May 2, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
In several recent Life for Leaders devotions, we considered how our words might grieve the Holy Spirit. When we speak in ways that are contrary to the person we will be on the day when God redeems all things, the Spirit grieves. When our words hurt our brothers and sisters in Christ and injure the body of Christ, the Spirit grieves. The idea that we can actually grieve the Holy Spirit surely will motivate us to avoid “unwholesome talk” in favor of talk that edifies others.
But before we leave Ephesians 4:30 I want to ask a question that isn’t addressed directly in the verse but is something about which we might wonder. If our speech can grieve the Holy Spirit, is it also possible for what we say to give joy to God? If our hurtful words can sadden God’s Spirit, can our edifying words give delight to the Lord?
In order to answer this question, we need first to consider a broader question: Can we give joy to God at all? Can our words, deeds, thoughts, and choices give God pleasure?
I think many Christians would answer this question negatively. We know we can grieve the Lord. We’re quite convinced that our sin can make God angry. But God rejoicing in us? That seems like wishful thinking, the kind of pop theology that shows up on corny religious posters but has nothing to do with reality. God, for many of us, is a stern, demanding, imperious King who—if we’re really good and really lucky—will not be angry with us or grieved over us. The best we can hope for is that God will feel neutral about us.
This perception of God can be fueled by our experience of our own parents. My father, for example, loved me deeply and dearly. In most ways he was a great dad. But he had difficulty expressing his positive feelings for me. He was not physically expressive. He rarely told me in words that he loved me. And never in my life did my dad ever say, “I’m proud of you.” Though I knew in my head that my dad delighted in me, I rarely experienced his delight in a way that touched my heart.
So, as you might expect, I easily project upon my Heavenly Father what I experienced from my earthly father. I know God loves me. I believe God will always be there for me. I know God would do anything for me (and, in fact, he has). But do I give God joy? Can I give delight to my Heavenly Father? This is hard for me to acknowledge and even harder for me to feel deep in my yearning soul.
In a future devotion, I’ll examine what Scripture says about our potential to give joy to God. (If you’re impatient, you might check out Psalm 149:4.) For now, I’d encourage you to reflect upon your own relationship with God. The following questions might be helpful to you.
Something to Think About:
Do you believe that you can give joy to God? If so, does this belief reside in your heart as well as your head? If not, why not?
How has your experience of your parents affected your relationship with your Heavenly Father?
If you really believed that you could give joy to God, how might this make a difference in your life?
Something to Do:
Take time to reflect on the idea of your giving joy to God. Does this idea come easily to you? If so, why? If not, why not?
Gracious Heavenly Father, I do not want to grieve your Spirit. I do not want to sadden you or anger you. What I really want is to honor you in all that I do and say, to please you, perhaps even to give you joy. Yet, Lord, I don’t want to make up feel-good religious slogans that are not grounded in your Word. Help me, I pray, to know what is true about you and the way you relate to me. Where my mind is off track, please correct it. Where my heart is wounded, please heal it. Help me to know you truly, deeply, and as fully as is possible for me this side of Heaven. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
My initial reaction to the question was, why of course! We were created for the joy of God, being his representatives on the earth and in the spirit world, having both internal and external bodies that we may fulfill the blessing given to us at the time of creation (see Genesis 1.28 – to mature, to build families and nurture and care for the world). Why else would he have created us in the first place but to feel joy from us – as why else would an artist create a beautiful masterpiece?
However, I do agree with you that our perception of the joys and frustrations of God tend to be tainted with our own experience of our physical parents. Many of us have grown up feeling our parents’ scorn or indifference more often than praise, and as parents (as a dad myself), I think we tend not to give praise to the “ordinary, expected” things that our children do that are, actually, quite extraordinary. Not to say that I should spoil them when they are not doing good, but this made me reflect on how much I praise (or not praise enough) my own children and that I should be expressing my gratitude in having them in my life and the joy that they bring me. Thank you for the beautiful reflection.
Thank goodness for the era of Scripture in Song (which, I regret, the church seems to have moved on from). As soon as I read your question – Can we bring God joy? – I recalled a chorus we used to sing –
The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty (is mighty);
he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy (with joy);
he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
The Lord they God in the midst of thee is might, mighty, mighty!
(Zephaniah 3: 17)