I’ve been blown away recently thinking about the Bible’s teaching that Christians are able to please God through their lives and their actions. Allow me to try and explain.
A little group of us were studying Haggai chapter 1 the other day. The prophet Haggai was living in a time after the people of Israel had begun to return from exile to a Jerusalem that lay in ruins. They started to rebuild God’s temple there, destroyed by the Babylonians seventy years earlier, but a combination of opposition and general selfishness meant that they gradually lost enthusiasm for the project and it more or less ground to a halt. Along comes Haggai and delivers this message from God:
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the LORD.” (Haggai 1:7-8)
“Get off your lazy backsides and get building!”, says God. But in doing so, he says something which seems to me to be quite remarkable: “I want to be able to take pleasure in this temple you’re going to build – this tangible symbol of your obedience and your love for me.” God will look at the temple and heave a big sigh of contentment and delight, taking pleasure in his people who built it.
Amazing! I tend to think of God in a very “static” kind of way – he is who he is and that’s just the way it is. But the Bible consistently teaches that the way we act matters to God – we can grieve him by our sin and we can delight him by our acts of faith. Now, of course, it’s important to say that we can’t “please God” in the sense of earning his love by trying really hard to be good. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please him”. Or as Romans 8:8 puts it, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
But we mustn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Through faith in Christ, united to Jesus, we can actually bring pleasure to God by living godly lives in line with his will. Ephesians 5:10 puts it like this:
“Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
That’s a pretty good life motto. Try to figure out what’s going to please the Lord. In whatever situation I’m in today, how can I please the Lord in this?
I think it gives real meaning to even the most mundane of moments. Struggling to find joy in your work? Well, try to discern how you can do your job in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. Finding relationships difficult? What’s going to be pleasing to the Lord in this situation? Finding church a bit of a battle at the moment? What’s going to bring pleasure to the Lord in the way you relate to your brothers and sisters there? Battling away with a particular sin that never seems to go away, and wondering why you’re even bothering? Take heart – when you overcome by faith in the power of his Spirit, you can pleases God.
What are you living for at the moment? Who are you trying to please? I’m very challenged by all this to try day-by-day to fix my eyes on God and how I can live in a way that pleases him, and it really encourages me to keep on battling sin even when it seems like an utterly thankless task. What a thought, to know that God might actually take pleasure from those little acts of obedience prompted by my faith.