Tandy in Alabama writes in to ask, “In your book Desiring God you quote Psalm 37:4 many times. Most of these references are to support the idea that joy is a command. What does ‘delight yourself in the Lord’ mean, practically?”
1. Delight in God as the most admirable.
It means, first, seeing him as the most admirable person and reality in the universe. Ironically Ayn Rand who was an Atheist and wrote Atlas Shrugged said something I think stunningly true. She said, “Admiration is the rarest of pleasures.” Now in her mouth I think that was pure cynicism, meaning she has already rejected God, the source of all admiration and all admirability and she can’t see many people that she admires — and so she is a cynic. But how right she is that admiration is one of our greatest pleasures. We love to admire sports figures and music figures and acting figures and admire beauty and admire sunsets and sunrises and mountains and rivers. We are admiring creatures to the core and I think we are wired to be satisfied by admiring the most admirable and the most admirable is God. Therefore, “delight yourself in the Lord” means delight yourself in seeing his infinite admirableness.
“Delighting in God means savoring the diverse excellencies of God, especially as they are manifest in Christ.”
For me, Jonathan Edwards has been a huge help here. He has observed that the beauty of Christ — the excellencies of Christ that satisfy the human longing for ultimate excellence and ultimate beauty and in them ultimate satisfaction — is seen most clearly when you observe the diverse excellencies or the surprising juxtaposition of seeming opposites in Christ.
So I jotted down a little section from his sermon, “The Excellencies of Christ,” to give a flavor of what I see when I am delighting in Jesus:
The person of Christ brings together infinite highness and infinite condescension, infinite justice and infinite grace, infinite glory and lowest humility, infinite majesty and transcendent meekness, deepest reverence towards God and equality with God, infinite worthiness of good and greatest patience under suffering evil, exceeding spirit of obedience with supreme dominion over heaven and earth, absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation, self-sufficiency and entire trust and reliance upon God.
And Edwards is right. When Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, the devil keeps us “from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,” he means the devil is in the business of killing our enjoyment of the beauty of Christ in the gospel and the gospel is the place where the cross brings those diverse excellencies together most clearly. So that is number one: delighting in God practically means seeing and savoring the diverse excellencies of God, especially as they are manifest in Christ, especially as he brings them to fulfillment at the cross.
2. Delight in God as your intimate Savior and friend.
But here is the second thing I would say and I think I only have two more. Know this God as your intimate, caring Savior and friend. And here is why I say that. I have often said in many contexts, “No one goes to the Grand Canyon to increase his self-esteem.” We go to the Grand Canyon why? People do. They go to the Grand Canyon. And if they can’t go there, they buy a big, glossy book and put it on their coffee table. Why? Because standing at the Grand Canyon and watching this vast cavernous, open space that goes down a mile into the ground with a tiny little river down there at the bottom which is a massive river — it does something to our souls, because God made us to know him as the great Grand Canyon.
“Delight in his love, his care, his protection, and his desire to have that kind of intimate personal relationship with you.”
What happened when I told that story, a woman said to me one time that was so illuminating to me. She said, “Well, yes, but it is hard to enjoy the Grand Canyon if you feel you might fall over the edge and be killed by the Grand Canyon.”
And I thought, that is right. She is absolutely right. If we don’t have in addition to seeing and savoring the Grand Canyon, a sweet sense that the canyon is not going to kill us, I will shift my metaphor off of the canyon onto Jesus. If God and Jesus are not for us, if they are not in love with us, if they are not our friend, if they are not our Savior, if they are not kind to us and caring for us and protecting us, we won’t have the capacity to see the Grand Canyon as beautiful. We will just be terrified. We will be locked up inside our fears and we won’t be able to know him and enjoy him.
And so from the time I was a sophomore in college, Galatians 2:20 has served me like that: “I am crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” And then I pause. I take a deep breath: “Who loved me, who loved me.” It is one of the few places where Paul uses the singular, personal pronoun for how Jesus relates to him and not just us. He “loved me and gave himself for me.” That is what Paul said. So I just transfer that over onto me.
And just recently, in my devotions, maybe nine days ago, I read Revelation 2:17, where Jesus says, “I will give him.” I am reading “John Piper” into that. He says, “John, I will give you a white stone some day with a new name written on it ‘that no one knows except the one who receives it.’”
“All through the day, every good thing that gives us pleasure should be an instance of delighting in God.”
Why does he say that? He says it because he wants to assure me. You are not a number in the system. You are not a cog in the great wheel of providence. I have you in mind, I have a name for you, and I want you and me to have the kind of relationship that there are things about it nobody else knows. That is simply breathtaking! My second thing is to say that delighting in God means delighting in his love for me and delighting in the fact that he cares for me and will protect me and means to have that kind of intimate personal relationship with me.
3. Delight in God through his gifts.
And I suppose I shouldn’t stop without saying we delight in God through what he has made. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). And we did a podcast about food and sex and said they are really God’s gifts and we are supposed to receive them with thanksgiving and turn them into an occasion of worship. And so all through the day, every good thing that gives us pleasure should be an instance of delighting in God.
Let me say those three again: seeing and savoring him as infinitely admirable, embracing him as your dearest friend, Savior, caring protector, provider, and thirdly, receiving with thanks and worship everything he gives you.
Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes.