Duty, Drudgery, and Joy

“Coming from my denominational background, I’ve always seen Christianity as more of a duty,” one young woman recently shared with me. She attended church, read her Bible occasionally, but only out of a sense of duty. She knew intellectually that the only way for her to be fulfilled was in Christ, but confessed, “I know I don’t have that joy yet.”

What do you do when religion is mere drudgery? When you know sermons and praise and scriptures should move you, but your heart seems solid, stone-like?

Be encouraged that the Lord has revealed this to you!

The most serious judgment is ignorance of our true condition. As long as we remain content in the state we are in, we will never desire change. Thus, it is the greatest of mercies that the Lord would unmask our souls, reveal our rock-like hearts, and then begin to warm our deepest desires toward Him. When we long for joy, when we see the coldness of our heart and desire something more, we have the greatest reason to hope!

Have you met God?

I mean, really met Him? Too often, our knowledge of God is hearsay. We’ve intellectually assented to the theological doctrines spouted in sermons, books, and Christian education. But have our souls truly met God?

Coming face to face with the character of God transforms the soul … and leaves us an unquenchable joy, reverence, and delight for the things of God. Isaiah saw the Lord “sitting upon his throne” in all his holiness and glory, and responded with “Woe is me, for I am undone!” (Is. 6:5, NKJV). Ezekiel saw visions of God in His Providence and Sovereignty, a vision so unlike anything on earth that he can only use the language of “likeness” and “similar” to. “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. So when I saw it, I fell on my face” (Ezek. 1:28). Moses spoke with the Lord face-to-face, and he came away from the encounter with his countenance radiating the glory of the Lord (Ex. 34). And I could go on.

The God we know and worship is the same God of Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Moses. Should our response be any less life-transforming?

In an age of watered-down evangelicalism, it is far too easy to forget that true conversion is nothing less than God removing the veil and giving us a glimpse into His glory such that our entire lives are transformed. I was reminded of this again when reading Ian Murray’s biography of Jonathan Edwards. At the age of sixteen, Edwards discovered the glory of God such that he would be dazzled by it the rest of his life. He writes,

The first instance that I can remember of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words [1 Tim. 1.17] ‘Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever, Amen.’ As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any words of scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy God, and be rapt up in him in heaven, ad be as it were swallowed up in him for ever! … And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him.”[1]

The reality is, whether we’ve never truly dealt our souls with God or have distanced ourselves from Him over time, we must cry out to Him to reveal Himself to us. Dear sisters, can we plead with the Lord to reveal Himself to us as He did to Edwards and not let Him go until He does?

Do I keep plodding through duties?

Our desire is that prayer, the Word, and preaching be delights, not mere duties. But they are also the means to the emotions. That is, we don’t give up on them just because the emotions aren’t there. Rather, we thank the Lord for awakening our souls and giving us the desire to know Him better, and then we keep plodding through these means of grace until the joy comes. And it will.

I remember waking up in the middle of the night during one really difficult season in my life and just feeling dead to the Word. I felt like turning to something else—anything else—to deaden my emotions and escape. But I knew I could not. I picked up my Bible and just began to cry out to God to open it up once again and reveal Himself to me. And He did! It was so worth the perseverance to once again have the Word come alive.

I know that plodding can take months, years, until God answers prayer. But He will; He has promised to. For a much more thorough topic on the relationship of duty and delight, I would recommend John Piper’s immensely helpful book, When I Don’t Desire God.

What if the desire isn’t there?

When I was about seventeen, a young lady visited my church who radiated Christ. She was like a magnet to me. There was something in her that I desperately wanted for myself and knew I didn’t have. As I was talking with her, she said something that has stuck with me for years, something to the effect of “If you have a hunger for hungering and thirsting after righteousness, God will give you that desire.” Could I really say that I hungered after righteousness, that I had a deep desire for the things of God? I wasn’t sure. But something in me that day knew that I desired that desire, and what an encouragement that God could even work with that slightest ember and fan even it into a passionate flame!

So dear sisters, let us not be discouraged with small desires, small faith, small hungerings, for our God who stoops to mend the broken reed (Is 42:3) will tend to our souls and give us greater longing for Him. As we daily cry out to Him to reveal Himself more and more to us, we will begin to know Him experientially. And that knowledge brings joy—unspeakable, unquenchable happiness that can only come from being satisfied in Him alone. May we be able to daily echo this hymn for ourselves!

Who can cheer the heart like Jesus?

By His presence all divine

True and tender, pure and precious

Oh! What joy to call Him mine!

All that thrills my soul is Jesus,

He is more than life to me

And the fairest of ten thousand

In my blessed Lord I see.

–Mrs. Thoro Harris

[1] Jonathan Edwards, quoted in Ian Murray, Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Trust Trust, 1987), 35 – 36.

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