A few weeks ago, February 8th to be specific, I wrote a post on what I was learning about the term "glorifying God." I referenced a familiar confession within the Presbyterian church that begins with these words:
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
After a discussion about glorifying God, I promised to talk more about the second part of the statement, enjoying God, in another entry. However, it has taken me a while to do that because I have been struggling with it a bit.
Don't get me wrong: I am a huge fan of enjoying God. I have been talking to God for pretty much my whole life and I enjoy Him immensely...I like to think that He enjoys me too...I am quite certain I at least make Him laugh on a regular basis! The definition of enjoy is to "receive pleasure or satisfaction from." Some synonyms of the word enjoy include "savor, relish, delight in." All really good things and all encouraged by scripture. In fact, as we are learning in our bible study, God's presence in our life brings satisfaction and joy that simply can't be found anywhere else. Not only do I enjoy God's presence, but in recent years I have learned to enjoy God's Word in a whole new way...I find pleasure and satisfaction in studying His word and in figuring out how it applies to my life. And the idea that, as the words above suggest, we will be able to enjoy Him forever just makes it that much better.
So what possible issue could I have with the idea of enjoying God? For those of you who read this regularly, you might remember that the day after I wrote about glorifying God, I posted a link to an article called The Christian Paradox (which I found on Rodger Sellers' blog.) Some things in that article, along with a conversation with a friend, got me thinking about enjoying God in another light. Here's the thing; I wonder if sometimes our relationship with God can get to be ALL about our enjoyment, our satisfaction, our pleasure? Notice the common word here...OUR. Maybe it would be more fair to say MY enjoyment, MY satisfaction, MY pleasure. I FEEL better when I seek God's presence and find it. I don't worry as much, I feel calmer, I feel more centered. I confess my sins and I feel less guilty. See the pattern here: I, I, I, me, me, me. The author of The Christian Paradox called it a "kind of soft-focus, comfortable, suburban faith" that caters to our "culture of unrelenting self-obsession" but "manages to ignore Jesus’ radical and demanding focus on others."
OUCH! Could it be that sometimes we get stuck in a cycle where we seek God when we feel bad, His presence helps us to feel better, we feel better and congratulate ourselves on how well we are doing, decide we have got it all figured out, mess up again when we try to go it alone, start feeling bad, seek God again so we will feel better? Anyone but me? Again, don't misunderstand...I am all about the feel-good part of seeking God! I am addicted to that Holy Buzz that comes from truly living in the Spirit...from those moments when I truly experience God's presence and see Him at work. But, if living in the Spirit doesn't bring about radical transformation of our character, it seems to me that we might be missing the point. If we miss the part of Jesus' command for us to be servants, even when it doesn't FEEL good, then we might be picking and choosing the parts of the Gospel that we find most appealing. We need to understand that bible study with our lady friends might be fulfilling and fabulous when we are all doing great, but might get messy and painful when one of us is hurting. But Jesus calls us to stick with it and serve one another even when it hurts...even when it is not fun. Sure, our faith should make us feel good sometimes, but sometimes it ought to challenge us and make us a little, or maybe even a lot, uncomfortable.
I've heard the phrase "God is more concerned with our character than our comfort" over and over again recently...I think I've actually posted it here more than once. I heard it again from our speaker this weekend at our Women's Retreat. While I would prefer it if God were more concerned with my comfort than my character, it appears that it is not actually all about me. While that is disturbing enough news :-), it appears that it is not actually all about you either. It is not even all about us Americans! If I am understanding this right, it appears that God has a plan for this world that rests on the two following commandments:
Matthew 22:36-40: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
The love Jesus is talking about here is not a feeling, but a decision or an action. Love like this requires our focus to be on the object of that love and requires that we DO something, not just FEEL something. And, if the kind of heart/ soul/ mind love of God that Jesus commands here is hard, then the love of neighbor as yourself part must be even harder. It seems that both require us to be a little less concerned with how we are feeling and a little (maybe a lot) more concerned with what God would have us do next. Maybe if our focus begins to be on these two commands, and not on ourselves and our own fickle feelings, the "enjoying God" part will take care of itself... perhaps the "glorifying God" part as well!!
Would love to hear your thoughts on this!