do. We are not in good standing with God because of works. We are in good standing because of faith. This is what the Bible means when we read we are justified (in good standing) by grace and faith.
Yet, because we love God, pleasing Him keeps us close to Him. If we do and say anything we want, it is disappointing God; the channels between God and us are temporarily broken down. We feel separated from God. We don’t feel or sense His love. So God must now discipline us. This does not feel good; this inward correction is like sandpaper in the soul. That loving feeling we share with God has dissipated as we try to straighten ourselves out with God. Our heart feels heavy and we feel guilty. Sometimes we feel ashamed. Until we truly fix this with God it will be very difficult to sense the love of God again. And we may not sense His love for a while even after we fix it, like a children might feel after they have been disciplined because they displeased their parents. The fix is asking for forgiveness and doing the best we can to change what it is about us that caused this temporary distancing that we are feeling between God and us. The good news is, we will eventually feel close to God again.
Doing what God wants and not what we want is at the heart of pleasing God. This is how we nourish our love affair with God. There are a few things to share in this short essay that will help us to be more pleasing to God; assuming that this is what we want to do.
We should not put ourselves in a compromising or a vulnerable position. The Apostle Paul described this spiritual strategy as making no provision for the flesh. It is this authors conviction that most sin and unbelief is hidden in, opaquely embedded, or transparently manifests itself in pride, greed, envy, lust, and fear – which is unbelief. It is unnecessary to expound on any of these, really. We know what they are and the longer we live and experience the world we know how they manifest themselves in us, in those around us, and the world in general. Most of our personal problems we experience and the injustice and inequality we are so concerned with in our world today have their roots in our faithlessness and these vices.
As Christians we need to stay far way from the pull and allurements that unbelief and these vices can have on us. We might be very strong when it comes to envy but weak when it comes to greed. Or strong when it comes to greed but weak when it comes to envy. And so it goes with the rest of them. Rarely do all of these vices coupled with unbelief overpower any of one of us. This is why we are always excusing or accusing others. We mostly accuse others for what we do not struggle with very much and excuse others for what we struggle with a lot. It makes us feel better about ourselves. This is why we shouldn’t judge anyone but ourselves and do it in the light of what God wants and not what we want. We are safe. God will never ask anything of us that is immoderate, inordinate or unseemly. God is looking for balance, sincerity and plausible restraint when in comes to lifestyle choices and conduct.
The more we experience life the more we know ourselves and our weaknesses. We shouldn’t put ourselves in a compromising or vulnerable position that we know could put our relationship with God on hold by displeasing Him. It’s just not worth it! These vices mentioned and their siblings are subtle and many times seem small. This author is more aware today than ever that it is the little foxes that spoil the vine.
Recognizing that there is so much in life we can enjoy and much less that we should stay away from is very important to know. My first experience with God was when I was about ten years old. But I didn’t get serious about my faith until I was a teenager. I remember my thinking at the time; my life would be over, no more fun for me if I got serious with God. Well, I found out this is not the case – actually far from it. There is so much we can enjoy in life and still be pleasing to God and keep our love affair with God running smoothly. Think of marriage for a minute: If you are Christian, it is amazing what you can do and stay spiritual! Sorry for this example but it well illustrates that behaviors must be understood and judged in context. God sanctifies marriage and the marriage bed is undefiled. A little lust in the context of marriage is really okay! It is normal.
As a side note, celibacy has damaged the Catholic Church, the older brother of protestantism, equal to any religious mandate that has ever been manufactured in religiosity. I am a protestant, I have great respect for the Catholic Church; their rich history, doctrinal grit, and centuries of suffering. But forced celibacy is a poor choice for its clergy. It has caused or at least contributed to embarrassing reproach for the church and horrific damage to many parishioners for many years. Refusing to marry and celibacy have absolutely no negative impact on our relationship with God. The contrary is true, intimacy within the context of marriage goes along way to bridle our passions and satisfy one of our basic needs. God ordained marriage and created physical intimacy.
God does not ask us to live a life with little or no fun and meaningful experiences. In the beginning God placed two trees in the Garden of Eden. One was the tree of life and the other was the tree of knowing and experiencing too much. I know this is controversial, but not all things are worth knowing and certainly not worth experiencing; in the end they are not helpful for us or society as a whole. As most of my readers have found this out by just living – not excluding myself. We have all made plenty of mistakes. Thankfully, God has forgiven us for them all!
An interesting detail about this Biblical story is both of these trees were in the midst of the garden, the middle point of the garden surrounded by an abundance of fruit that was healthy and good for our first couple. So all of the trees plus the tree of life was theirs to enjoy. Only one tree was off limits for Adam and Eve. So many good choices for them. And to make matters worse, they had to walk past, dare say, trample over a plethora of available fruit they were allowed to eat to even get to the one prohibited fruit tree smack in the middle of the Garden. They ignored the good and embraced the bad. They had so much, eating the forbidden fruit was not necessary for a good life.
It’s not quite this easy for us because of the abundance of mixed and unwholesome messages we are bombarded with today. We often have to wade through the bad to get to the good. Yet, the Garden of Eden encourages us that many experiences and activities in life are meaningful, wholesome and even cultural. They are not prohibited or at odds with our relationship and love affair with God; an abundance of good fruit!
God loves us. It’s best to stop doubting that He does. God loves the world. But there is a special love in His heart for His people. If you love God, God loves you for sure. When I served the church full-time I remember parishioners coming into my office with a bad case of what could be called love-doubt; a spiritual disease more prevalent than we might think. The symptom is God doesn’t love me. I would ask them if they had a deep love for God? If they said yes, I would say that confirms that God loves you! I would further explain, that it is impossible for us to genuinely love God without God loving us first. So please stop doubting God’s love for you.
This is an unwavering tenant of the Christian Faith. Paul wrote that we love God because he first loved us. We could illustrate this in an earthly way; God asked us out on a date, then asked us to marry him and now loves us with all of His heart. And we didn’t even have to flirt. We had nothing to do with getting this relationship started. God initiated and we responded to Him albeit with some reluctancy at first. This is how it works with God. Because we know we are loved, we will do well to continue to feed and nourish our relationship and love affair with God to the very end of our lives. And it usually takes the rest of our lives to do it!
Joseph Hutchison, Rochester Hills, Michigan, 2021
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