If you seek first to please God and are satisfied therein, you have but one to please instead of multitudes; and a multitude of masters are harder to please than one.
If I, an earthly father, can know such a sensation of pleasure in the well-being of my son, surely that gives an inkling of how our heavenly Father feels when we please Him. If we could only grasp and be grasped by this, our lives would be revolutionized.
In the film Chariots of Fire there is a memorable scene involving Eric Liddell and his sister, Jenny. She is chiding him for what she regards as his divided loyalty between his athletics and his commitment to Christ. She reminds him that God made him for Himself. He replies: “Aye, Jenny, I know, but He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” For us, this may not be athletics. It may be accounting or selling or teaching or nursing or mothering. In the latter case, this would allow a mother to declare with conviction: “And when I make the lunches, I feel His pleasure.”
We make a great mistake if we think of (pleasing God) as a compartment of life marked “spiritual,” or “religious,” rather than as a total way of life involving pleasing God in all its aspects. We want to learn to be able to say with Paul, “We make it our goal to please Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).
Let us therefore, leaving off all other things, aim exclusively at this – that we may be approved by God and may be satisfied to have His approbation alone, as it justly ought to be regarded by us as of more value than all the applauses of the whole world.
We should delight in God’s delight. Mere outward conformity to the law is not what God requires. The person who does what God says with a resentful heart and begrudging obedience does not bear the mark of the true child of light. The heart renewed by the Spirit desires to please God, is anxious to find out what He desires, and is motivated by the sense of bringing God pleasure.
It is important that we have a firm understanding of what it means to please God. To state it succinctly, God is only pleased with that which is in perfect agreement with His perfections. God is only glorified in Himself either in beholding His innate triune perfections within His own being or observing Himself through His creation. Truly pleasing God from the creature’s perspective means being like God in moral and spiritual qualities.
In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into His family. In other words, God can say to us just as He once said to Christ, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
The One whose mercy flows freely to the undeserving is not a machine. He is not a mechanical Grace Dispenser. He is a Person. His smile is not an all-approving grin. He has moral sensitivities. We please Him, and we displease Him, moment by moment. Within the gospel framework of His grace, inside the relationship of His fatherly acceptance, He is fully capable of confronting us. Not rejecting us, not casting us off, but correcting us. Because He’s a good Father. I’ll take it further. The One who is for us (Romans 8:31) can also bluntly say, “I have something against you” (Revelation 2:4, 14, 20). The One who will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) is also quite capable of saying to us, “We need to have a serious talk. It’s time for you to make some changes. If you will listen and follow, I will continue to use you. If you turn away, I will set you aside”… If your theology includes the message of justification by faith alone, I hope you will never back off from that. I hope you will keep that message central. But I also hope your theology includes another message – the grace of obedience fully pleasing to the Father.
The only path to pleasure is in pleasing God.
Just as a parent is pleased with the efforts of his little child to please him, though it be only by picking a daisy or walking across a room, so is our Father in heaven pleased with the poor performances of His believing children. He looks at the motive, principle, and intention of their actions, and not merely at their quantity and quality. He regards them as members of His own dear Son, and for His sake, wherever there is a single eye, He is well-pleased.
“Growth in grace” pleases God. It may seem a wonderful thing, no doubt, that anything done by such creatures as we are can give pleasure to the Most High God. But so it is. The Scripture speaks of walking so as to “please God.” The Scripture says there are sacrifices with which “God is well-pleased.” (1 Thes. 4:1; Heb. 13:16.) The husbandman loves to see the plants on which he has bestowed labor flourishing and bearing fruit. It cannot but disappoint and grieve him to see them stunted and standing still. Now what does our Lord Himself say? “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.” – “Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” (John 15:1, 8.) The Lord takes pleasure in all His people – but specially in those that grow.
Oh, it’s more than just the fear of being persecuted. When we choose to live lives that are not pleasing to the Lord, we do so because we fear missing out on fun, or fear that our idols of dependency will be snatched away, or fear God’s way won’t effectively get the job done, or fear we will be pulled out of our comfort zone, or fear that it is going to cost us too much. The list continues, but it all comes back to fear, and fear results because we walk by sight and a lack of faith in God’s promises (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7). We don’t always live to please God because we think we know better than God as to what it takes to make us more productive and content and happy.
Do you have the freedom to be unshackled from the bondage of fear to live a life pleasing to God in all things?
What are you ambitious to achieve? What if I had you compose a list of your goals and priorities. If you didn’t just hear the verse that read, would “pleasing God” (2 Cor. 5:9) even make the top-ten? How often do we arise each day with the prayerful intention that simply says, “Lord, it is my ambition to please You today!” Perhaps we’d put it on paper, but are we really doing it? And if we are not doing it, but we know we should and want to in our heart, what is it that’s preventing us? Can I submit that whatever your answer is, it boils down to the fact that we are not walking by faith in God’s glorious promises (2 Cor. 5:7).
Think of it this way. I can make it my aim to please God, knowing that will be the greatest way I can love others (freedom!), or I can run around trying to please everybody, relegate God to a position lower than His creation, disappoint God and also feel deflated when others are disappointed with me after all my efforts (slavery!).