By Karen Diefendorf
I have a practice of concentrating on one of the shorter epistles or books of prophecy when I’m away from home and its usual routines. I can read through a whole book in one sitting each day or I can thoroughly concentrate on smaller sections of the smaller book each day while still completing the whole book by the end of the stay.
Recently I decided to concentrate on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. However, this time I found myself somewhat bored with what should have been a stimulating text. Perhaps you’ve had similar dry spells in your devotional study; your mind keeps saying, I’ve heard this before, and you skim over words that normally pop off the page.
Call me odd, but on this particular morning I decided to diagram the sentences in the English text. I’m not sure what possessed me to do it. I never liked doing it for high school English classes, so why now?
But desperate times (like devotional meltdown) call for desperate measures! Ever influenced by the great Scottish preacher James Stewart, I began looking for repetitious words that might open new windows and let in some fresh reflections.
And then I found it. Pleasure.
Most people understand pleasure, or at least what is not pleasurable. We take pleasure in doing special things for others. We get pleasure from our favorite foods, finishing a long project, being with friends, and a myriad of other experiences. Yet, have you ever considered God’s pleasure?
God, it seems, found pleasure in creation, pronouncing at the end of the sixth day that all he created was “very good.” I suspect he took pleasure in raising Christ from the dead and putting Satan in his place.
Do we think so much about the evils of hedonism that we miss that God got a kick out of saving us? The words in Ephesians 1 are so relationally rich. Verse 4: “He chose us.” Verse 5: “He predestined us” and “adopted” us. In verse 11 Paul repeats himself, “chosen, having been predestined.” It’s as though there aren’t adequate words to describe God’s action toward us.
Not only does God choose us, predestine us, and adopt us, but he does so with his pleasure and will (vv. 5, 9) because God’s grace and mercy are “lavished” on us. It’s not just a dab of grace or a pinch of mercy. God reaches into the mayo jar and smears it on. And all of this is described in multiple ways as “riches” (vv. 7, 18; 2:4). God does it all to make “known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure” (v. 9).
How do we respond to this kind of gift? God took pleasure in what he did for us, but do we take reciprocal pleasure in God? Does God take pleasure in what he sees in me? My reflections move me to take inventory of how much attention I’ve been paying to the energy I want to put into loving God back.
God is holy. God wants us to take his holiness seriously. I was given an iPod loaded with the whole Bible. Due to some family circumstances, I traveled eight hours round-trip several weekends in a row.
I could not have been more impressed with God’s intent in the Pentateuch than listening to all of it read at one time in one weekend. Yes, there were laws I’m glad I don’t have to observe. Yes, there were those wonderful stories from creation to the exodus to the edge of the Jordan. But all of it came down to God’s getting my attention that he is holy and he means for me to take that seriously.
Holiness is so far removed from our culture that I cannot wrap my mind around what it would look like to live such a holy life before God. The Old Testament recounts the constant yo-yo fidelity of God’s people, at one moment faithful and the next quickly forgetting everything God has done for them, lessons they’ve learned, and promises they’ve just made. God is a perfect parent. He allows the built-in consequences to take their course. He disciplines, he punishes, he restores.
Aren’t you amazed at his patience? Aren’t you just as surprised that he destroyed it all only once?
Obedience. That is not a pleasure word. It seems diametrically opposed to pleasure, a wet blanket on our good time. But think about the premise of the popular book The Five Love Languages. The author explains how we can express our love to our mate in ways our mate can hear, ways that are meaningful to him or her, not to us.
God has told us how to express our love to him: “If you love me, keep my commandments.”
Have you ever just wanted your kids to do what you asked them to do? Have you ever wanted your spouse to do one of those tasks on the honey-do list without being asked? Willing obedience speaks volumes. As I sit here with my coffee and neatly diagrammed chapter, I long for God to take pleasure in an obedient, holy life.
Loving feelings grow cold when the little details go unattended. Have you looked into the eyes lately of someone who is absolutely thrilled to do something incredibly generous for you? Better yet, recall how you felt when you planned a special surprise that took extra effort and time. Were you apprehensive? Did you wonder if your gift or effort would be received with gratitude that matched your anticipation?
Have you looked into the eyes lately of the Someone who took such pleasure in bringing you back to him that he wants you to know the hope, riches, and power available to you? And have you received this gift with such gratitude that God takes pleasure in you?
Karen J. Diefendorf is academic dean at Lincoln (Illinois) Christian College. She served 20 years on active duty as a chaplain in the U.S. Army, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.