Hedonists!

In my most recent update letter, I mentioned that I have been learning about Christian Hedonism, the idea that it’s actually good to seek pleasure because God is the greatest pleasure there is. We are called not just to obey God, but to enjoy obedience! We should delight in the Lord!

Frankly, I often stink at this. It’s common for me to be trudging along, desperately trying to obey when everything in me feels very rebellious. Over the last week or so I’ve found myself feeling especially disconnected from the joy that is, according to scripture, supposed to come with obedience to God.

Today, while reading in Psalms, I came to Psalm 116, and God revealed Himself to me there. In this chapter, the psalmist explicitly states that he loves the Lord because the Lord hears his prayers. The writer was tangled up by death, and God responded when he cried out. God rescued him, thus he loves God.

Starting in verse 12, the tone shifts and he seems to be explaining what his love for God brings about in his life. He starts by questioning what he could do to repay God’s kindness. We know from other passages of scripture that the answer is “nothing.” There is nothing we can do to pay God back. But the psalmist doesn’t say “Nothing, so I’m going to offer nothing.” In fact, he chooses to offer public vows of service, and the “sacrifice of thanksgiving.”

This is clearly a man who is finding joy in serving God. This is not a sense of obligation. He knows he cannot repay God, so we know his motivation for service is not paying off debt. So what is his motivation for serving God? Based on the delight that is evident in his words, I think it’s pleasure. The author of this psalm is serving God because he loves God and it’s pleasurable to serve Him. So here’s the question I had to ask: was I truly finding pleasure in my service to God? If not, why?

And as I re-read the text, I saw a flow: God hears the cry of the distressed, God meets their needs, they love God for his attentiveness, they begin to serve God, God blesses them with abundant joy from their service… But in my fallen perspective, God didn’t seem to be meeting my needs or answering my cries, so my service wasn’t motivated by love for Him. I was believing in a god that is inattentive to the calls of his people. But taking that a step further, the only way I could still have unmet needs is for Christ’s provision on the cross to be insufficient for all my needs. Stated in that way, my mind and soul (and I hope yours too) reject immediately the idea that Christ’s sacrifice was anything less than supremely sufficient.

The God I serve is not just attentive to my needs, and He certainly is not inattentive to them; rather God is pre-attentive to my needs, meeting them long before I even know what they are or have the capacity to cry out to Him for help. I recognize now that the reason God isn’t responding to my cries in my timing is simply that He has already resoundingly responded to every cry in His timing, through the cross at Calvary! And because He has heard my cry and responded before I cried it, I find my love for God restored, my desire to serve Him returning, and my joy in serving replenished!

Psalm 119:14, 16, 24, 35

“In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.”

“I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.”

“Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.”

“Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.”

Impetus

An unexpected chill shocked me as I stepped out into the pre-dawn grey. With nothing passing between us besides a brief acknowledgement of the cold, Kevin and I started our jog. I’d never been to “the rock” and it was too cold to waste precious warm breath making an Alcatraz joke. And so we ran, swift and silent, through the hazy glow of street lights. Soon, the sidewalk stopped, and with it, the convenient lighting courtesy of the City of Austin. Beneath the mostly barren canopy of trees who had yet to launch into their spring rituals, we trekked. What little light managed to climb over the horizon was thwarted by the woods. To me, the trail is indistinguishable from the thorny brush flanking it on either side. I see nothing but obscurity and hues of dark. Left on my own, I would inevitably be lost and injured, tangled in brambles I was never meant to encounter.

However, with my eyes fixed firmly on the one who goes before me, I mimic his movements around hairpin turns, over narrow plank bridges, onto the stepping stones that lead across the shallow stream. He ducks, and I instinctively lower my own head to avoid the unseen branch. He lifts his left hand to block wispy branches that reach out to claw his face, and though I have no visual evidence they are there, I follow suit and feel them slap harmlessly against my forearm. Each warning of “watch out for that rock” or “jump over that pothole” builds trust between us. In this world of shadows, where everything is colored in varied tones of gloom, I realized that running after Kevin, whose familiarity with the trail went far beyond my own, provides an excellent picture of the life of a Christian.

When I follow Christ, I don’t know where we are going. I don’t know what is around the next bend or on the other side of the trial I’m in the midst of. But I know that I’m following someone who does. I know that the more closely I can stick to Him the more timely His help will come, and the more able to stay on the path I will be. There will still be times when I grow weary; when each heartbeat feels like it will burst my head clean apart; when my legs feel like molten lead- dense, unsteady, and fiery hot… But in those times, I can look up and see my Savior- His pierced feet rhythmically thudding along, His loving voice sending me encouragement and warnings- and I can know that my path is known, and at the end of it sits the Rock.

1 Samuel 2:2

“There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.”