How do you imagine God?
For all of us the danger is that the God we have in our minds is different to the God who is really there. Truth be told, that’s true all the time. I remember a comment from Julian Hardyman in a sermon- “None of us have ever had an adequate thought about God.” That’s right- none of us can truly grasp the sheer holiness, majesty, love and power of the triune God.
But, for our purposes, I want to focus on a specific issue. Do you have a God who is impossible to please? You know what I mean- even your best efforts simply merit criticism and a frown. Those of a more perfectionist temperament can often project this sort of image onto the Lord. But the reality is different. At one level, the Lord is always pleased with us if we are those who are joined to Jesus by faith, because we stand on his record of achievement. In addition, though, the New Testament has many references to our own conduct pleasing the Lord.
That’s been the theme of these blogs over the last couple of weeks. In the first of them I argued that churches can run into problems when they aim for a particular reputation- the goal has to be to please the Lord. And then, last week, I picked up six references from Paul’s writings, exploring how we please the Lord. What is striking is that some of those things appear to be relatively normal behaviour. For instance, the Christian who cares for the older members of their family pleases the Lord. In this final post on the theme, I want to deal with one single passage in Colossians 1.
Paul is praying for the Colossian believers. He prays that they might “live a live worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.” (Colossians 1:10). There follows a list of four characteristics of this- esssentially four further ways in which we can please the Lord.
The Lord is pleased when we bear fruit in every good work
When the Gospel of Jesus gets inside us and, by the power of the Spirit, we become motivated to do good to others, then the Lord is pleased by what he sees. That should encourage us. Whether it is the practical help for somebody vulnerable, the willingness to serve in some aspect of church life, or the compassion that causes us to listen lovingly- if such things arise from the Lord’s work in our life then He is pleased by this. Perhaps, in itself, that acts as a motivation to set about some good work.
The Lord is pleased when we grow in our knowledge of Him
It is Sunday morning and sermon time or a growth group with Bibles open. We are there and the thought going through our minds is- “We want to know God more.” That’s a church that pleases God. My suspicion is that we probably don’t think like that. But it would help us if we realised afresh that knowing God is the greatest privilege in the univserse, that knowing Him more, therefore, is one of the highest goals we can have, and that He is pleased when we pursue that.
The Lord is pleased when we endure- with His strength
Listen to the third attribute of a life that pleases the Lord from Colossians 1:11- “being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.” Interestingly, one of the repeated commendations for churches from the risen Jesus in Revelation 2-3 is that they have endured. Sometimes, simply carrying on as a Christian is success and pleasing to the Lord. I hope that’s an encouragement to those facing opposition from family or friends, or a period of intense suffering, or a time of temptation or just the spiritual weariness that comes from lockdown. Keeping going pleases the Lord- and more than that He provides His might and power to make it possible. Is it hard going at the moment? Remember that every step of perseverance pleases Him.
The Lord is pleased when we give joyful thanks
This is the last of the four attributes- “giving joyful thanks to the Father” (v.12). Sometimes we need to be disciplined about that. It may well be that we don’t feel spontaneously joyful or thankful very often. My own experience is that I have to start with the discipline of thanksgiving (“OK- what can I give thanks for?”) and then the joy will catch up. Paul helps us out in v.13-14. If we are struggling for reasons for thanksgiving, we can start with the fact that we used to be in the dominion of darkness and now we live in the kingdom of light, the kingdom of Jesus where there is full forgiveness. And when we begin to thank the Lord for that He is pleased.
It is possible to please the Lord. That’s good news!
Finally, it is just worth noting that this is a prayer. In this series I’ve asked what our goal should be as a church in the autumn. Let’s put it differently- what should we be praying for? Maybe Colossians 1 is a good guide. Let’s pray confidently that we would be a church that pleases the Lord- by pursuing these characteristics.