‘When I run fast, I feel His pleasure’
The above quote is attributed to Scotsman Eric Liddell who won the gold medal for the 400 yards (400m) in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. He did this after refusing to run in his best event the 100 yards, as well as other races, because the heats were to be held on Sundays. This Liddell testimony to the priority of God in the Christian life has echoed down the nearly 100 years since that time. The movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ tells the story. After the Olympics he went to China as a missionary, dying in a Japanese POW camp in 1945. His testimony raises the question as to whether we who claim to be Christians are bringing God pleasure, or to put it another way, ‘Making Him Smile’?
This article is a follow up to one I wrote last year with the title ‘Is God Crying?’ . The basic argument of that article (See here) was that-
‘Evidence of God’s pain, even tears, is a theme throughout the history of Israel, the people He had created and chosen to be His vehicle for the salvation of humankind. as they regularly rejected the purpose for which they had been chosen, by turning their mission into legalistic, self-centred (and I might also now add idolatrous) religiosity.’
To support that argument, I referred to various Old Testament examples of God’s pain at the behaviour of His chosen people (particularly Isaiah 5:1-4; Jeremiah 14:17; and Amos 5:21-24), as well as the event of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem in Luke 19:41-41. I do not think it unreasonable to argue that the same self-centred, and also idolatrous, religiosity is a major characteristic of the Church of our time, both at individual and institutional levels.
In this article however, let us take another more positive tack and ask the question as to what, rather than bringing God’s tears, will actually give Him pleasure and bring a smile to His face?
The Bible has some answers to that question.
One can assume, speaking of God anthropomorphically (as if He was in human form), that when He is pleased He would be smiling. The point that can be drawn from Liddell’s statement is that God is pleased when His costly-won children (1 Corinthians 6:19,20) use the gifts He has given them for His purpose and Glory; that is when they ‘offer their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God’. (Romans 12:1).
The Bible answers the ‘what makes God smile’ question in a number of places, not the least of which is the Parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15. This is the story, which has to be understood in the Jewish context of 2000 years ago, of a son who despite having, and being the heir of, all the privileges of a rich aristocratic family, chooses take his share of his Father’s estate and goes off to do his own thing. Consequently, he blows all the money and ends up as a virtual beggar having trashed his life. Subsequently, he ‘comes to his senses’ in regard to the stupidity of turning away from his father and decides to return home.
We then see the beautiful picture of the undeserving rebel being welcomed back by his father and restored to his original honoured status in the family. It is not that hard to see that this is an allegory of the Grace of God, showing the willingness of the Father (God) to accept back the repentant sinner (us), no matter how much of a mess they have made of their life. Importantly, the rebel is not just welcomed back but the Father (God) restores him to his full status as an honoured son, and in addition throws a great party to celebrate the event. We can be sure that on that occasion the Father would be smiling, and with joy!
God smiles when His disciples make disciples (Matthew 28:19,20), when rebellious Lost sons and Lost daughters are found and brought into the Kingdom. The two short parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin at the beginning of Luke 15 reinforce the point that there is ‘rejoicing in heaven’ over the return of the Lost. From that we can infer that God is part of the celebrations, and that He would be smiling.
It is true that we are saved, not by works, but by Grace as clearly taught in Ephesians 2:8 and 9. However, the flow of argument doesn’t end in verse 9, as quite frankly many congregational members seem to assume it does, but continues into verse 10 which tells Christians what they are saved FOR. That is we are-
‘Created in Christ Jesus’ – (made a part of the Body of Christ)
‘to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’.
What those good works are for each individual Christian each one has to prayerfully, and in consultation with others, work out. One can assume that, while it is disobedience to that which brings God’s tears, as my previous article covered, it is obedience in the use of our abilities and resources to carry out the works that ‘God prepared in advance for us to do’ that gives God pleasure and makes Him smile. The pronouns are plural which negates the idea of the ‘individual Christian’ and reminds us that Christianity is a ‘team sport’, a team (the body of Christ) in which God expects everyone to play their part as their gifts allow.
I would argue that a primary aspect of this is about obeying Jesus’ commission to make disciples. This has never been so important as now, given the catastrophic and longstanding implosion of Christianity in Australia, indeed in the West generally, with all the, daily increasing and very obvious, consequences for society that entails.
As the Westminster Confession puts it, ‘The chief end (purpose) of Man is to Glorify God’. Indeed, Christians are saved that they ‘might BE (exist) for the praise of His Glory’ (Ephesians 1:12).
It is by using our gifts for the works He prepared for us to do that we bring Glory to God and, in Liddell’s words, give Him pleasure, and so Make Him smile. Church services and Bible study groups have their value but (as the devastating condemnation of Amos 5:21-24 reminds us) ONLY if we carry-out the works, the agenda, God has prepared for us to do beforehand.
From my (now long!) observation, this (biblical) way of thinking and acting is not something most church members engage in a great deal. So it is highly likely that God is not smiling!
The tragedy of biblical history is that it is often one, even mostly, of God’s tears at His people’s disobedience and rejection of His love and grace. Given the apathy and lack of real zeal and passion for the works ‘He prepared in advance for us to do’ exhibited by most western Christians, we can only surmise that God is weeping still.
The only thing that will make God smile is thankful energetic obedience to the call of Jesus to self-denial, sacrifice and discomfort in the Gospel cause. That will require a radical change on behalf of most who call themselves Christians. It will require the passionate use of gifts; the widespread liberal sprinkling of the corruption-fighting SALT and the shining of the LIGHT of Christ (Matt. 5:13-16) to overcome the tide of consuming, destructive Satanic darkness overwhelming 21st century western society.
So, at this seemingly little recognised inflection point in the history of the West, as we see its ongoing cultural disintegration, like watching a slow-motion train wreck, there is a stark choice for every western Christian, and there is no fence-sitting. The choice is will we mirror once again the tragedy God’s people recounted in the Old Testament, a story of disobedience and God’s tears, or will we passionately engage in the costly task of Gospel Mission in order to ’Make God Smile’?