When you long to please God

I sit alone in the garden, led to a bench in the woods on a little path that I didn’t even know existed.  “God, if you haven’t gone away, if you’re still speaking to me, then why can’t I hear?!” Tears stream in frustration.

“I know You can handle my cries of frustration, my tears and questions. But I don’t want You just to handle it. I want to please you.”

I wait in the silence. Can we try too hard to please God? In my longing to please, am I trying to do what only Christ can do? What He has done. For us. Already. Pleased God by his perfect faith, perfect love, perfectly humble response to God’s verdict: “guilty.” Could it be that my anxious desire to please God . . . perfectly. . . is at root pride? An unwillingness to admit that on my own I can’t please God and embrace the One who loves me enough to do it on my behalf?

I remember the Regent college chapel talk. The one that taught me perhaps the most important thing I learned all year. That just as Jesus’ temptation revolved around the issue of his identity as God’s beloved son – “if you are the Son of God. . .” – so all of our temptations revolve around our identity as beloved children. And that it is our sonship or daughtership, gained through our union with Christ, into which we must lean as we face temptation. “The most important piece in our formation through temptation is counter-intuitive – looking to Christ who triumphed for us and in whom we are seated. Our transformation is not about studying ourselves, but about looking to Christ.” (Ross Hastings)

I have been failing to lean into my identity as beloved child in Christ. I’ve allowed the ancient question to slither in: “Does God really love you?” I’ve begun to focus on accomplishing (tasks) rather than enjoying (God). On what I am doing more than on what He has done. On living for Him rather than in Him. It matters not that the tasks have been for Him. It’s not worth it, this backwards way of being which leaves me open to the serpent’s lies and makes all my efforts empty. And it’s not what really pleases Him.

Three hours later I’m still in the garden. The light is long gone from the grass at my feet. I smell the distant lilacs, the cooling pine woods, watch the light in the upper branches make birch bark shine silver. I ask Him, “Is this really okay? All this time just sitting with you? Not selfish or lazy?” I think I see a twinkle in His eye. “It’s okay with me. Is it okay with you?”

That’s the real question. Is it okay with me? Just to enjoy God? To receive what has been done for me? Or does my ego need to have something to show for itself?

I twist slightly on the bench, face into the sun flooding its evening light through a gap in the branches, catching me full in His blessing. “. . . the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” (Numbers 6:25) “The LORD make his face shine upon you.” Not “you make the LORD’s face shine upon you.” It does. By His own choice. He turns to face us, engages in joyful relationship with us, not because we’re the best or brightest . . . or most faith-full, obedient, or attentive to His voice. (Witness His choice of Israel – and of me! – each so often fearful, rebellious, and hard of hearing.) He loves us passionately and persistently . . . just because He chooses to. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” It is a promise (Numbers 6:27), “not [merely] a wish or a prayer. It is a declaration of what the LORD imparts. It is as binding and sure as a patriarchal blessing which once said officially could not be taken back. The priest here is . . . pronouncing the word of the LORD, declaring to the congregation the outcome of the atonement.” (New English Translation notes)

And if that blessing was binding and sure under the old covenant, how much more certainly God’s face of pleasure shines upon us as we stand in Christ.

For “our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand . . . . For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. . . . . [H]e says,

“I will never again remember
their sins and lawless deeds.” . . . .

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. . . . [So] let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. (Heb 10:11-23, NLT)

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