How can we access God’s delight?
When I think of God’s affection for me, the primary picture that comes to mind is a powerful image of love: the cross. While this is an important picture, it skews God’s love and makes it feel somber and at times almost compulsory, like the duty of a self-sacrificial soldier: critically important and full of relief but rarely joyful.
Think about the joy of a healthy parent and their child. We smile at babies, imitate their coos, play peekaboo, wrestle with our toddlers, tell jokes to our older children, and play games with them. Our delight is in the gleeful communion we create together.
The promise of Zephaniah 3:17 is that God
will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
Have you ever had someone rejoice over you with singing? I’m not sure what that meant in biblical times, but let me tell you that I rejoice over my kids with singing all the time. We sing all sorts of things, usually silly things. It’s something I remember from my own childhood: my mom singing to us, usually songs from her younger years that we never even heard the original versions of. We knew only the line or two my mom would sing.
Yet who else do we sing to? I can’t think of anyone else I sing to in the playful way families do — it’s a picture of the closeness and easiness and intimacy I have with my family. I don’t even worship the way that I sing over my kids with gladness. It is in times of silliness and play that judgment and evaluation fall away and we feel safe in our skin. Who cares if we’re off-key? We’re having fun together. This is communion.
- Singing and playfulness heal our shame and fear in relationships.
Yet it’s so hard for many of us to access this kind of connection with God.
“When theologians start talking about love,” Fr. James Keenan wrote, “it often loses its visceral sense. If we take the visceral meaning out of love, we sap it of its energy.”1 It’s often hard for our nervous systems to feel the visceral experience of God’s delight. We need new ways to experience God. Jesus tells us stories to help spark a sense of our belovedness, although we’ve often missed the message. Jesus tells stories of treasure-seekers who give up everything for the treasure they’ve found. Growing up, I often heard this put into a pressure-filled perspective on salvation: You have to give everything up if you’re going to get the treasure that is Heaven.2
But my friend Joshua Ryan Butler says Jesus is not only talking about us finding God but also God finding us. “God ‘sells the farm’ to bring us home,” he wrote. “Jesus is a treasure-hunting merchant. And we’re the buried gold.”3 We’re also the lost sheep that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine for, and we rejoice as He carries us home on His shoulders. And we’re the lost coin in the story about a woman who throws a party for her neighbors when she finds her coin, filled with great joy.
And of course in the prodigal son story, the sheer joy of the father shines through. The father and son’s connection has nothing to do with the son’s performance and everything to do with how much his father loves him. It’s not even as though the father balances the good against the bad; he simply reaches out to his son whom he adores.
Many take the brokenness within our world and within us to be proof that God does not delight in us. John Piper has said God hates not only sin — God hates sinners. He refutes the idea that God hates sin but loves us as people, saying, “That’s not accurate, it’s inadequate.” He states, “God hates unrepentant sinners,” and, “I don’t think it’s too much to say God hated John Piper.”4 When so much has gone wrong in the world — and within us — it’s easy to assume God is disgusted with us.
But I take the brokenness to mean just the opposite. We humans have a tendency to wreck everything in the most frustrating ways, yet God continues to want to walk alongside us, be near us, and connect with us. Our Divine Parent gently, stridently continues to draw near to us, undeterred by whatever ways we treat each other. And when we are connected, there is great rejoicing.
Friend of God is a common enough term, but I find that few people take it to heart. Lauren Winner reminds us that theologians throughout Christian history, including Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Thomas Aquinas, have said we all — “not just biblical heroes” — are friends of God.5 Friendship does land slightly differently than “Lord” or “King,” doesn’t it? Consider for a moment what it’s like to be with a friend. What happens in your body? What are the tones of voice that fill the room? It may be a different kind of delight than between a parent and infant, but it still creates a connection full of delight.
- When we experience delight, we heal.
The feeling of inner deformity goes away. If shame is the feeling of being unlovable, then being loved — and knowing that Love — is the cure. New Testament scholar Susan Eastman wrote in Paul and the Person that she believes the apostle Paul believed that “Change happens ‘between ourselves’ more than within discrete individuals.”6 She argues that it is a healthy, loving relationship with God — a truly loving parent — that creates a new sense of self because you begin to view yourself as lovable. The disgusting goo feeling goes away, not because you’ve changed your behavior but because you’ve found a loving God who embraces you.
You develop feelings of shame through relationships in your life, such as parents who treat you poorly, or peers at school who bully you, or a society that tells you are that you are lesser-than based on your income, skin color, or sexual orientation.
It is then through relationship with a God who delights in you that heals the shame. It’s not through changing your behavior, it’s through understanding yourself as beloved of God.
1.James F. Keenan, Moral Wisdom: Lessons and Texts from the Catholic Tradition (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), 12.
2.The paradox here is that while we are called to lose our lives in order to save them—a teaching in all four gospels—God is always on the move to restore the lost. We lose ourselves, in some sense, and God finds us.
3.Joshua Ryan Butler, The Pursuing God: A Reckless, Irrational, Obsessed Love That’s Dying to Bring Us Home (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016), 82.
4.John Piper, “Those He Called He Also Justified,” Desiring God, October 27, 1985, https://www.desiringgod.org /messages/those-whom-he-called-he-also-justified-part-1.
5.Lauren F. Winner, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God (New York: HarperOne, 2015), 143.
6.Susan Grove Eastman, Paul and the Person: Reframing Paul’s Anthropology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 99.
Excerpted with permission from Attached to God: A Practical Guide to Deeper Spiritual Experience by Krispin Mayfield, copyright Krispin Mayfield.
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Do you sense God’s delight in you? Think about the delight you feel and the singing you share with darling little children and imagine God feeling that kind of joy and silly closeness and friendship with you. He loves you! Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily