“We made this for Olivia!” My niece’s sing-song voice traveled up and down as she spoke the words, ending on a high note. She’d grabbed my hand and was pulling me out the back door to see their creation. Jazzy and Roxie looked on proudly at the collection of pretty things adorning the dirt. The girls had plucked petals from stems and gathered all manner of shiny and sparkling bits and pieces. They were splayed-out across a portion of the yard as a sort of monument. Their display warmed my heart.
Children have a way of doing small, unprompted things with great love.
My kids’ room is a mess more days than not. When Robert and I do finally
insist that they clean it, the girls drag their feet, making a thirty-minute
job last hours. On many occasions, though, we have been recipients of one of
Roxie and Jazzy’s surprises. Once, they (haphazardly) made our bed just to be nice. Another time, I was ceremoniously presented with a bowl of mud and acorn soup.
Duty, they find difficult, but sweet gestures abound. Perhaps more
remarkable than the gestures themselves are the joy kids find in making them.
Children (who know very little about duty until they are taught) are naturals
when it comes to the spontaneous expression of love.
We adults could learn a lot from them. As we get older, our list of duties grows longer and longer. Things we used to do for simple pleasure, become another item to check off–or worse, get left of the list entirely.
When is the last time you chased a butterfly, or spun in a circle, or ate your pizza and your ice-cream at the same time? My five-year-old does all of these things for no other reason than that she wants to.
And I envy her.
I also dream of a life with Jesus that is deeply satisfying and filled to the brim with childish pleasures. Is that sacrilege? Or is it some of what Jesus meant when He said:
“I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”–Luke 18:17
When did this pious notion creep into our Christian theology–the subtle idea that what we do (or don’t do) in the name of Christ must be done against the flow of our own desires? Is worship meant to be an obligation? Should prayer, Bible reading and church attendance be taken on with a sense of drudgery? Is serving others any less noble if I find joy in doing so? Does God get less glory, or more, if I am happy and satisfied in obeying His commands?
Jesus’ own words make it clear that to follow Him means to deny yourself. Does this mean that we must constantly live in conflict with what we actually want? Or does it mean that to give up our own way is to invite God to cultivate new desires–His desires–in our hearts so that we are capable of finding the most satisfaction in Him?
If the first is true, then we should prepare ourselves for a dull, deprived, and discontented life. If the second is true, then perhaps we have set the bar way too low when it comes to the level of contentment we can find in Jesus.
If I cannot be happy in Jesus, why in the world would anyone else want to follow Him? God is absolutely brimming with peace and joy and love. If my life consistently lacks these hallmarks, can I be sure that I actually belong to Him?
As a wife, I would rather receive one gift given in love than a thousand given out of a sense of duty. Motive makes a difference. Affection makes a difference.
I can tell when someone is spending time with me because they want to and not just because they have to. I much prefer the former.
Surely it is the same with God. Doesn’t it stand to reason that He is most glorified when we are happy in Him and far less so when we dutifully (but miserably) try to check off all the right boxes?
Jesus never said that following Him would result in an easy life, or a painless life, or a life without sorrow. The Bible is full of examples of people who loved God and still experienced great loss. It is also full of reasons to believe that a life wholly given over to God will be rich (in the ways that matter) and satisfying:
“Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”–Psalm 37:4
One Christian may wake up early to read the Bible and pray, even as another sleeps in to enjoy some God-appointed rest. One Christian may forego food to focus on God’s voice, while another thanks God for a delicious meal.
I have witnessed extravagant worship–both from those enduring a season of grief and from those who are experiencing incredible blessings. We can honor God as we give out of abundance and as we give out of great need.
The apostle Paul was able to say, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have,” because the source of his satisfaction was God, not situational factors.
The condition of our heart matters. Anything done only out of duty will eventually make us feel deprived. We can’t help but think of what we have lost or are missing out on. But anything done out of love will inevitably produce joy even if there is sacrifice involved. God wants us to have lasting joy. He knows that our ultimate pleasure can be found in Him alone, and so this is the path He leads us on. This is the path that leads to His glory and our good.
To have a heart that has been transformed until His desires are my desires—that is real joy. Real pleasure. Real satisfaction. That is a child-like heart, ready to overflow with spontaneous gestures of love. That is eating your pizza and ice-cream at the same time.
But duty won’t get us there. Only God can change a heart.
Lately, I have struggled to find satisfaction in You. Please forgive me for the times I have “performed” out of duty and obligation or sought pleasure apart from You. I want to do what is right—not just because it is right—but because I love You. Change my “want to”. I know that any genuine love I have for You is only a response to Your love. Your love came first and is so much greater. Remind me of Your love for me. Reshape my heart. Transform my desires. I want to live a life that is happy in You so that others will want to know You too. I pray that the joy and satisfaction I find in You—whether through a season of loss or abundance—would bring You glory.
In Jesus’ Name,