“One design you are to pursue to the end of time – the enjoyment of God in time and in eternity. Desire other things so far as they tend to this; love the creature, as it leads to the creator. But in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view. Let every affection, and thought and word, and action, be subordinate to this. Whatever you seek or shun, whatever you think, speak, or do, be it in order to your happiness in God, the sole end, as well as source, of your being.”
– John Wesley, Plain Account of Christian Perfection.
Through my many years as a Christian, I’ve found that this is the real crux, the real design, and the real goal of the Christian inward life. While we have many responsibilities and desires, it always leads back to this one thing – enjoying God in this life and the life to come.
For many this is merely a hope. They believe they might only experience this in the life to come, thinking that any enjoyment of God in this life isn’t entirely possible, at least not consistently. For others, this hedonistic ideal turns them off; they feel that God has other things for us to do and pursue over and above our enjoyment of him, that enjoyment is a by-product but not the goal. I say, however, that everything else is a by-product of this one thing, this one goal, and it’s a desire we can have fulfilled in this life.
You don’t need to take my word for it. You can find it on the pages of Christian writing throughout the ages, including the Bible. But I’ll still need to qualify what I mean, so let’s get all the nonsense out of the way first.
What I don’t mean by “enjoying God”:
1. A health and wealth gospel
I believe the “prosperity gospel” is one of the saddest things in the church today. Even worse, it’s serious business in poorer countries and continents. In Africa it’s a really big thing and I hate it. It runs against the whole message of the Bible and Jesus, takes advantage of people, and simply isn’t true. It doesn’t produce good fruit and it doesn’t produce results. I’ve been there and it’s nonsense.
2. A selfish / self-absorbed / modern hedonist message
Enjoying God is the pathway to perfect love. Saying that enjoying God is the “central goal” of the Christian life is no more selfish than saying that worship is the central goal of the Christian life. What you enjoy the most in your life, or the thing you seek to enjoy above all other things, is what you worship.
But the word “worship” has come to mean many other things besides deep joy, love, peace and contentment in God and a life in the Holy Spirit. It’s come to mean, for many, a religion of works; or a liturgical ceremony; or a a goose-bumps experience while listening to great worship music. Sure, the word can mean these things, but worship is principally, and at its core, about making God our number one treasure in life, the person we enjoy being around the most, the person we and the ‘one thing’ (with no other way of putting it) that we love with “all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength” (Matthew 22:37).
3. A charismatic, mystical experience
I don’t mean to say that experience isn’t part of worship and the Christian life, but we don’t live for the experience, we live for God Himself. See, enjoying God is not about hype, it’s about a deep-seated contentment and joy that won’t go away, no matter what life brings. One may experience certain spiritual things which we may call ‘mystical’ (in a loose sense of the word) but these experiences are not the goal.
These are not the goal any more than my enjoyment of a cup of coffee is a goal. I enjoy coffee and, as a result, I make an effort to have a cup a day and enjoy it. I don’t force myself to enjoy it, I don’t have to convince myself of my desire for it, but I make the necessary space to enjoy it every day.
This is what I mean about enjoying God – you don’t have to make yourself enjoy Him – grit your teeth and use your willpower – but you make space to enjoy Him every day, and this is what worship and a life of worship principally is. The beauty is that this is all activated by the Spirit of God, who lives in us if we have faith in Jesus Christ. That leads us to the next bit.
What I do mean by “enjoying God” is:
1.A life in the Holy Spirit
God has given us His Holy Spirit to live in, not a religion or even a law. (Galatians 5:18 and many other scriptures.) But how do we “live by the Spirit”? I contend that this is primarily done through worship – the kind of worship that makes Jesus Christ the central treasure of the heart. That kind of worship is the kind that seeks to enjoy God, not just perform duties for God.
When asked what the “greatest commandment” is, Jesus answers in Matthew 22: 37 that it’s to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” See, it starts with the heart. Jesus says in Matthew 6:21 that, “Where your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be.” Worship is about what we treasure above all other things – what the principle thing is in life that we take joy in, that we enjoy the most, that we spend our time, energy and thought pursuing.
We can’t make Jesus the only treasure of our heart without the Holy Spirit. The good news is, when you come to believe in Jesus, you’re given the Spirit of God, and He ignites a desire within you to worship Him and make Him your treasure. Now that we are able to worship in spirit and truth, we are able to continue in walking in the Spirit and growing in God’s grace.
2. It is a life lived unto God (holiness) – a life of perfect love
After stating the greatest commandment above, Jesus says in Matthew 22: 39 & 40 that, “…a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
It’s only through the first commandment to worship God above all – to make him your joy – that you are able to produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:11) and therefore fulfil the second. You ‘fulfil’ it through a process of maturing. Living in this space is what if often termed a “holy” life or a “sanctified” life. It’s a life that’s about growing towards having perfect love to / for others.
The Bible is full of promises and exhortations that say that, because we have the Holy Spirit after we’ve put our faith in Jesus, we can grow into this ‘perfect love’ so wonderfully that we can actually become mature in it (Ephesians 4:11). In other words, we don’t have to live our entire lives battling with sin but can grow in our sanctification to such a degree that sin is no longer our default option but perfect love is.
1 Thessalonians 5:23
“23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 Corinthians 7:1
“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
3. It is worship
As stated many times above, ‘enjoying God’ is about worship. What we desire the most, and what we seek to take joy in, is what we worship. So it’s not contrary to worship to say that enjoying God is something we must desire, or that enjoying God is the one design we are to pursue, because this is what worship actually looks like.
4. It is contentment (not hype)
The kind of enjoyment I speak of here is the settled, deep contented joy that comes from being in God’s presence and living in the Holy Spirit. It’s not the kind of ‘joy’ we see often advertised at ‘worship experiences’ or ‘charismatic revivals’. I’m not discounting these things per se, but I am talking about something that goes beyond momentary experiences and becomes a lifestyle, a permanent fixture in our hearts, a permanent state of our souls.
This way of life is not only one that you can find throughout Christian history from writers, pastors, teachers and leaders of all backgrounds, but it’s one you will find firmly placed all over the Bible.
John 15:11 ESV
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Psalm 16:11 ESV
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Romans 15:13 ESV
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Psalm 19:8 ESV
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
Philippians 4:4 ESV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.