“Enjoying God”, an Essay by Sam Storms from the Gospel Coalition (Delight in God, God’s Glory, Divine Worth)


Enjoying God is to know God intellectually, to admire God in his beauty, to delight in him emotionally, and to dedicate oneself to him; in essence, to enjoy God is to praise God for the God that he is.


Enjoying God is a biblical command, and it is also that for which God made us. Enjoying God glorifies God because it shows how valuable God is in our estimation. We enjoy God in at least four ways: intellectually, by knowing God; aesthetically, by admiring God in his beauty; emotionally, by delighting in God and his ways; with our wills, by dedicating ourselves to obeying his commands. Furthermore, delight in God is what enables Christians to live sacrificial lives, to continue to fight sin, and to remain steadfast in the face of persecution.

Few people struggle to understand what it means to fear God or to obey God or to love, honor, and worship God. But to speak of enjoying God strikes many as flippant, perhaps even irreverent. What does God’s Word say about this? Consider David’s exhortation in Psalm 37:4 that we should “delight” ourselves “in the Lord, and he will give” us “the desires of our heart” (see also Deut. 28:471 Chron. 16:31, 33Neh. 8:10Pss. 16:11; 32:11; 33:1; 34:8; 35:9; 36:8; 40:8, 16; 42:1–2; 43:4; 63:1, 11; 64:10; 95:1; 97:1, 12; 98:4; 104:34; 105:3Isa. 41:16Joel 2:23Zech. 2:10; 10:7Luke 6:23John 3:29; 15:11; 16:22Phil. 3:1; 4:41 Pet. 1:8).

Of course, the “desires” of our heart must be desires that have God as their focus and the ever-increasing, joyful satisfaction that is found in more of him. Not to enjoy or delight in God is a serious matter. In fact, “God is not worshiped where He is not treasured and enjoyed. Praise is not an alternative to joy, but the expression of joy. Not to enjoy God is to dishonor Him. To say to Him that something else satisfies you more is the opposite of worship. It is sacrilege” (see John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 22

We should also note that, if our delight is wholly in God, our desires will not be for anything that would diminish his centrality in our souls. We won’t want anything that has the potential of turning our heart to trust in anyone but him. If our “desires” are for the stuff of this world that would detract from our complete satisfaction in God, then we aren’t truly delighting ourselves in him.

Our Passion for Joy

There is in every soul an insatiable hunger for joy. God has hardwired into our souls a yearning, a longing, an unrelenting passion for pleasure. That impulse we feel every moment of every day to seek out whatever will bring us the greatest joy and excitement came from God. It’s part of what it means to be created in the image of God. In view of this, let’s dig more deeply into Psalm 37:4. Two things are worthy of our attention.

First, this is a command. This isn’t something to pray about or merely consider, as if it were an option or choice. This is a moral obligation binding on all. Simply put, delighting in God, enjoying God, is a duty.

Second, delight or joy is also a feeling, an emotion, an affection, a subjective experience that is ultimately not under our control. It isn’t something we can produce by an act of will. God has to awaken and stir and evoke such affections in our souls. He uses a variety of means to this: Scripture, creation, the sacraments, obedience, prayer, worship, meditation, etc. Our responsibility, as Jonathan Edwards put it, is “to lay ourselves in the way of allurement.” God’s responsibility is to allure.

Why Joy?

Why do the biblical authors make delight or joy in God so central to our relationship with him? Is it not enough simply to obey God or fear God believe in God? There are several ways to answer that question.

First, joy in God matters profoundly because more than any other human response or experience, joy clearly and thoroughly reveals the worth, value, and splendor of whatever it is that evokes it. In other words, enjoyment or delight is the single most effective means for glorifying and magnifying God. Deep, durable delight in God is how he is most glorified and honored in you. God is most glorified in us when we are most pleased, satisfied, fascinated, and enthralled with the splendor of his beauty that can be seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

As John Piper has said, “joy is the clearest witness to the worth of what we enjoy. It’s the deepest reverberation in the heart of man of the value of God’s glory” (see “Joy and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World,” in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World78).

How is God most glorified in us? Where and in what way is God’s glory most clearly revealed? God is most glorified in us when our knowledge and experience of him ignite a forest fire of joy that consumes all competing pleasures and he alone becomes the treasure that we prize. Here’s how Jonathan Edwards put it:

God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receive, his glory … both [with] the mind and the heart. He that testifies his having an idea of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation [i.e., his heartfelt commendation or praise] of it and his delight in it (see Miscellany 448).

Understanding the nature of God is essential. Theological ignorance won’t take us very far. Excitement uninformed by truth invariably leads either to idolatry or fanaticism. But knowledge alone isn’t enough. Declaring God’s glory to others is also important, but again, there’s something even more fundamental to our existence.

Passionate and joyful admiration of God, and not merely intellectual apprehension, is the aim of our existence and thus the essence of true spirituality. If God is to be supremely glorified in us, it’s critically essential that we be supremely glad in him and in what he has done for us in Jesus. This is why we exist; to relish and rejoice in the revelation of divine beauty so that Christ becomes our all-consuming passion and sin turns sour in our souls.

The joy for which we are eternally destined is a state of soul in which we experience and express optimum ecstasy in God. Joy (happiness) is the whole soul resting in God and rejoicing that so beautiful and glorious a Being is ours. We are talking about the ineffable and unending pleasure of blissful union with and the joyful celebration of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a joy of such transcendent quality that no persecution or pain or deprivation can diminish, nor wealth or success or prosperity can enhance (see Phil. 4:11).

God created us to glorify himself by enriching us with the joy that flows from a saving encounter with the splendor of his Son. So the goal of our creation was not simply that we might be happy, but happy in beholding God’s own eternal excellencies. Not in beholding our own accomplishments. Not in the enjoyment of our own sensual appetites. Not in the development of a healthy self-esteem or in the acquisition of a four-bedroom home with a three-car garage. God “is the fountain of all felicity” and bids us come and drink!

Second, enjoying God matters profoundly because apart from our souls relishing the breathtaking beauty of Christ and resting in the all-sufficiency of his grace and goodness, we don’t stand a chance against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The biblical authors’s commitment to our joy in Jesus was motivated, at least in part, by the fact that Satan was no less committed to their joy in the passing pleasures of sin (cf. Heb. 11:25).

The diabolical strategy of the enemy is to seduce us into believing that the world and the flesh and sinful self-indulgence could do for our weary and broken hearts what God couldn’t. This is the battle that we face each day. We awaken to a world at war for the allegiance of our minds and the affections of our souls. The winner will be whoever can persuade us that he will bring greatest and most soul-satisfying joy. That is why we must labor and pray and strive so passionately and sacrificially for joy in Jesus.

Hence, the key to living a successful, sin-killing life doesn’t come primarily from trying harder but from enjoying more. This doesn’t mean you can be a successful Christian without trying. It simply means that enjoyment empowers effort. Pleasure in God is the power for purity.

Third, joy in God matters profoundly because unlike so many other affections in the soul or activities in life, joy engages and expresses the totality of our being. You can understand something without rejoicing in it. You can make a decision in life or exercise your will in regard to some matter that you profoundly dislike. But when you truly rejoice in something you must both understand it and choose it. Joy requires the engagement of every faculty of soul and spirit and mind and heart. Joy gives expression to the whole of who you are in a way that nothing else can. Truly to enjoy something or someone you must both understand it and choose it. You must grasp it with your mind and embrace it with your heart. Only joy requires everything within us to reach its consummate expression.

Fourth, joy in God matters profoundly because there is no such thing as hypocritical or insincere joy. You can pretend to have joy when you really don’t. You can fake having joy, but you can’t have fake joy. There’s something pure and sincere and genuine about joy that isn’t the case with any other human affection (“Joy and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World,” 78).

Ways in which We Delight Ourselves in the Lord

How, then, are we to fulfill this command? Or, better still, in what ways does this delight manifest itself in our lives?

First, is intellectual fascination or enthrallment with God. We must make use of the mind to set ourselves to know God. Our understanding of him must expand and intensify. We must know him, study him, explore his ways, and investigate his will. We must become students of the personality and character of God.

That delight in God which transcends human speech is itself the fruit of our faith in him (1 Pet. 1:8). One cannot meaningfully rejoice in a person of whom one knows nothing. Our knowledge of the incarnate Christ and his redemptive work is the foundation of our faith in him to be true to his covenant commitment. And faith or belief in the integrity of his person, the saving power of his atoning death, and the literal reality of his life-giving resurrection is the soil in which the flower of inexpressible joy blooms.

Enjoyment that is not deeply rooted in the historical realities of what Christ has accomplished is little more than infatuation. When trials ensue, such fleeting feelings, divorced as they are from truth, will collapse, a mere subjective vapor of little value in sustaining the human soul. The joy or delight that David has in mind energizes and empowers the human heart to withstand any and all trials. This is the joy that elevates the human soul to heights of confident celebration, a delight that no pain or tribulation or shattered dream can diminish.

Second, there is aesthetic adoration. We are fundamentally, and by God’s design, aesthetic creatures. Being fashioned in the image of God means, at least in part, that we are instinctively drawn to beauty and repelled by ugliness. We have an innate capacity to recognize and rejoice in beauty (unless, of course, we pervert and diminish that capacity by hardening our souls in unrepentant sin).

God is ultimate Beauty. To delight in him is to behold his beauty in all its vast array: the symmetry of his attributes, the intricacies of his handiwork, the splendor of his power, the majesty of his mercy, the depths of his greatness, and the limitless extent of his goodness. We must therefore labor to cultivate our aesthetic sensibility and refine our taste for the sweetness of his glory (see Pss. 27:4; 145:5).

God’s revelatory manifestation of himself in creation, in providence, in Scripture, and pre-eminently in the face of his Son, Jesus Christ, is designed to evoke within us the breathtaking delight and incomparable joy of which God alone is worthy. Beauty is that in God which makes him eminently desirable and attractive and quickens in the soul a realization that it was made for a different world.

Divine beauty is absolute, unqualified, and independent. All created reality, precisely because it is derivative of the Creator, is beautiful in a secondary sense and only to the degree that it reflects the excellencies of God and fulfills the purpose for which he has made it. Perfect order, harmony, magnitude, integrity, proportion, symmetry, and brilliance are found in God alone. There is in the personality and activity of God neither clash of color nor offensive sound. He is in every conceivable respect morally exquisite, spiritually sublime, and aesthetically elegant.

The aesthetic experience of God is more than merely enjoyable, it is profoundly transforming (see 2 Cor. 3:18). There is within it the power to persuade and to convince the inquiring mind of truth. We do not simply behold beauty: divine beauty takes hold of us and challenges the allegiance of our hearts.

Beauty calls us to reshape our lives and exposes the shabbiness of our conduct. It awakens us to the reality of a transcendent Being to whose likeness of beauty we are being called and conformed by his gracious initiative. Beauty has the power to dislodge from our hearts the grip of moral and spiritual ugliness. The soul’s engagement with beauty elicits love and forges in us a new affection that no earthly power can overcome.

Beauty also rebukes by revealing to us the moral deformity of those things we’ve embraced above Jesus and by exposing the hideous reality beyond the deceptively attractive façade of worldly amusements. We are deceived by the ugliness of sin because we haven’t gazed at the beauty of Christ. Distortion and perversion and futility are fully seen only in the perfect light of integrity and harmony and purpose which are revealed in Jesus.

Third, there is emotional exhilaration. Our affections are also designed to find their focus and fulfillment in God. He alone is worthy of our joy zeal, love, devotion, delight, fear, joy, passion, gratitude, and hope. Consider Peter’s declaration that although we do not see Christ now, we “love him,” and “believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Pet. 1:8). With the Spirit’s help we must learn to cultivate and re-direct all affections so that they are rooted in him and riveted on him.

Finally, there is volitional dedication. Delighting in the Lord also entails the engagement of our wills and the choices we make. We must do two things. First, we must choose to obey his commands; second, we must choose to avoid all that he has prohibited. Obedience nourishes delight and joy. God’s commands are his prescription for happiness and spiritual health. We must therefore trust God when he says that sin will corrupt and destroy and that obedience will bless and enrich.

Disobedience dulls and anesthetizes our spirits to God’s presence and activity. It diminishes our capacity to delight in him, drains our spiritual energy, and lays waste to our ability to focus on God and trust him confidently. It unleashes in our spiritual system a toxin that will progressively cause our spiritual eyes to go blind and our spiritual ears to go deaf.


Perhaps the greatest mistake one could possibly make in processing and responding to this truth is to think that an emphasis on joy breeds passivity or leads to a safe and self-absorbed lifestyle or an approach to Christianity in which the believer is so obsessed with the condition of his heart or his emotional state of being that he neglects his family or ignores the needs of his neighbor or becomes coldly indifferent toward the lost or retreats in isolation from the hurts and needs of others.

It is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that stokes the white hot flame of passion for the plight of the nations and energizes the will of a person to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to preserve a marriage that is falling apart.

It is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that empowers the human heart to overcome addictive behavior, sustains the soul in its fight against sin and temptation, and enables a weak and broken soul to persevere when a job is lost or a child rebels or a promise is shattered or a dream comes to naught.

It is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that encourages the timid and fearful heart to engage and confront the Christless culture in which we live with the good news of the gospel of the cross of Christ and the life and forgiveness and hope that can only be found through faith in Jesus.

And it is deep delight and joy in the all-satisfying beauty of Christ that will sustain a church through adversity and bind the hearts of its people together in unity and love and mutual affection.

Source: The Gospel Coalition; Sam Storms

“Majesty Revealed: The Beauty of God”, from Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin (with Jonathan Edwards, Aquinas, Augustine)

God’s Majesty, Revealed

A Biblical Focus

Down to the eighteenth century, pastors and theologians regularly considered the concept of beauty to be central to any discussion of the divine nature. As these pastors and theologians read the Bible, especially the Hebrew Scriptures, they were struck by various places where God is described as beautiful.

For example, in Psalm 27:4, the Psalmist asserts, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord” (NKJV).

Here, beauty is ascribed to God as a way of expressing the Psalmist’s conviction that the face-to-face vision of God is the profoundest experience available to a human being. Again, in Psalm 145:5 the Psalmist states that he will meditate “on the glorious splendor” or beauty of God’s majesty (NKJV). Similarly, the eighth-century (bc) prophet Isaiah can predict that there is coming a day when God will be “a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty” to His people (Isa 28:5, NKJV).

One of the most important biblical concepts in this connection is that of “glory.” When used with reference to God, this concept emphasizes His greatness and transcendence, splendor and holiness. God is thus said to be clothed with glory (Psalm 104:1), and His works to be full of His glory (Ps 111:3). The created realm, the product of His hands, speaks of this glory day after day (Ps 19:1-2).

But it is especially in His redemptive activity on the plane of history that God’s glory is revealed. The glory manifested in this activity is to be proclaimed throughout all the earth (Ps 96:3), so that one day “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (Hab 2:14, NKJV). In other words, it was their encounter with God on the plane of history that especially enabled the biblical authors to see God’s beauty and loveliness shining through the created realm.

Augustine and Aquinas on the Beauty of God

Later theologians built upon these biblical foundations. The fourth-century North African thinker Augustine (354–430), for instance, identifies God and beauty in a famous prayer from his Confessions:

I have learnt to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and so new! I have learnt to love you late! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself. I searched for you outside myself and, disfigured as I was, I fell upon the lovely things of your creation… The beautiful things of this world kept me from you and yet, if they had not been in you, they would have had no being at all. 

The material realm is only beautiful because it derives both its being and its beauty from the One who is Beauty itself, namely, God. Augustine intimates that if he had been properly attendant to the derivative beauty of the world, he would have been led to its divine source.

Similarly, Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274), the quintessential medieval theologian, argues that God is called Beauty because, as Aquinas comments, “He gives beauty to all created beings.” He is, Aquinas goes on, most beautiful and super-beautiful, both because of His exceeding greatness (like the sun in relation to hot things) and because He is the source of all that is beautiful in the universe. He is thus beautiful in Himself and not with respect to anything else. And since God has beauty as His own, He can communicate it to His creation. He is, therefore, the exemplary cause of all that is beautiful. Or, as Aquinas puts it elsewhere: “Things are beautiful by the indwelling of God.”

Jonathan Edwards Reflects on the Beauty of God

As one enters the modern era, a profound reconstruction takes place in thinking about beauty in general. The watershed is the eighteenth century, when there is a dramatic movement away from the question of the nature of beauty to a focus upon the perceiver’s experience of the beautiful.

The perception of beauty now becomes the basic concept in the writing and thinking about this subject. And it is intriguing that there is a corresponding diminution of interest in the ascription of beauty to God.

Nevertheless, one can still find vital representatives of the older tradition.

One such figure is the New England theologian, Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), who stands at the center of eighteenth-century Evangelical spirituality and who was deeply conversant with earlier theological thought, especially that of the Augustinian tradition.

There is no doubt that beauty is a central and defining category in Edwards’ thinking about God. He regards beauty as a key distinguishing feature of the divine being:

“God is God,” he writes in his Religious Affections, “and distinguished from all other beings, and exalted above ‘em, chiefly by His divine beauty, which is infinitely diverse from all other beauty.” Unlike creatures who receive their beauty from another, namely, God, it is “peculiar to God,”

Edwards writes elsewhere, “that He has beauty within Himself.”

Typical of the older tradition in aesthetics, his central interest is not in what he calls “secondary beauty,” the beauty of created things, but “primary beauty,” that of God. His writings contain no extended discussion of the nature of the fine arts or of human beauty. Even his occasional rhapsodies regarding the beauties of nature function chiefly as a foil to a deeper reflection on the divine beauty. Secondary beauty holds interest for him basically because it mirrors the primary beauty of spiritual realities.

Preaching the Beauty of God

Edwards’ focus on the beauty of God does not mean he has no interest in the beauty of this world. In his Personal Narrative, for example, while he is describing his conversion to Christianity, he indicates that his conversion wrought a change in his entire outlook on the world:

The appearance of everything was altered: there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything. God’s excellency, His wisdom, His purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon, for a long time; and so in the daytime, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things…

This passage helps us answer the question: How does the preacher present the glorious beauty of God to His people?

The answer is, not only by preaching on biblical passages that reference this divine beauty, but by taking the time to meditate on the glory of God visible in the secondary beauty of the created realm. Edwards’ sermons communicated the glory of God since they were grounded in part in his own experience of that glory as he spent time gazing upon the created beauty all around him.

What is also striking about this passage is what Michael McClymond has recently called Edwards’ “capacity for seeing God in and through the world of nature.”

For Edwards, the beauty of creation exhibits, expresses and communicates God’s beauty and glory to men and women. In nature God’s beauty is visible. Thus, he could state with regard to Christ:

…the beauties of nature are really emanations or shadows of the excellencies of the Son of God. So that, when we are delighted with flowery meadows, and gentle breezes of wind, we may consider that we see only the emanations of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ. When we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see His love and purity. So the green trees, and fields, and singing of birds are the emanations of His infinite joy and benignity. The easiness and naturalness of trees and vines are shadows of His beauty and loveliness. The crystal rivers and murmuring streams are the footsteps of His favor, grace, and beauty. When we behold the light and brightness of the sun, the golden edges of an evening cloud, or the beauteous bow, we behold the adumbrations of His glory and goodness; and, in the blue sky, of His mildness and gentleness. There are also many things wherein we may behold His awful majesty, in the sun in His strength, in comets, in thunder, in the hovering thunder-clouds, in ragged rocks, and the brows of mountains.

Again, this passage is rooted in Edwards’ spending time meditating on God and Christ in creation, and his determination to have a God-centered approach to all things, in strong contrast to the man-centered perspective that was coming to the fore in Western culture in the eighteenth century.

Edwards’ Advice to Today’s Preacher

How then should the gospel preacher today speak about the beauty of God?

He first needs to recognize the loss of the concept of divine beauty that is part of even his own evangelical heritage. Evangelical theologians and authors simply have not talked about beauty as a divine attribute for the best part of two centuries.

Though evangelical theologians are beginning to realize what has been lost in this regard, the evangelical pulpit rarely sounds this vital note about our God. Then, time must be taken to meditate on God’s beauty in creation.

Here, Jonathan Edwards is such a good model to follow: he saturated himself with God in His material world, soaking up the beauty of God displayed in manifold ways in His creation. This helped to prepare him to preach on texts that bespeak God’s beauty and glory. Of course, the biblical text was primary for Edwards. Charged with the glory of God, it provided Edwards—as it does today’s preacher—with an inerrant basis for declaring to the world this great truth: our triune God is a glorious being of such awe-inspiring beauty that the prospect of catching but one glimpse of His face in Christ in the new heavens and new earth will forever provide purpose for living all-out for Him in this world.

Author: Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality and Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books, including Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in Revival and The God who draws near: An introduction to biblical spirituality.

(This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2014 Expositor magazine.)