If you know my wife, Sara, you know there are two things she loves other than family: gardens and dogs. The picture above is of her garden, in which she spends countless hours creating a beautiful space in the world. She’s also one of the most conscientious dog lovers on the planet. Whenever a new pup comes into our home I shake my head and tell her she has won the dog lottery. You wouldn’t get more love and care from anyone else on the planet. If you ever visit our home, believe me you will want Sara to treat you like a dog! It’s a high honor here.
Occasionally those two loves come into conflict as they did a couple of years ago. We’d just gotten Zoey, a yellow lab/golden retriever mix that was eight weeks old. I immediately left on a trip and when I returned I was writing in my study when I saw some dirt shoot across one of the walkways in Sara’s garden. I looked more closely to see that the new pup was inside one of the hedgerows digging up some freshly planted flowers. Sara was in the back of the garden, seemingly oblivious to the problem in the front. I felt bad for the new puppy because I knew what was coming—a firm scolding and a swat on the rear-end. Teaching our new dogs to respect the garden has always been a steep learning curve.
As I walked outside and into the garden, I stood looking down at Zoey. She sat in a large hole with dirt and shreds of flowers thrown everywhere around her. She looked up with a dirty face, huffing and puffing, grinning with delight.
“Babe,” I called out to Sara in the back of the garden. “Do you know what’s going on over here?”
“With Zoey?” she responded without even getting up or turning around.
“Yeah, with Zoey.”
“I do.” She didn’t seem concerned in the least.
“What do you know?” I couldn’t believe she wasn’t on top of this.
“She’s digging up my flowers.” So, she knew! This made no sense.
By this time, I had come to where she was working and asked her what was going on. “Why aren’t you training her?”
“I was thinking how none of my dogs ever come out to the garden with me when I work here and I wondered if it’s because I get on them for playing in the garden. I’m trying something new with Zoey. I want her to enjoy my garden and me in it, so this year she gets to do whatever she wants out here. Next year I’ll teach her how to be in the garden.”
As Sara said all this, I was hearing a voice greater than hers. Wouldn’t that be God’s heart? Would he want us to enjoy him, and by doing that learn how to live in the fullness of his life and joy.
But religion taught us God was easily angered and most often disappointed in us. Even though the Westminster Catechism stated that humanity’s “chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” most Christians I met growing up didn’t seem to enjoy God. They feared him. They tried to obey him. Sometimes, they even resented him. I was never taught as a young man how to enjoy God and the life he has given us on this planet, even through its difficulties and pain. It’s only been in the last couple of decades that I’ve learned to enjoy God and his work in me; to want to be in his garden every day.
It’s clear to me that if people don’t learn to enjoy God they will not long follow him. They will manage his presence in their life, more in fear than endearment, obligation rather than joy. I know when I got saved people immediately started telling me the theology I had to believe, the rituals I had to observe, and the rules I had to follow. It did not lead me to enjoy God or participate in his work in the world. Maybe if we taught people to enjoy God first, they would follow him with joy to the ends of the earth.
It worked on Zoey. Now, whenever Sara goes to her garden a ninety-pound lab follows right behind, her tail wagging enthusiastically. She hasn’t dug up anything over the last couple of years and when I watch them in the garden together, I know that Sara got what she wanted most—a beautiful garden and a friend to share it with.
That’s why Jesus came to live among us, “so that his joy might be in us and our joy might be full.” Father never wanted the resentful obedience of fearful slaves, but a joyful relationship with his beloved children inside his creation. Learn to enjoy God, and everything he wants to do in and through you will come to pass.
It is his pleasure to share his kingdom with us, even if we do make a mess now and then!
If you’d like to learn more about enjoying Father’s love, you might try He Loves Me. I will not write a more significant book than this one. The content of that book was what helped me learn to live in the affection of the Father, rather than trying to appease him by my performance. We also have a Spanish version of this book that we give away for just the cost of postage. Email our office for details.
19 thoughts on “If You Do Not Enjoy Him, You Will Not Long Follow Him”
You obviously married up like many of us! And what a beautiful garden. It makes so much sense humanly speaking that we aren’t going to get close to God if we are worried about God’s anger if we already are condemning ourselves. But, don’t you think people feel that way about God because of the Bible?
Yes, but an incomplete reading of it, or a poor interpretation of it. I think the Bible paints an incredible picture of a loving Father finding his lost Creation in the darkness. To justify our shame, we put the blame on him and twisted his redemptive acts into terrifying ones. The Bible, as a story of redemption, moves us from being afraid of God in our sin and shame, to being at rest in him as the beloved child of our Abba even at our most broken. That’s the Bible story too many people have missed. It was easy for the Old Testament writers to see him through the grid of their own shame and put things on him that didn’t fit his character. The greater miracle is that some saw beyond it to things like, “your love endures forever,” “your mercies are new every morning,” or “your lovingkindness is better than life!”
the question i would have is, “is it possible to read the bible this way without knowing the god of love first?” for us to see through the shame based representations of god in the bible, we have to know he is not like that before we come to the text, right?
It always helps to know the author when interpreting his book, so, yes, it is helpful to know God as he is and see how he is reflected in the book. It would also help to have better teachers who would help us understand the trajectory of Scripture and how God righted our misunderstandings of him. That’s in the story too!
Really enjoyed the article. Love the imagery! Many thanks to you, Sara and Zoey. I find the practical application so helpful on this journey. Every day experiences in a joyful relationship with him. The thought in itself causes me to smile.
Thanks Wayne, I needed to hear this today! 🙂 Seems I still need reminders of how much my Father wants to know me and me him, and just enjoy him! I seems it doesn’t take much to still revert back to the old religious teaching and view of God taught me in my childhood and in my relationship with my earthly father. I would love to be able to stay in His arms and trust He is good! And that He is happy with me! It is a process! And I’m glad He is with me in it!
Thanks Wayne very significant point in a very simple message will pass this on to a lot of people we know
always a blessing to hear from you with much love David and Susan Page UK
Thanks for your gracious words.
This picture story is really wonderful . I needed that illustrated by the story of Sarah & her dog in the garden , and I will continually see that picture in my minds eye now …so that I can learn to be in his garden and enjoy him .I love the point you made that if we don’t enjoy him we will not follow him for long . I needed that essential word enjoy . That is a word I would like more of in my life . I’m afraid to say I haven’t enjoyed a lot . I’ve sacrificed a lot ,I’ve followed when it’s hard ,I’ve done a lot of hard things …now I want to learn to enjoy him ,his love ,his truth ….following him and enjoying his kingdom …thank you Wayne for sharing this . Much love and hugs .
Thank you. Religion does not give us much to enjoy, unfortunately, but God is the most endearing present in the universe. Really knowing him as he is, is joy unspeakable! I pray you find more of it too.
Oh Wayne! Tears. Emotion. I need Sarah’s garden. When I think how I taught my kids, always with rigid rules, I cringe. Always checking God’s boxes. No wonder two of the four adult children no longer follow Jesus. Thank you for taking time out of your vacation to write this. It landed where it needed to. Thank you, Sara, for such a beautiful lesson. I hope that I can introduce this Jesus to my five grandchildren (oldest is 7). Honestly, my daughter, is probably teaching them the same Jesus I taught her. I must know Him first. Really know Him. You cannot invite the children into His arms if you, yourself, haven’t found that place.
The problem with parenting is that God gives kids to rookies. By the time they raise us, we’d be entirely different parents. That’s what makes grand parenting so special. Your children have their own journey. I’m sure they know enough about Jesus that he “disturbs” them quite frequently with his love and affection. Many find their way home in time, just like the prodigal. Just keep loving, keep respecting them even if you don’t love all their decisions. The hound of heaven is on the pursuit.
Thank you Wayne,
What a beautiful picture of having fellowship with God and walking in the Spirit and in Love. Thank you Wayne!
I had to hear this today, as I recently realized that shame is the reason why my joy has not been full in Him all these years. Shame that other people [fellow Christians and other] has put on me, continually keeps me from living in the fullness of God’s plan for my life, especially when I make a mess now and then as you put it. Shame can be such an intense pain and makes me feel unworthy of God’s love and forgiveness sometimes. It is a continual battle and I am so tired of it.
And yes! Your book “He Loves me” is still on my bedside table and a great inspiration to me many times.
My book, “He Loves me, He loves me not“, is slowly coming together, thanks to your encouragement to write it a year or two ago.
Daniël du Plessis
You’re welcome. Thanks for your comments.
Thanks! This popped up at the right time. I badly needed this, since I’ve been in prayer this morning over a conversation I had with my dad and mom about God’s anger, his threatening man to do what he wants, and especially if it’s about saving him.
Then your post jumped at me, and a part of it became clear. Probably they had misunderstood Luke 14 about the lord’s servant “compelling” those on the hedges and highways to come in.
I was brought up in a very religious home. While I’m not grounded in religious stuffs, I know I’m easily concerned about things like this, especially when they’re likely to affect how I see Father. So, please, I need a little help here. I love your illustration of Sara and Zoey, but how does that solve the problem of God’s compelling man to do what he wants? Does God force or threaten us to do what he wants, especially when it concerns other people’s physical needs, say finance? Does he even force or threaten people to come or follow him?
Samuel, while there is language in the Old Testament that paints God as an angry God, it certainly was not to get people to obey, but in concern for their disobedience. How much of that was projecting on God our human emotions, and how much of that really speaks to who God is, is still a question. I think the latter, because when Jesus came he wasn’t nearly as angry, even with disobedience, as their religious scholars or we might think he would be. The Incarnation was God seeking to win by love and affection what fear and obedience could never win. If I hold a gun to your head, I can make you do pretty much anything, but it won’t be from the heart and it won’t have the same impact. Jesus showed us the kingdom was an invitation not an obligation, and only those who desire it will see it. The point is when we enjoy God we will obey from the heart all he desires of us. It’s a better obedience than fear could ever win.
I remember reading once something along the lines of “He is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” John Piper wrote it and I have reflected on it many times. When I am the most blessed I am much more inclined to talk of Him.
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